PROVIDENCE – Over the past year, Department of Environmental Management (DEM) Wildlife Outreach staff have been developing a series of educational resources for K-8 educators, organized thematically into learning kits. The materials – Rhody Critter Kits – contain lesson plans, activities, videos, hands-on learning guides, and other resources curated by Wildlife Outreach staff with special emphasis on Rhode Island's wildlife species, conservation work, and management practices. A total of five kits have been developed, three of which became available last fall for educators to access online. Materials were developed and selected to correlate to the Next Generation Science Standards. Kit topics include bats, birds, reptiles and amphibians, wildlife habitat, and conservation through the careful management of wildlife.
On Monday, February 15, from 2:30 – 5:30 pm, DEM's Wildlife Outreach staff will present a free educator training session on each Rhody Critter Kit, via Zoom. Registration is required to receive a link to the program. To view a list of virtual outreach events, visit DEM's Wildlife Outreach Program page at dem.ri.gov/wildlifeoutreach. Post-pandemic, DEM will offer the training workshops in person, with hands-on field components to give educators firsthand experience learning about conservation work in Rhode Island.
"Over the past three years, we've visited many classrooms and interacted with thousands of students across the state," said Mary Gannon, Wildlife Outreach Coordinator for DEM's Division of Fish and Wildlife. "Our classroom programs became very popular, and unfortunately, we had to turn some teachers away because there just weren't enough hours in the week for us to visit with everyone. In order to equitably provide resources for teachers, and to reach more students, we made the decision to take a step back from in-person classroom programs to develop the Rhody Critter Kits."
The kits are designed to connect students to the wildlife resources in their backyards and communities, as well as spread awareness about wildlife conservation work in the state. They include video interviews with DEM biologists and fun virtual field trips to give kids a behind-the-scenes look at conservation work in action, along with resources and suggestions on how teachers and students can get involved and help local wildlife. "Whether it's submitting an observation of a frog through the DEM HerpObserver app or planting native plants in your school garden, there are lots of ways educators can create direct connections to our wildlife and contribute to conservation," said Gannon.
These educational resources aren't just for classroom teachers. DEM encourages informal educators, homeschooling families, scout groups, libraries, or anyone who is interested in Rhode Island's wildlife to check them out.
As a precaution to prevent the spread of COVID-19, DEM's Wildlife Outreach Program is not lending out the hands-on kit containers for the current school year; however, all the materials included in the kits are available on DEM's website at www.dem.ri.gov/critterkits.
The Rhody Critter Kits program is made possible through support from the Wildlife & Sport Fish Restoration (WSFR) Program and State Wildlife Grants (SWG), Federal Aid programs administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Funding from hunting licenses, permits, and excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment is allocated each year to the RI Division of Fish and Wildlife through the WSFR Program to fund wildlife research, monitoring, habitat acquisition and restoration, wildlife outreach programs, and aquatic resource and hunter education courses. Additional funds from the SWG Program are allocated to support conservation and outreach efforts for Rhode Island's Species of Greatest Conservation Need.
For more information on Rhode Island's wildlife, visit http://www.dem.ri.gov/ Follow the Division of Fish and Wildlife on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RIFishwildlife/ and Instagram (@RI.FishandWildlife) for timely updates.
For more information about DEM divisions and programs, visit www.dem.ri.gov. Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RhodeIslandDEM or on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) for timely updates.