Archive for October, 2013

October 30, 2013

Connecting to Nature Through Poetry: Gary Snyder

by Melissa Harding

slip creek

Connecting to Nature Through Poetry is a segment of the blog featuring poets who inspire their readers to establish strong connections to nature and community. An appreciation of poetry and art is connected to achievement in science and success in adult life; however, there is no need to be an expert on poetry to enjoy it. Poetry is for everyone.  As Plato once said, “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history”.  

Gary Snyder is a writer of all types; not just a poet, he is also an activist, essayist and lecturer. As a child, Snyder was deeply connected to the Pacific Northwestern areas where he was raised and developed an increasingly strong and complex relationship with the natural world over the course of his life. Though as a contemporary of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg he is considered by some to be a Beat poet, he has handily transcended that early moniker through a lifelong study of Eastern religions, Japanese culture, anthropology, and ecology. Whether in spite of or because of this wide variety of influences, his work truly captures his sense of curiosity, affection and reverence for the natural world and the people who make their living on it. Not only that, but his words somehow manage to create that feeling in the reader. In an essay published in his collection A Controversy of Poets, he wrote, ” I try to hold both history and wilderness in mind, that my poems may approach the true measure of things and stand against the unbalance and ignorance of our times.”  Snyder’s poems take the reader all over the world, from coals mines to Japanese gardens and everywhere in between. Some of his descriptive, purposeful verses make reading his poems feel like diving into a deep lake; they are both refreshing and biting at the same time.

Meeting the Mountains

He crawls to the edge of the foaming creek
He backs up the slab ledge
He puts a finger in the water
He turns to a trapped pool
Puts both hands in the water
Puts one foot in the pool
Drops pebbles in the pool
He slaps the water surface with both hands
He cries out, rises up and stands
Facing toward the torrent and the mountain
Raises up both hands and shouts three times!
Snyder’s approach is straightforward and clear; he doesn’t write poems that are just about ecology, but rather the environment as a whole. He takes into account the buildings, the people, and how they relate the natural world that surrounds them. Snyder does not exclude people from his poems. Instead, he records the connection between humanity and nature.
Migration of Birds
It started just now with a hummingbird
Hovering over the porch two yards away
then gone.
It stopped my studying.
I saw the redwood post
Leaning in clod ground
Tangled n a bush of yellow flowers
Higher than my head, through which we push
Every time we come inside –
The shadow network of the sunshine
Through its vines. White-crowned sparrows
Make tremendous singing in the trees
The rooster down the valley crows and crows.
Jack Kerouac outside, behind my back
Reads the Diamond Suites in the sun.
Yesterday I read Migration of Birds;
The Golden Plover and the Arctic Tern.
Today that big abstraction’s at our door
For juncos and the robins all have left,
Broody scrabblers pick up bits of string
And in this hazy day
Of April summer heat
Across the hill the seabirds
Chase Spring north along the coast:
Nesting in Alaska
In six weeks.
Read a full biography of Gary Snyder and find selected poems here. Read more about Snyder’s views on the purpose of “environmental” poetry here.

To read about using poetry to connect children to nature, check out our blog post.

Why is poetry important to science education? Find out here.

The above photo was taken by Jeff Harding.

October 28, 2013

Campers Celebrate the Beauty of Autumn!

by Melissa Harding


Kicking off our Celebrate! series of seasonal camps was a fun look at autumn in Celebrate! Fall Harvest. Campers  learned about the seasonal cycle of deciduous trees, created delicious fall snacks, and collected treasures from the garden to make beautiful crafts.

To begin, campers used fallen leaved to make “leaf creatures”, a craft based on the book Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert. They glued leaves together to create animals, people and scenes from nature, using markers to embellish their designs. Next, campers learned why trees lose their leaves and that different trees turn different colors based on the pigments inside of their leaves. They also talked about how trees can store food in their roots to help them through their winter hibernation. Campers then read Fall, Leaves, Fall! by Zoe Hall and talked about the beautiful colors of the season.


By this time, everyone was hungry for a healthy snack! Campers made a yummy pumpkin dip out of yogurt, canned pumpkin and cinnamon to eat with apple slices. They also air popped popcorn; campers loved to watch the popped kernels tumble out of the machine and enjoyed being able to add fistfuls of seeds to the popper. When it was done, campers sprinkled cinnamon and salt on their popcorn to make a seasonal treat.

After snack, campers took a walk through the outdoor gardens, gathering fall treasures from the ground in a basket. They heaped it full of leaves, sticks, pinecones, flowers, and seeds! They also used color matchers to observe the variety of colors in the garden. When the basket was too full to hold anymore, campers headed back into the classroom to weave their treasures into beautiful nature weavings. Finally, the day was completed with a final story, The Apple Pie Tree by Zoe Hall, and the Goodbye Song.

To learn how to make nature weavings at home, check out this how-to Home Connections post!

