Connecting with Nature Using our Senses

Written by: Mikayla Martin

Keller Beach in Point Richmond is part of the Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline, and is a favorite spot for many people to enjoy nature, picnics, barbecues and swimming in the bay. The lagoons in the 307 acre park next to the beach also attract Canadian geese, egrets, and herons. KIDS for the BAY third grade students from Washington Elementary School were so excited to walk through a nearby tunnel to visit Keller Beach, and to connect with nature in their local watershed. Studies show that stimulating our senses in nature has physical and physiological benefits. As schools begin to bring back more interactive activities, KIDS for the BAY is doing its part to improve student well-being by engaging partner schools in outdoor lessons with nature‐based learning, that also increase physical and mental health.

Our young environmentalists from Washington Elementary were very happy to meet their KIDS for the BAY Educator Corey Chan at the beach entrance on their walking field trip. Ms. Corey provided a brief overview of the exciting activities for the day. Many students raised their hands when asked if they had visited the beach before. To create a sense of place, Ms. Corey asked students to name some features they could see in the distance. Finnley shared, “We can see the tip of the Golden Gate Bridge, which is where the bay meets the Pacific Ocean.” Natalie added, “Blocking the rest of the bridge is Angel Island. I’ve been there and on other islands on the ferry.” After learning about their local watershed in the classroom and exploring the school campus, our young environmentalists were thrilled to see the beauty of the San Francisco Bay estuary environment that is so close to their school and part of their local watershed. 

In a special role as ‘Watershed Health Detectives’ eager students were responsible for searching the beach for evidence of healthy and unhealthy watershed features. Some students saw small pieces of trash floating in the water, which they categorized as unhealthy. One student, Matteo, took a deep breath and asked his peers, “Ooh, do you smell that air? That smells fresh and healthy to me!” All students enjoyed smelling the fresh sea breeze, feeling the soft sand under their feet, and seeing the beauty of nature around them. They were happy to observe signs of life including birds, squirrels, plants and insects in the upland areas, and seaweed, crabs, barnacles and mussels along the bay shoreline. Several young detectives spotted what they thought was a dead crab and questioned whether the water quality was posing a threat to the crabs. Ms. Corey made her way to the crab and declared that it was in fact not dead, but a crab exoskeleton! The student scientists carefully held and observed the molted crab’s shell, taking note of its protective adaptations, feeling the different grooves and textures of the crab molt, and sharing their new knowledge with their peers. 

Gearing up with tongs, reusable bags, and a trash cleanup tally sheet, students got organized for their beach cleanup project to remove some of the trash that they had noticed in this special habitat. They recorded and collected different categories including plastic, metal, paper and glass. KIDS for the BAY encourages everyone to be an environmentalist to advocate for and support organisms that are susceptible to trash pollution. Our young environmentalists enthusiastically cleaned up the beach shoreline, as well as the picnic spaces which had evidence of trash pollution from human activity. In total the two visiting classes collected 11 gallons of trash from Keller Beach and they were so proud of themselves! 

Students were excited to participate in a Five Rs Relay Race which helps categorize everyday items into things we can reduce, reuse, recycle, rot and refuse. These are five actions environmentalists practice to reduce the amount of garbage going to our landfills or ending up in the watershed environment. The relay racers quickly considered the five actions of the Five Rs written on bins at the end of the playing area as they grabbed cards of pollution examples, and then ran to place each card into the correct Five Rs bin category. After the relay race students from each team shared why they placed particular items in each bin, and everyone learned more about practicing the Five Rs as everyday behaviors to reduce trash and waste.

To close the fun field trip for the day, Ms. Corey led a “quiet time” activity, giving students time to use their senses to make more observations and fully embrace and experience nature. Students found a peaceful spot to sit along the shoreline, wandered through pine smelling trees, sat on warm rocks, or on benches overlooking the bay. They used their KIDS for the BAY Field Trip Journals to record their observations. One student named Xavier shared, “The quiet time in nature made me feel really calm and peaceful.” Another student added, “I really enjoyed listening to water, birds, and wind.” 

The students could not help but play in the sand before returning to school! They excitedly made ‘sand mountains’ that were then quickly destroyed by their creators. Naason shared, “This is such a great spot. This is the best day ever!” 

KIDS for the BAY