Inside Track to the great outdoors

Inside track to the great outdoors in Lino Lakes

  • Article by: KELLY JO McDONNELL , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 6, 2011 – 2:29 PM

A prominent naturalist will speak to parents of home schoolers to help infuse kids with a love of the outdoors.


Naturalist Maria Pierz guided a group of children as they explored the Wargo Nature Center together.

Sil Pembleton has a passion for the outdoors and works to share it with kids and parents, and that’s what she’ll be doing next week at Wargo Nature Center in Lino Lakes.

Pembleton, a naturalist who has written several wildlife books for children, among other endeavors, will be a guest speaker for the Home School Program presented by Anoka County’s Parks and Recreation Department. The program offers monthly environmental, recreational and natural history sessions for home school students and their families.

Pembleton “is a conservationist with a real connection,” said Jennifer Fink of the Parks and Rec Department. “She gets kids connected to the outdoors. … They are the people who are going to help us preserve and take care of the environment. We have to build it when they’re young.”

Pembleton’s Dec. 15 presentation will be aimed at parents. “The kids will be off doing some education classes at that time,” Fink said. “She’s working with the parents and offering them tips and ideas for how to get their kids engaged in the outdoors.”

Pembleton said that, while introducing kids to the outdoors is key, so is reaching their parents. “My program offers simple and fun things that parents can do who don’t feel extremely comfortable in the out of doors,” she said. “Parents and teachers are so influential in a child’s life, so if I can get them going … I’m happy.”

She said outdoor lessons build life experiences and can help children as students.

“They have a better understanding of science in school in the early years,” she said. “When you have the chance to play in the stream, or dig in the dirt, or watch the clouds, or build with blocks, it gives you this feeling of how things work.”

Pembleton and her husband, Ed, have always been passionate about nature, and they’ve pursued that passion for more than 30 years as educators, naturalists and conservationists.

During her career, Sil Pembleton worked at the Smithsonian Institution and was director of environmental studies at Hard Bargain Farm in Washington, D.C., an outdoor educational facility on the Potomac River. One of her favorite “disconnect” stories comes from her time there.

She was demonstrating how to milk a cow, and a young girl asked: “But where does the meat come out?”

“This was right in our nation’s capital,” Pembleton said with a laugh. “I had daily reminders of how disconnected the kids were. They had no idea that their food, their automobiles, their computers in the schools, come from the Earth. It’s all Earth material. We’ve just changed it so much it’s hard to recognize.”

Pembleton’s program includes giving parents a weather guide calendar that explains day-by-day what is going on in nature. She said it gives parents a “heads up” on what kinds of things they and their children can look for while outdoors.

“For example, in the calendar there’s a chart to help you figure out how fast the wind is blowing. You can start with bubbles! … It’s fun, but learning at the same time.”

Pembleton said she gets all sorts of parents at her programs. She notices that particularly young parents aren’t quite sure where to start.

“Every child needs to keep that sense of wonder,” she said, “and needs the companionship of one adult who can share it and rediscover the joy and the excitement of the world we live in. I want to help the parents feel adequate about sharing the simple, fun activities that they can do. … And the kids take it from there.”

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