Riverside Rearing – Nature is my Classroom

Sarah Marie Himes
MRWA Assistant

From early childhood through our adult years, it is undeniably true that many of the most important lessons in life occur outside the classroom. Recently, two Newaygo County education centers invited me to participate in scientific field trips to the Muskegon River featuring nature-based activities that combined hands-on learning, biology, ecology and so much more. Both experiences drove home the point that using nature, as a classroom is vitally important for a well-rounded education.

Newaygo County RESA’s Salmon Release

As humans, we tend to focus on the “big picture” rather than the little things that made it all happen. For one Newaygo County RESA class, their agriscience lesson taught them the challenges facing salmon fry in their fight to survive pollutants, predators, and other barriers within our Michigan waters.

In November 2021, students received salmon eggs for them to raise within the classroom. After the eggs were fertilized, classmates gathered throughout the semester to watch the lifecycle of this ecologically important fish.

Like most living things, a salmon’s lifecycle begins with an egg. It’s a very vulnerable stage that is easy pickings for hungry predators. For the ones that survive, the next stage is “alevin” – then, a “fry”. At this point, this tiny baby salmon is able to swim and hide a little better thanks to its camouflage. Next is the “parr” stage. This age group now has the ability to swim upstream and hunt for food. (Source: US Fish & Wildlife).

Once the tiny fished reached the “parr” stage, the class successfully released dozens of them into the river. But, before allowing them to take that leap into their new home, students carefully acclimated the salmon to a cool, freshwater environment.

“While raising the salmon in a tank, we had to simulate the temperature and parameters that they would have in the Muskegon River,” said Renee Schweitzer, agriscience instructor.  “This would give them the best chance of developing in a more natural setting”.

All of the students were excited but filled with bittersweet sadness as they gently released their “babies” from the small tank into the fast-paced river.

“Throughout the whole time we’ve had the salmon, we’ve talked about invasive species and how those impact our salmon population here in Michigan,” explained agriscience instructor, Chase Bos. “We’ve talked about water quality and other factors that affect salmon. There is so much that students can take away from this activity and realize they have an impact on every living thing”.

Fremont Christian School’s Dia De La Basura (Trash Day) 

At the tail end of the school year, a group of 1st graders from Fremont Christian School’s Spanish Immersion Class, and their chaperones came out to Newaygo’s Riverside Park for a trash-centric field trip. The purpose was to take what they had learned in the classroom and apply it to their own community.

“In the classroom, we’re learning about being earth-keepers and the ways we could help sea creatures,” said Hudla Concepcion, teacher. “We decided it would be a good idea to come and clean the Muskegon River – because pollution there eventually ends up in our oceans”.

The children broke up into teams and eagerly walked around the park to clean up the trash. The items that they found included glass bottles, plastic cups, ceramic dishes, and other garbage that should have been responsibly thrown out in the proper receptacle. You could hear every child gleefully yelling out “basura” which means “trash” in Spanish. This is another component to their lessons: using another language in an activity.

After combing through the park, the students ended up collecting over twenty bags of trash. I was able to chat with one wise little dude from the group about his thoughts about pollution and what we could simply do to help. “Can you please clean up the trash?” said 1st grader, Royce. “So that nature can be better”

MRWA Junior Researchers Activity

For this activity and giveaway, you’ll need a smartphone with a camera.

Option #1

Using the educational methods mentioned above, ask your child the following questions while recording them with your device:

1 – What do you love most about nature?
2 – Why are plants and animals so important?
3 – What do you think we should do to protect nature?
4 – If you could ask the Muskegon River a question, what would it be?

Option #2

Take a walk outside with your child(ren).

Using Google Translate, or your favorite language app, have your child state what they see and look up that word in a different language. Then, have them identify that object again, but this time in a new language. Make sure to video record their activity!

Once you have recorded the video of your child completing one of the activities above, you can submit it to the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly (MRWA) for your child’s chance to win a prize! The video must be submitted by September 18th, 2022. Only (1) participant will win, and it will be announced on MRWA’s Facebook Page on September 19th, 2022. The winner will be selected at random.

You can send the video to: MRWA01@ferris.edu.

I am always looking for new ideas to help encourage our children to love and appreciate nature in the hopes that our future will be bright for all living things. Email me at MRWA01@ferris.edu the ways you and your family enjoy the Muskegon River Watershed.