Reaching Beyond the Screen: What’s in a Kit?

I feel very grateful to continue working with students in Todd Elementary’s after school enrichment program, Timberwolf Time. Before the pandemic, I would visit twice a week bringing investigation tools, craft supplies, rocks, and even worms with me. Students and I would use our senses to smell, touch, feel, listen, and sometimes even taste our way into complex environmental ideas. 

Now, when we are not able to all be together in one place, it is a struggle to find ways to reach through the screen. There is a lot that I can show them by sharing my screen, holding things up, and moving around. However, for me, that falls short of the immersive sensory experience that I want kids to experience with our programming.

(Kit contents; delivered to Mrs. Fuentes at Todd; Aaron’s car full)

With the kit in the hands of students…

Enter The Kit. Todd Elementary, like so many schools right now, has pick up dates, so students can get extra math and reading materials to use at home. The first Timberwolf Time was scheduled soon after the first pickup date. I quickly cobbled together lunch sacks with toilet paper tubes, pipe cleaners, rocks, and sticks to make the deadline. With that kit in the hands of students, I was able to reach through the screen and get a little bit closer to each kid, make the experience less vision focused and more tactile. (Don’t worry, I did stop short of including worms.)

…I can reach through the screen to make the experience less vision-focused and more tactile.

What I have learned is that the kit is critical. Sure, environmental education can still happen on a screen or in a book, but it is not my preferred way of presenting the world. Even though it is fun to look at bright pictures and discuss them, those pictures can never replace experiencing rough rocks, stinky dirt, the silence of worms, and the sweet crispness of apples. So much of how we treat knowledge is flat (dates, facts, vocabulary) that we sometimes forget that knowledge can also have shape and depth, too.  

I look forward to a time when we are able to come together again, and physically indulge in the nature around us. Until then, we will use kits and screens to, in the words of one of my mentors, Ms. Frizzle, from The Magic School Bus, “Take Chances, Make Mistakes, and Get Messy.”

Aaron Wilson
Program Director, WEC