To learn how to make color matchers and other observation tools, check out this post!

If you missed this program and would like to join us next month for Celebrate! Fitness, please contact Sarah Bertovich at (412)-441-4442 ext. 3925. For a complete list of all our spring programs, please visit our website.

The above photos were taken by Allaire Temen.

October 25, 2013

Move with Me: Touching Toes with Toddlers!

by Melissa Harding


Physical activity plays an important role in every child’s life; an active lifestyle helps control weight, build lean muscle, build strong bones and decrease the risk of obesity. One way to stay healthy as a family is to be active together, whether it is playing soccer or playing in the woods. With this in mind, Phipps is helping families become healthier through Move With Me, a new series of programs designed to get parents and kids moving together. Move With Me is for children ages 3-4 and their caregivers; this program helps children learn about life cycles, animals and plants through gentle movement exercises that stimulate the senses and teach about the natural world.

October’s theme was water; campers learned about animals that live and move in the water and why water is important. To begin, campers arrived to find several sensory bins with water and ice to play with. They loved using cups and buckets to play in the water! As camp got started, campers and caregivers warmed up together with a series of toe touches, arm reaches and body wiggles. They then pretended to be water using blue and white dance scarves, slithering like water in a river. Next came time to move on the water; campers pretended to move like boats, becoming double boats to play with their caregiver partners, and even became bridges over the moving water!


After a quick snack, campers looked for critters in the lagoon and walked up to the green roof to learn about animals that live in the water. Campers pretended to move like turtles, fish, dolphins and sharks; after each set of motions, they sang a short song about a corresponding animal in the water. The roof was full of singing dolphins and chomping sharks! Finally, campers cooled down with some short visualization and breathing exercises, ending with a rousing rendition of the Goodbye Song.

Check out more images from class in the slideshow below!

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Interested in stretching exercises for kids? Check out this great article from Yoga Journal on embracing fun in movement.

To learn more about healthy activities for your family, check out Let’s Move Pittsburgh’s excellent website for resources.

Our next Move with Me programs are scheduled for November 12, 10:30 am-noon or 1-3 pm. If you would like to sign up your child for a future Move With Me programs, please contact Sarah at (412)441-4442 ext. 3925.

For a complete list of all our season camp offerings, please visit our website. We hope to see you there!

The above photos were taken by Kate Borger.

October 25, 2013

From the Ground Up: Visit to Braddock Farms

by Melissa Harding


As part of the Museums Connect program, made possible by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by the American Alliance of Museums, Phipps is partnering with the Gidan Makama Museums in Kano, Nigeria to provide an immersive experience for 15 local high school students in each city. Participating students will learn about nutrition, cooking and cultural food traditions by following local food from farm to table and will be communicating with students at their partner institutions. This project will last from September to June, resulting in the creation of a community cookbook that will be designed and created by participating students. Students will also meet each month for a Saturday workshop involving activities designed to get them thinking critically about their food system and food culture. Calling themselves the Global Chefs, this group of students is excited to learn more about what food means in their lives.

This month, our Global Chefs visited Braddock Farms, an urban farm located in the steel town of Braddock and the area’s single source of fresh produce. Their host was Jake Seltman, Director of Educational Programming at Grow Pittsburgh, who gave them a tour of the farm itself and the produce stand where they sell the fruits of their labor. The students were delighted by chickens on the farm and remarked on the contrast between the farm they were standing in and the working steel mill behind it. They visited the farm stand to purchase carrots and peppers to take back to the classroom for a snack. They also had a chance to meet Jonathon, a summer intern at Braddock Farms who shared with them his experience working with Grow Pittsburgh.

Back at the classroom, students turned their farm stand veggies into crudités and served them with hummus; for some students, trying hummus was a first! Inspired by their morning in Braddock, students had a spirited conversation about the merits of urban farming, food justice and what Braddock Farms contributes to its community. Students also shared their recipes for this month; the topic was comfort food and students brought in recipes ranging from chocolate pudding to fried plantains. After talking about the importance of eating many of these foods sparingly, students decided that another rare treat, holiday recipes, would be their assignment for next month.

To see more images of the morning, check out the slideshow below!

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The above pictures were taken by Hanna Mosca and Brianna Manfredi.

October 23, 2013

Interview with a Scientist: BIA Fellow George Meindl

by Melissa Harding


“Interview with a Scientist” is a new feature in which we sit down with scientists and learn what makes them love their jobs.

If there is one segment of society that is often misunderstood, it is people who work in science fields. Public perception of scientists tends to lean towards lab coats, crazy hair and beakers full of chemicals, especially in the eyes of children.  In reality, most scientists are just regular people who happen to be passionate about plants, brains, or DNA and who want to make the world a better place through scientific discovery. The best way to dispel the myth that scientists are boring or crazy is to get to know them; the purpose of this new segment is to talk with real scientists to ask them what they love about their jobs and why they think their work is fun and important.

