Project WET, Preschool, and a Summer Sign-off


It’s difficult to believe that I’m already on to my last post as a summer intern at the Project WET Foundation. I have so much to be thankful for—more on that in a moment—including a very fitting close to my time here. Yesterday, Katie, Nicole, and I were able to visit Pilgrim Preschool here in Bozeman, MT, to help the students through a fun and interactive water-based activity.

Project WET has a “mission of reaching children, parents, teachers, and community members of the world with water education.” They do so through a combination of science-based strategies, including:

  • publishing water resource materials
  • training workshops that focus on a wide range of water topics
  • building a global network of educators, scientists, and water resource professionals
  • organizing community water events

Most of Project WET’s material is geared toward elementary and secondary school students—an age group with which Project WET has found much success in making a significant impact. But there are other critical periods in a child’s educational life, and Project WET recognizes this. For some time now, Dennis and the rest of the Project WET crew have had their eye on expanding materials to preschool-age children. I wrote on the importance of early childhood environmental education in a previous post; in summary, the early childhood years are an important time in development and thus education. However, not surprisingly, the biggest limiting factor holding Project WET back from producing preschool-aged materials—such as Little KIDs Activity Booklets—is funding.

Funding aside, our experiences with both Pilgrim Preschool and the younger age group in general speak well to Project WET’s ability to translate its materials into an approachable format for 2 ½ to 5 year olds. Katie, Nicole, and I used the “The Rainstick” with the preschoolers to explore water and its importance in our lives. The activity covered factual, scientific, and cultural information about rainsticks, how to build them, and a story that illustrates how water is life. Here’s what some of the children had to say during the activity:

  • “Desert? How do you live without water?”
  • “We drink water!”
  • “Water is used to wash.”
  • “A small apple floats in water but apple seeds sink.”
  • “You can’t make a rainstick from paper, it needs to be hard!”


If it wasn’t obvious from the children’s comments, the preschoolers were engaged in the activity and had a blast. They shared many stories and insights about water and listened carefully to the story of a boy who discovered how to capture the sound of rain. Many children made comments similar to the one about apples and apple seeds—turns out early this week they learned about sinking and floating (so they listen!) We wrapped up the activity by working together and using their newly-crafted rainsticks to make a rainstorm and build up to a thunderstorm. Some of the parents were even there to listen. It was one of the most joyful rainstorms I’ve been part of!

While at the preschool, I couldn’t help but keep thinking that this is what it’s about. Teaching children about water and leaving with new lessons of our own. Learning is not unidirectional, but a continual dialog that perpetuates and feeds itself. Learning is contagious. And the preschoolers’ enthusiasm and interest was contagious indeed.

I think the experience at Pilgrim Preschool is an illustrative example of the importance of Project WET’s work. One of my earlier posts discussed why we ought to care to conserve water and why we ought to act on that calling. This is one significant reason why: children of today, tomorrow, and the distant future. Their curiosity and wonder are interwoven with their actions. Education at a young age propagates through the child and into the future as she or he grows up and into adulthood. And what wonderful seeds to plant at a young age—seeds of curiosity and wonder, kindness and love.

Source: Animator Frédéric Back.

I have thoroughly enjoyed having the chance to be part of the Project WET Foundation this summer. Project WET has provided an avenue for translating my education into a meaningful and measurable impact. Knowledge in itself is a worthwhile endeavor, but when we can use our education for the betterment of society—in however big or small of way—education becomes lasting. In a way it’s like author Nelson Henderson’s insight: The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit. We may never again see (or see in the first place) the children reached by Project WET, but the impacts are lasting and real. And I think that’s what strikes me the most about my experiences with Project WET—the working endlessly to make a difference in lives of people we may never meet. For Project WET, that is done through worldwide water education. It varies in the how, but each of us has the power to make an impact in our own ways.
I want to thank the entire Project WET staff for welcoming me so graciously into this family and for sharing all the valuable experiences over the summer. I thoroughly enjoyed my work, which included:

  • contributing content to and reviewing Project WET materials for publication
  • authoring weekly science-based and reflective blog posts (like this one!) covering various water-focused topics
  • researching and composing executive summaries on topics as background for publications and proposals
  • developing funding proposals and identifying potential funders for future Project WET materials



School and basketball both start up again shortly, and there’s much to look forward to in the upcoming year. I can’t commit to the weekly posts I’ve been writing during the summer, but I do plan on continuing to post when I find the time and inspiration on my website. I anticipate continuing to write about water-related topics, as well as other natural resource topics, basketball, and life in general.

With that, I bid adieu for now to Bozeman and this wonderful summer working at Project WET. I offer the following perspective in my wake: When in doubt, make tea.


