Oahu’s Hawaii Nature Center becomes outdoor classroom during virus

HONOLULU — The Hawaii Nature Center has become an outdoor classroom for children who have been huddled in front of screens for their school lessons but want more than virtual learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

The center on the outskirts of urban Honolulu that has connected kids to nature for nearly 40 years has taken on a renewed purpose in the age of COVID-19, Hawaii Public Radio reported Thursday.

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The center’s weekday Outdoors EDVenture Program offers science-based environmental education to children ages 6 to 11.

Kids in face masks crisscross the Kanealole Stream in Makiki Valley dipping nets in the hopes of finding shrimp or guppies. Others explore the nearby meadow trying to catch butterflies, grasshoppers and other bugs.

“What we see is a lot of growth there with the families that have decided that home school is a better option or that their schools get out early enough on the virtual learning day,” center Executive Director Todd Cullison said.

Leon Geschwind has been sending 6-year-old daughter Anna to the center at least once each week since the summer. “We realized the importance and value of being outdoors and kind of what outdoors means to the kids,” Geschwind said.

Cullison hopes to expand the center’s reach to kids of all ages and their families through the center’s Oahu headquarters and a second location in the Iao Valley on Maui.

Cullison said he sees an opportunity for the center to revamp its focus to provide a more holistic approach to environmental education.

“We want to kind of redesign, reimagine the curriculum for the next generation of kids,” Cullison said, noting connections will be made to statewide and global themes.

“We’re talking about climate change,” Cullison said. “How do our actions here in Hawaii impact the climate and how do we teach those?”

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The center will focus on what he called “building blocks.”

“By teaching these native plants, the trees, flora and fauna, the water cycle,” Cullison said. “We think that that will lead to a better understanding of these other themes as they get older.”

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