This week my field group became particularly fascinated by salamanders. The Rough Skinned Newt (Taricha granulosa) and the Northwestern Salamander (Ambystoma gracile) were quickly scooped up at any chance the kids had a free moment to scout around alongside the trails. I didn’t exactly want them to stop exploring but I wanted them to understand the potential impact of handling the salamanders. As I saw it, the students would be just as able to see the salamanders if they stooped to their level and observed them.
On the day that we were set to walk down to the harbor, I found the students were stopped along the trail to the Friendship Circle picking up salamanders. Once at the Friendship Circle I had them working on their Stewardship Maps, afterwards, I decided to address the entire group to address awareness of the harm in handling salamanders. Not only do some salamanders contain toxic substances and can irritate skin, but we need to respect them as animals and simply observe them. I asked them to make an agreement that they will not pick up salamanders but will instead be able to observe them on the ground. The kids agreed, and it was apparent that most of them understood why I wanted them to be more mindful.
In addition to making this agreement, I could’ve also provided positive reinforcement had I seen them not picking up salamanders for the remainder of their time at Islandwood. On Thursday, before heading back to the Friendship Circle, a boy from the group was very excited to share the secret home of “Sally” the salamander (outside of his lodge). The others in the group agreed, that the boy had grown attached to this particular salamander. I felt it was okay to let him pick it up and show it to everyone in the group, but reiterated that I didn’t want anyone else to pick the salamander up. I felt he was showing some level of respect as he was gently handling the salamander. I realize now that I could have been more explicit as to why it was okay for him to pick the salamander up to show it to the group.
Questions on my mind: How do you turn a students”mistakes” (i.e. harming other living things) into learning experiences? How can you help kids develop a sense of appreciation for living things?