At the North American Association of Environmental Education (NAAEE) Conference in fall 2019, BEETLES team members met Brianne Blom (Bree), a naturalist and educator with the Clay County Conservation Board in Iowa. Bree attended a BEETLES workshop at the conference in which she was introduced to the routine, I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of. A few months after the conference, Bree reached out to us to share about how she’d used the routine as a stress relief technique for students in a life skills class. We spoke with Bree to hear more about her work and how she used this resource to support character development and Social and Emotional Learning with her students in her county.
Note: The BEETLES team has revised and republished I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of to include suggestions about using the routine in the way Bree describes in this blog. The revised activity also includes framing to invite students to use these tools to reflect on their own experience, building self-awareness and social-awareness in the context of a group learning experience. Check it out!
BEETLES: Tell us about where you work and your role.
Bree: I work for the Clay County Conservation Board, and my role is a Naturalist/Educator. In Iowa, every county has a conservation board, and funding comes through the county to maintain wildlife areas that the public can use. County funding also supports a staff person who is a naturalist and educator. That person’s job is to do programming with local schools and teachers. Before school starts for the year, I book out what different teachers want all the way through May. Teachers can do field trips with me at one of our local parks, and I also visit and do programs on-site in the school as well. Like for example, when students are learning about predator-prey relationships and organisms’ structures, I can bring in skulls for them to observe. All of the programs with schools or summer camps are free to the schools and the kids.
BEETLES: What were your goals in sharing I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of in the context of a life skills class.
Bree: I have been working with guidance counselors in addition to teachers, and a lot of the counselors have been talking about how students mostly turn to technology to relieve stress, and we wanted to offer them some tools for relieving stress that don’t involve technology. The counselor said to me “I want them to have a tool besides looking at youtube.” This is the big push for this year. This teacher’s main goal was for students to do something in nature that can be a stress reliever, or could call on their curiosity. When I saw the activity I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of at the NAAEE conference, I couldn’t wait to do it in my own world. And I thought of using the activity to offer students a neat and fun way to explore in their backyard or playground to relieve stress.
BEETLES: How did you introduce the routine, and how did the students respond?
Bree: The counselor teaches this life skills class every week. When I went in to meet the students, I framed it: “This is another life skill that you can use throughout your whole life.” We practiced together and wrote down what students noticed on a whiteboard, then the kids got time to look at what they wanted around them.
The kids had a great time. It was negative 20 with wind chill, we didn’t hear one complaint from the students. There was a lot of positivity. The kids were really in tune and excited to discover something new using the tools. They all were excited to notice something they’ve never seen before in their playground that they were in every day for the last several years. The kids shared reflections like, “I always see this but I never took the time to look. Like noticing how long rabbit tracks are. I never took the time to notice and now I’m going to take the time.” The students realized and shared: “I can go back here and look at birds and that is a stress reliever” and “I can look at stuff in my backyard and that can be a stress reliever.”
The best part was, I had worked with the 4th grade in the morning and then when they were at recess in the afternoon (without me), I saw around 15 students using the observation tools on their own to explore the snowy playground area. As an educator and naturalist it was one of the coolest teaching experiences I’ve had. The kids were getting it. We really tried to frame it as another life skill. I said to them, “This is another tool for your everyday life.”
And the teacher followed up the next week and asked “How many didn’t feel stressed out when you spent time in nature?” “How many used the technique Bree showed you?” The teacher emailed me a couple weeks after to let me know that some of the students said “I used the technique we worked on with Bree when my parents were fighting, or when I felt stressed about school.” She was really excited that the students were using the outdoor technique to self-regulate.
When I saw the students again, we went out snowshoeing. When it was challenging, the kids said “You talked about the observation tools life skills class, but we could use these observation tools here to relieve stress and help us calm down.” This was in February, and they were tying it back and making connections to the visit where I taught them the skills in December.
BEETLES: What else did you do to support students in wanting to engage with the outdoors as a self-care strategy?
Bree: We were hoping they would realize, they don’t need to go to a big park to be in nature. You can just go to your backyard and you can observe things relieve your stress there. Or you can go to a local park. One of our wildlife areas is in the city where most of the schools are located. So also I talked about going to that park. I talk about how it’s right off of the bike trail. I asked the students “Could you ride your bike and hang out in the park, right in front of the trail?” The students say “Yeah, my parents would be fine with me doing that.” We talked about going for a walk with your family to share the strategies with them. And we shared that students and their families can rent snowshoes for free from the County Conservation Board.
BEETLES: Are there other ways you could envision using this routine in the future?
Bree: I would love to use it with my summer camp kids. I used it a little bit with some students on a “no school” day (in my county the school district has one day of the month where there’s no school, so I offer a free camp for kids on that day). I did I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of with my no-school campers and it was really fun because the students zoned into nature. They really tuned in. They sat in one area for 45 minutes. They were totally engrossed as they all were observing and turning their brains off. I didn’t tell them to do it, they just did it on their own. I’m excited to give them time to do that again.