On a recent Friday morning, Polk Central Elementary fifth graders circled up in the fog at the Walnut Creek Nature Preserve in Sunny View.

Shivering with both excitement and the damp chill, students carried backpacks with notebooks, water, lunches and layers of clothing. Their learning expedition began with funny-animal-sound introductions and included snake, bear and bee drills, just in case.

The trip was part of Polk Central’s foray into Muddy Sneakers, an enviromental education program for fifth grade students.

With their Muddy Sneakers instructors, students practiced their observational and sketching skills in a leaf identification game and learned about lichen, fungus, tracks and scat. Speaking of scat, they were introduced to Mr. Muddy, a small shovel, and taught correct etiquette in the woods. They learned to care for their environment by following the principles of Leave No Trace.

Instructors helped students design and conduct experiments using the scientific method and led them in several rousing games, including the very popular Camouflage. The 15 minutes of quiet time to explore and reflect were a highlight for many students.

“Sitting by the creek and discussing rocks was my favorite part of the day!” Isaiah said.

At the end of the day, as the group hiked up the final hill, students glowed with raw, happy, outdoorsy contentment. “We’ve been here all day? It feels like it’s been maybe an hour!” Curtis said.

Polk Central thanks Daryl and David Nelms for funding the school portion of these trips; they want to give children the opportunity to explore and learn to appreciate nature. Thanks to Babs and Bob Strickland for welcoming the group at the beautiful Walnut Creek Nature Preserve in Sunny View.

Speaking for many students, Skyler said, “The expedition was awesome! Can we do it every Friday?”

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