The Finland Nature-Based Child Care Center is hoping to hear from you! There has been some new exciting relationship building with both volunteer community members and the mentored study project involving Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center graduate naturalist Alex Horgen. Elli King, the director at the childcare center welcomes visitors to the center with open arms. “What visitors bring is always really wonderful for us,” she says.
Wolf Ridge intern Alex Horgen grew up outside of the twin cities and is one of 13 graduate students at Wolf Ridge. The graduate naturalists stay for 2 semesters and help facilitate and teach classes on a variety of things around environmental education and sustainability. Things like forest ecology, beaver ecology, frozen lake studies, bird classes and much more.
He is now focusing on a masters certificate in environmental education and sustainability. “Part of the graduate program here at Wolf Ridge is we do a mentored study. I took advantage of the opportunity to work with the Nature Based Child Care Center. I majored in elementary education and I loved it,” he says. Alex mostly works with middle school-aged kids 5th through 8th grade at the Environmental Learning Center, but wanted the opportunity to dive into early childhood development with a focus on the environment. Finland Childcare Center has children attending ages 9 months to 7 years.
“This is a very cool way to get to be a part of the community here. It’s a small community, but it’s a tight-knit one,” Alex comments. He says he’s been having a great time coming into town and helping at the center. One of the first things that Alex did was build a latch board for the kids as a transition tool and practice for all ages to develop their motor skills. “When I studied elementary education it was all about traditional classroom teaching. I knew a traditional classroom is not what I wanted as far as a career, so when I learned about this program I knew that this is what I wanted to be a part of,” Alex comments.
The idea of having a mentored study project came from a blend of thoughts of Joe Walewski and is now an assignment in one of the four graduate classes that the naturalists at Wolf Ridge take during the year. Joe has been at Wolf Ridge for over 30 years and was the director of naturalist training for over 20 of those years. “When I implemented this assignment, I wanted to emphasize that everyone here can learn a great deal from personal experience when shared with a mentor, other than me. I’d also heard year after year that we were missing something from our program for them. It was always one thing, and that one thing was always different from each person. One would insist that we needed to provide training on how to do grant writing. Another would say we needed something to do with live animal care, farming, trail maintenance, program design, and more. Now, each person gets the thing they wanted,” comments Joe.
Students can choose from a variety of things to do and are encouraged to engage in their chosen activity or study for about 2-4 hours every week. This is meant to be a focus area where they are able to help out and learn something new in an interest they would like to pursue. The students identify what they would like to learn more about, propose the idea, approach and design, and then the mentor, student and director go from there!
“The idea behind the mentored study is that the student and the mentor are able to make meaningful decisions that alter the project so that the student can gain even more from the experience.” says Joe. At the end of the year all the students come together and do a short presentation on what they did, what they learned, and how it will impact them in their future endeavors.
“It’s been great,” says Elli. “It’s always really enriching to both the children and the staff to have visitors come to the center to offer their fresh perspective and fresh energy.”
Alex began his mentored study back in October and will continue to mentor at the childcare center until June. “I am hoping to be a part of more environmental learning centers like Wolf Ridge around the country or even the world.”
It’s been so nice for both the childcare center and Alex to form this relationship and experience. “There’s a lot of unique experience to be gained from participating in a program that’s developing like this. There’s a lot to observe and learn. I hope to have many more folks come and spend time with us,” comments Elli.
There have also been volunteer community members that have come into the Finland childcare center to spend the afternoon with the staff and children. “We had a woman come and make bread one day with the kids and it was just so wonderful. All the kids just loved it. For a volunteer to prepare a project and come in to share with us was incredible.”
Elli will be posting flyers and an online calendar with a schedule to sign up in advance for interested folks to come in and spend their time with staff and children at the Finland Childcare Center! The calendar will be posted onto the Finland Nature Based Childcare Center Facebook page, you can find it at https://koalendar.com/e/volunteer-at-finland-childcare or you can email Elli directly at Finlandchildcare@ gmail.com.
“Come in and do something cool that you like to do seasonally with the kids!” says Elli.