Starting us off is a scientist from the University of Pittsburgh –  Botany in Action Fellow, George Meindl. The Botany in Action Fellowship program at Phipps fosters the development of the next generation of plant-based scientists who are committed, first, to excellent research, and second, to educational outreach. The BIA program provides Fellows with funding for use towards field research in the US or abroad and a trip to Phipps, to engage in science outreach training and opportunities to share his or her research to public audiences. George is in his second year as a BIA Fellow, studying heavy metal contaminants and their effect on the ecosystem.

We interviewed George about why science matters, why being a scientist is fun, and growing up near the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

  1. Describe your work:
    As a PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh, I study the movement of toxic heavy metals through ecosystems.  Pollution resulting from coal and mineral mining has left many natural environments contaminated with heavy metals, which may negatively affect both plants and animals that live nearby.  Some plants, however, are known to accumulate soil contaminants and thus may be used in efforts to clean polluted soils.  Unfortunately, these metal-accumulating plants may negatively affect pollinators and herbivores, which feed on plant tissue, if they eat them.  Understanding the fate of environmental contaminants is vital for land managers whose goal is to clean contaminated soils without negatively affecting surrounding wildlife.
  2. Why did you become a scientist?
    Growing up near the Sierra Nevada mountain range, I have always enjoyed being outside, and this general interest in nature developed into a scientific career.
  3. What is your favorite part about being a scientist?
    Field work.  Just like when I was young, I enjoy myself most when I am outside, observing nature in action.
  4. What is the most important quality in a scientist?
    Dedication.  Things will not always go to plan, and one must be willing to keep working despite difficulty.
  5. What is the coolest thing you have ever done at work?
    Hiked the Pacific Crest Trail as a Master’s student while conducting fieldwork.
  6. If you weren’t a scientist, what other job would you want to do?
    Professional athlete.
  7. What are your hobbies outside of your research?
    Hiking, camping, sports in general.
  8. Why is science important?
    Science is important because it helps us understand natural processes (for example, plant growth), which can then lead to an improved quality of life for humans (for example, increased crop yield).
  9. Why is it important for kids to learn science?
    If children are taught the importance of science and the scientific process at a young age, then they will fully develop their skills as problem solvers and critical thinkers.

George is a great example of someone who became invested in science from an early age. His childhood playing outside helped him to develop an appreciation of nature that eventually lead to a career in environmental research. To learn more about the importance of outdoor experiences in creating an appreciation of nature in children, check out this post.

To learn more about George’s work, check out his Follow the Fellows page on the Botany in Action Website.

The above photo was taken by Amanda Joy.

October 22, 2013

Amanda and Melissa Present at North American Association of Environmental Educators Conference!

by Melissa Harding


Science educators Amanda Joy and Melissa Harding just got back from Baltimore, Maryland attending the North American Association of Environmental Educators (NAAEE) 2013 Annual Conference. NAAEE strives to promote excellence in environmental education throughout North America, as well as increasing the visibility and effectiveness of the profession. Amanda and Melissa co-presented at the conference on “Changing Behavior Through Creative Reuse: Using “Trash” Materials in Programming”; this presentation focused on how the department repurposes many “trash” materials in programming, from craft projects to program props, and included demonstrations of how to repurpose old T-shirts to make bags and how to turn magazines into butterflies.

The annual conference was full of exciting workshops and informative sessions, as well as a whole slew of innovative keynote speakers. and both Melissa and Amanda and excited to share what they have learned!

Sound interesting? Learn more about how we repurpose cardboard, plastic, and glass.

The above photo was taken by Christie Lawry.

October 4, 2013

Wild and Scenic Film Festival Coming to Phipps October 16th!

by Melissa Harding


Allegheny Defense Project, in association with Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Heartwood, the Sierra Club, and 18 local and national co-sponsors, is proud to present the touring version of the Wild & Scenic® Film Festival, an evening of films designed to catalyze action and participation from local grassroots organizations. The evening’s program, “A Climate of Change,” collects 10 inspiring short films from leading environmental filmmakers who take viewers to Kenya, Asia, the Arctic, and across the U.S. for a wide-ranging overview of the effects of climate change.

Started in 2003 by the South Yuba River Citizens League to promote community-building within California’s Yuba Watershed, the Wild & Scenic Film Festival has evolved into an event series that tours the U.S. each year through the partnership of local, like-minded organizations and venues. The October 16 event will mark the Wild & Scenic Film Festival’s debut appearance in Pittsburgh! Please consider joining us for an evening of inspiring short films and a celebration of local efforts to combat climate change!

October 16, 6-10pm; doors open at 5:45pm.
The festival is free and open to the public. Seating is limited; early arrival is recommended.

Check out the main event page here.

The above poster is courtesy of the Allegheny Defense Project.


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