Earthplace naturalist Siobhan Prout shows butterflies to fourth graders from Wilbur Cross School in Bridgeport as part of a lesson on pollinators. Earthplace’s urban programming includes field trip visits from seven schools in Norwalk and Bridgeport.
Photo at left: Bridgeport students’ recent field trip to Earthplace culminated in a walk through the woods, followed by a campfire. At right: A student views artwork the class created now on display at Earthplace.

By Gretchen Webster

WESTPORT — Fourth graders from Wilbur Cross School in Bridgeport arrived at Earthplace recently, eager to learn — learn about how flowers are pollinated, observe birds of prey, walk in a woodland and explore the soil, seeds, insects and plants that most had never seen before.

All of the sights and sounds they experienced inside and outside the nature center were punctuated with exclamations of joy and wonder. 

“Whoa!” said one boy inspecting a butterfly for the first time using a magnifying glass.

A little girl danced a jig in excitement when the class was told that they would be making their own representations of a pollinator — flowers, insects, butterflies.

The elementary school youngsters’ trip was one of about 25 visits a year that students from Bridgeport and Norwalk take to Earthplace. In partnership with Silvermine Arts Center, children not only learn from naturalists at Earthplace, but they also express new ideas and understanding about science and nature through art they make in Silvermine’s fine-arts enrichment program. 

Photo above: Artwork by city youngsters participating in Earthplace’s Urban Youth Initiative in collaboration with Silvemine Arts Center in Norwalk is on display at Earthplace. Lower left: Visiting fourth graders were intrigued by plant exhibits and live animals at the nature center. Lower right: A youngster checks out the display of student artwork.

Transportation to Earthplace from the city schools is paid for by the Bauer Foundation, according to Veronica Swain, director of nature programming for Earthplace. Without the provided rides, her students would not be able to go, said Kelvia Tineo, a Wilbur Cross teacher who accompanied the children to Westport.

“I think it’s a great program,” Tineo said. “They’re very excited about the program. A lot of them have never been exposed to live animals … to have the opportunity to come to this place.”

Before their visit, the students worked at their school with Silvermine’s teaching artists, who led them on curriculum-based activities combining science and art. The artistic creations produced during those sessions have been hung in an exhibit at Earthplace, and the kids were delighted to see their work hanging there during their field trip.

Although Silvermine has worked with students in the past to make curricular connections with art, the partnership with Earthplace began two years ago during the pandemic when educators were striving to motivate students, said Missy Savard, the outreach coordinator at Silvermine. And it’s been a great success, she said, as she watched the children interact with the Earthplace naturalists and each other.

Seven schools have been involved in the urban programming this year, Swain said, paid for by “generous people who want to provide these types of opportunities for kids who otherwise wouldn’t have them.”

The art collaboration with Silvermine dovetails with the natural science activities Earthplace provides, she said. “The art helps them to express their joy and the learning they get from being outside.”

That joy was evident during the Wilbur Cross students’ recent visit to Earthplace. Asked what part of the program they liked best, the children shouted “everything” in unison.

The exhibition of city children’s work will be on display at Earthplace, 10 Woodside Lane, through Feb. 16. It can be viewed during the nature center’s regular hours, Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

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Freelance writer Gretchen Webster, a Fairfield County journalist for many years, was editor of the Fairfield Minuteman and has taught journalism at New York and Southern Connecticut State universities.