May 16, 2017

Outdoor Learning at the Ozark Natural Science Center

In a traditional school, different subjects require different teaching methods. I remember learning math with a big chalkboard and pencils with good erasers. English and reading were done in quiet classrooms or libraries and science was hands-on in a lab permanently encapsulated in its own unique smell.

Now, imagine yourself doing classwork in a 500-acre forest surrounded by flowers, trees and birds. Feeling the breeze on your face and the sun on your skin. Smelling the damp earth of the forest floor.  Catching a glimpse of something scurrying about out of the corner of your eye. Who wouldn’t want to learn like that?

Ozark Natural Science Center (ONSC) in Huntsville offers a unique way of bringing science and nature together in an environment conducive to learning. Their mission is to develop an understanding and appreciation of our natural state by providing educational programs that promote stewardship and conservation of the Ozark ecosystems.

I arrived as a group of fifth-graders were preparing for a hike on one of the many trails. Students are provided backpacks, water, and field journals and are encouraged to study the diversity of their surroundings. Guided by a resident teacher-naturalist, we trekked through the woods stopping along the way to talk about trees, rocks, vegetation and wildflowers.

The scenic vista at Wishing Rock overlook provided a nice spot to rest, record notes or relax and admire the view.

The facility also offers indoor classrooms to study specimens collected or outdoor facilities for informal studies or gatherings.

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Huntsville fifth-grade science teacher, Jennifer Dunn, looks forward to bringing her students to ONSC. She states, “I am committed to teaching the kids to take care of the planet for kids today and generations to come. A big portion of our Earth Systems unit is learning how everyone can protect Earth’s natural resources. I believe helping my students nurture a love of the environment will not only make a difference in their lives, but show them how they can influence others to also take care of resources and our planet. In my opinion, it is the best Science educational field experience that I have found in my entire 20 years of teaching.”

Since 1990, ONSC has been reaching out to kids of all ages about environmental education. Matthew Miller, Executive Director of ONSC, estimates during this time around 60,000 students have participated in the variety of programs the center has to offer. “We want everyone to know we are here and to come and visit us,” he says. He goes on to explain, “One of the great benefits of the program is the classes offered here meet state standards and, next school year (2017-18), teachers will be able to earn continuing education hours.”

Becky Olthof, Program Manager for ONSC, is also excited about the Adult Field School Programs. Best described as “nature classes for grown-ups,” Olthof explains these classes range from one to three-day workshops. Upcoming classes include nature, history, art, and photography taught by skilled instructors and experts in their respective fields.

ONSC is not just for education, though. The three lodges on the property can be rented for meetings, conferences, weddings and retreats. Each event can be custom designed for your group and can include meals, hikes and extended stays.

For more information about the Ozark Natural Science Center and the programs they offer, visit their website at onsc.us or call 479-202-8340.

Arkansas Women Bloggers member Brenda Embry is a life long gardener and enjoys writing about the ups and downs of Arkansas gardening. She completed the extensive Master Gardener program in 2003 and has actively volunteered in various projects in her community. She takes pride in growing and canning her own food and well as raising chickens for eggs and meat. In 2013, she became a beekeeper and has enjoyed the sweet rewards of this endeavor. She lives on 90 acres in Madison county with her husband. They enjoy traveling when they can by motorcycle and exploring small towns and forgotten roads. You can read about her gardens and travel on her blog theblondegardener.com and on Facebook and Instagram