I hop on one foot as I try to free the periwinkle snails that have fallen into my boots; all the while mud oozes into my socks and salt marsh cordgrass tickles the backs of my knees. Yep, it must be one of my favorite days at work: salt marsh day! Today I am out on Skidaway Island near Savannah, Georgia exploring the salt marsh with a group of very enthusiastic summer campers.
As a Marine Education intern with Georgia Sea Grant, I am one of four fearless leaders of the Summer Marine Science Camps that take place at the University of Georgia Marine Education Center and Aquarium. My job this summer is to foster curiosity in my campers about the Georgia coast through hands-on, feet-in exploration. In other words, my job is to make sure that campers have a chance to touch, smell, hear, see, and even taste some of the amazing things that the Georgia coast has to offer.
One of my favorite things about summer camp is that most of the activities I lead are driven by sheer curiosity. After I pull my (now snail-free) boot back on and regain my balance, I realize the parade of 7 and 8-year-olds in front of me has abruptly stopped. Their eyes jump back and forth between me and a small snail on a blade of cordgrass just off the trail. All of a sudden wave after wave of enthusiastic questions flood my ears: Is that a snail on the cordgrass? How does it stick sideways? How can it move up and down? What do they eat? What eats it? Can it hear us? Can it SEE us?
I excitedly tell them everything I know about periwinkle snails and show them a special trick to encourage the snails to peek out of their shells: humming. Every camper quickly picks up a snail and joins me in serenading the snails out of their shells. As the snails begin to reveal themselves, it’s hard to tell who is more excited: the campers or me (or the snails!). We decide to keep the snails with us as we move forward through the salt marsh, harmonizing as a group until we stop to investigate the next interesting thing that catches someone’s eye.
As we slosh out of the salt marsh a couple of hours later, I am one happy camper. I feel rewarded after discussing the importance of salt marsh habitat, tidal dynamics, animal and plant adaptations, and other topics with groups that exhibit such organic curiosity and bubbling excitement.
It’s days like today, when students learn something new and are able to stitch that new thread of information into a larger framework of knowledge, that make me feel incredibly fulfilled as an educator. Luckily, through my Georgia Sea Grant Education internship, I get to experience this every day.