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4-H On the Wild Side Sparks Excitement for Nature

The Issue

Many children today — particularly those from urban, economically disadvantaged communities — do not have opportunities to experience and understand nature. These children are the stewards of our future and the ecological health of the planet. They need the chance to discover the workings and wonder of nature, and to develop science and reasoning skills necessary to critical thinking and problem solving. Opportunities for youth to explore and enjoy natural places is an investment in our children and our Earth.

What Has ANR Done?

ANR provides environmental education and outdoor experiences to youth living in Sacramento's economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Since 2000, 4-H On the Wild Side has brought over 1,900 fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders from schools and after school programs to an overnight outdoor living experience filled with discovery and opportunity to do science.

4-H On the Wild Side emphasizes experiential and inquiry-based learning in the areas of environmental science, cross-age teaching and youth-adult partnership. Teens and adult volunteers work to plan and staff two weekend overnight camp experiences in May and June. Children rotate through teen-led activities to learn about ecosystems, migration, habitat and the food chain. Youth build deductive reasoning skills, becoming scientists themselves as they observe, collect data, compare, question and use tools.

The Payoff

Developing knowledge, stewardship and civic engagement

Data collected over 13 years consistently point to a rich learning experience for both elementary school participants and teenagers. Many report this as their first time living outdoors, and data reveal a litany of new experiences for youth: from seeing bats and sleeping outside to testing water and using science equipment. Fascination with, and appreciation for, nature and science grows.

Pre- and post-tests and student journals reveal that youth gain knowledge about environmental concepts, and better comprehend cause and effect. This translates to increased awareness of environmental issues and stewardship as students understand the interconnectedness of the natural world and the consequences of human behavior. The program models citizenship in action. Teens grow in leadership skills and civic engagement as they volunteer to impact an issue important to them. They feel a sense of efficacy and prove excellent teachers. Ninety-nine percent feel they make an important contribution in their community through 4-H On the Wild Side.

Clientele Testimonial

"We looked in the water for bugs or anything else. I saw a frog with orange eyes. A frog survives by eating flies and living in its habitat.” – Sixth-grader


Supporting Unit: Sacramento County

4-H Youth Development Program
Marianne Bird, (916) 875-6423, mbird@ucanr.edu