Charleston elementary students explore nature at Solar Day

Sunday, May 22, 2011
Hearnes Elementary third-graders check to see if they caught any pond life Tuesday during Solar Day at the Wayne Corse family farm near Charleston, Mo. Third- and fifth-graders from Hearnes and St. Henry School participated in the event. (Leonna Heuring ~ Standard Democrat)

CHARLESTON, Mo. -- For one day a year for more than 20 years, a Charleston family farm transforms into an outdoor classroom to help local students discover nature.

Tuesday marked the annual event known as Solar Day. More than 200 third- and fifth-graders and teachers from Hearnes Elementary and St. Henry School in Charleston, along with presenters and volunteers, flocked to the Wayne Corse family farm near Charleston.

"This is amazing. It's a great day," said Stephanie Bledsoe, a parent of a St. Henry third-grader. "There's so much science and public safety for the children to learn, and they gain an appreciation for nature."

Children's experiences range from learning how to plant flowers and make bird feeders to learning about the different organisms living in the pond.

"I think it's great the Corse family does this and the volunteers who help, too," Bledsoe said. "It's also great for the [Charleston] public schools to invite St. Henry students to come, too."

The daylong event aims to teach students about outdoor life and conservation through various activities and stations such as pond life, birds, cooking, fishing, bike safety, and reptiles and amphibians.

"The area is wonderful for outdoor education," Wayne Corse said between the reptile and amphibian program he presents to the students.

Corse's father-in-law, Robert G. Delaney, was a Missouri Department of Conservation commissioner from 1965 to 1974.

Debbie Corse said her parents were always interested in conserving the wildlife and outdoors, and she and her husband are, too. She has a degree in ichthyology (the study of fish) while Corse's degree is in herpetology (the study of reptiles).

"It's fun," said Debbie Corse, who presents the program on pond life.

One of the event's creators, retired schoolteacher Annette Robertson of Charleston, said the best part of Solar Day, which started in 1986, is it gets the children to stretch their minds.

"I believe in children learning hands-on," she said. "Hardly any of the children get an experience like this."

Samuel Bledsoe, a third-grader at St. Henry, said he liked using the fishing nets to see the different things that live in a pond.

"My favorite part has been catching bugs and fish in the pond," said Samuel, who added learning about bike safety was fun, too.

Meanwhile, Hearnes Elementary third-grader Nicole Hart and her partners were taking turns using nets to see what they could find in the water at the pond. At midmorning, they'd found a big spider and two bugs, she said.

"I've learned about algae and what it looks like and how to tell which snakes are poisonous," Nicole said.

Hearnes third-grader Alex Lynch said the reptile and amphibian program was his favorite.

"You shouldn't kill animals, and if you have a pet, you should take care of it. Don't treat it with disrespect," Alex said about what he'd learned.

Amber Dixon, a fifth-grader at Hearnes Elementary, said she enjoyed the cooking station, where the students used "buddy burners" made from recycled items, such as tin cans, to cook hot dogs and s'mores. She also liked the American Indian skills activity, where students learned how to throw spears.

"We also learned how they didn't waste anything when they would catch animals," Amber said, adding American Inidans could also make rope or clothes from an animal."

Rosemary Owens of Charleston, who was substitute teaching for a class of Hearnes' third graders Tuesday, said the Solar Day is always a great experience for students. Her own children have experienced Solar Day over the years.

"It teaches the children that nature isn't bad," Owens said. " And we have to appreciate it."

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