By Molly Stoddard, USFWS

"A very large part of a child’s education must be gotten outside of the four walls designated as classroom."  

At our Prairie Wetlands Learning Center (PWLC), we couldn’t agree more with this statement from George Washington Carver. 

In honor of Black History Month, Carver serves as our February Naturalist of the Month for the PWLC’s Prairie Science Class. 

This year, 175 fourth and fifth graders in this unique partnership learned about Carver as a boy naturalist and adult botanist and inventor. 

Then they eagerly donned cross-country skis and snowshoes to explore the prairie wetlands environment, searching for inspiration for new natural inventions, making observations, sketching a prairie scene, and thinking about what nature has taught them. 

While earning his masters of science degree at Iowa State College, Carver recognized the importance of hands-on teaching and the concept of bringing the classroom to the field to help farmers. 

He took his students on hikes, field trips, and specimen hunts and guided them to see the interconnectedness of nature. 

One way he educated farmers in soil conservation was by driving around the countryside in his Jessup Agricultural Wagon, displaying dairy equipment and farm operations.  He brought a message of ecology and hope to southern farmers at a time they needed it most.

George Washington Carver made American history many times in his life.  Although he was born into slavery, was kidnapped and orphaned as an infant, and was weak and ill as a child, he became deeply religious, inspired to learn as much as he could about the natural world around him. 

Credited for powering the economic recovery of the southern U.S. after the Civil War, our beloved “Peanut Man” and Henry Ford shared a biofuel vision long before the demand rose. 

Yet despite adversity, his success began and flourished throughout his life from the simple notion of knowing the nature of the place where you live. 

“To those who have as yet not learned the secret of true happiness, begin now to study the little things in your own door yard.” 

In his spirit and honor, the Prairie Science Class and many other children visiting Service lands across this great country are encouraged that any man or woman, any boy or girl, can be a naturalist and become an amazing American in service to others. 

Molly Stoddard is an Instructional Systems Specialist at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center

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