Bringing the Outdoors In

Last week I discussed the role of early childhood education, particularly regarding environmental perception and action. At one point I mentioned strategies for bringing the outdoors inside the classroom as a way of extending experiences with the natural environment indoors. What I didn’t mention is that my mother is the Director and Lead Teacher at Pilgrim Preschool here in Bozeman, MT. The program focuses on development of the whole child through experiences in social studies, science, language arts, math, music, and art. I’ve had the delightful fortune of visiting Pilgrim Preschool periodically throughout my adolescence and young adult life. The children are nothing short of entertaining and I always seem to walk away having learned something new.

(Click to Enlarge)The Montana State Bird, Fish, Animal, Tree, Flower, and Insect.

Last summer my mother and I had the idea to paint some of the preschool furniture with plants and animals as a way to brighten up the classroom and bring some natural elements indoors. After some brainstorming, we agreed that I would revive an adorable set of 6 (miniature) wooden chairs by painting them. We started last summer by painting over the original red with a beautiful sky blue. I then made plans to throw a little education in with the art and nature elements by painting one of Montana’s State Symbols on each of the chairs. I settled on using the Montana State Bird, Fish, Animal, Tree, Flower, and Insect.

I figured using state symbols was a simple means to bring part of nature into the classroom in a way rooted in the local landscape. As I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, effective and lasting education is most powerful when it speaks to people’s circumstance. And when environmental education is focused locally, it becomes more relevant to a child’s everyday life (Ballantyne et al., 2001; Duvall & Zint, 2007; Zampas, 2011). It is thus my hope with this project that even at a scale as small as furniture in a classroom, a little daily exposure to Montana’s State Symbols just might encourage further exploration into what’s beyond the classroom walls.

Ponderosa Pine
(Pinus ponderosa)

(Lewisia rediviva)

Blackspotted Cutthroat Trout
(Oncorhynchus clarkii lewisi)

Grizzly Bear
(Ursus arctos horribilis)

Mourning Cloak Butterfly
(Nymphalis antiopa)

Western Meadowlark
(Sturnella neglecta)

Of course, life moving like it does, it took until this summer for me to actually sit down and do the painting (hence the occasional chips in some of the chairs’ base coats). This past Labor Day weekend provided the perfect opportunity. The whole process took a decent number of hours, so I had ample time to listen to music (found some great new albums) and think. Not surprisingly, I mulled over the whole business of state symbols and what prompted them in the first place.

So I did some digging around.

State Symbols connect the history and culture of a state. They range in categories from land- and resource-centric symbols like those used for the chairs to tradition- and story-centric symbols like State Dance and State Pre-Historic Artifact. Declarations of state symbols, including what categories they cover, is up to the states to decide. Thus, each state has its own unique list of categories for state symbols. Some examples I found surprising:

  • Montana’s State Lullaby: creatively called, “Montana Lullaby,” we have a State Song and State Ballad, too—cowboys and girls like to sing!
  • Oregon’s State Parents: Pioneers Tabitha Moffatt Brown and Dr. John McLoughlin’s aid in the early settlement of the state was enough for this designation.
  • California’s State Folk Dance: dates back to the “Gold Rush Days” when Square Dancing wasn’s the thing to do.
  • Nebraska’s State Beverage: inventing a popular drink can get you a state symbol designation, as Kool-Aid learned following its invention in 1927 in Hastings, NE.
  • Oklahoma’s State Menu Items: there are eleven of them. Buffet time!
  • Alabama’s State Outdoor Musical Drama: The Incident at Looney’s Tavern, a historically-inspired drama that takes place in Civil War-era Alabama.

The plethora of state symbols—many of which are a bit obscure and quite specific—speak to the way our country holds on to tradition and unity through a shared, but diverse heritage. They provide a way to identify with a place culturally, physically, historically, or otherwise. While it can easily seem silly to tie such significance to a thing, I would argue it’s more about the connections made through such things.

If it takes a state symbol to get a child interested in the fish swimming through our rivers, then bring on the wading boots. If a person is inspired to learn more about their family history from a state historical symbol, then call up grandma. I guess what I’m trying to say is that each of us has our own path to the things we care about and love and desire to protect. The important thing is getting to that point—and acting on that desire.

Works Cited

  • Ballantyne, R., Fien, J., & Packer, J. (2001). Program effectiveness in facilitating intergenerational influence in environmental education: Lessons from the field. The Journal of Environmental Education, 32(4), 8.
  • Duvall, J., & Zint, M. (2007). A review of research on the effectiveness of environmental education in promoting intergenerational learning. The Journal of Environmental Education, 38(4), 12.
  • Zampas, G. (2011). The role of education for sustainable development in families’ sustainable consumption. Paper presented at the Global Vision, Local Action: Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship, Bournemouth, U.K.