GAINESVILLE — A new program is available for young nature enthusiasts interested in learning more about Florida’s environment. Inspired by the Florida Master Naturalist program, this youth program takes kids aged 10 to 13 on a journey through Florida’s ecosystems.
The Florida Youth Naturalist Program Instructor Field Guide, developed by UF/IFAS Extension, Florida 4-H and the Florida Master Naturalist Program, offers 24 hours of instruction including hands-on activities, field trips and more. The curriculum is geared toward non-formal instructors like Extension agents and nature center educators that host youth programming but could be used by formal educators.
The program is flexible and can be taught across the span of a week-long summer camp or spread over several months for groups that may meet monthly. It’s also adaptable to younger ages if needed.
“This is a critical age to expose youth to environmental appreciation and develop an understanding of the natural world,” said Shelly Johnson, UF/IFAS Extension state specialized agent in natural resources. “We want youth to understand and appreciate nature to ingrain a conservation ethic in them. Then, they grow up to be adults that care about Florida’s natural resources.”
The curriculum covers three Florida ecosystems – uplands, freshwater and coastal, and includes lessons on animals, plants, and humans living together with nature. It introduces participants to career opportunities in natural resources, ways to give back to their community and outdoor safety.
“Programs like this help to create life-long learners with a curiosity for exploring,” Johnson said. “We want youth to leave this program and grow as young naturalists and budding scientists.”
The curriculum is available for purchase by anyone. Everyone is encouraged to become an endorsed instructor to receive additional resources and evaluation materials. Endorsed instructors will be listed on the program website to help draw participants to the program.
“This project has been in the works for a long time and we’re excited to get it in the hands of educators around the state,” said Johnson. “We look forward to feedback so we can improve the curriculum going forward. We hope to continue modifying and updating it over time so it stays relevant. Then, we hope to develop curriculum for the 14- to 17-year-old age group, too.”
The Instructor Field Guide is $40 and available for purchase at the UF/IFAS Extension bookstore. For more information on the program, to become an endorsed instructor or to find an endorsed instructor offering the program near you, visit the Florida Youth Naturalist Program website.