Meet Katie Boyle, Environmental Educator and the Creator of the Oxford Wonder Walks

You may have noticed a few new events on the Green Week schedule this year. One of these events is the Wonder Walk led by Katie Boyle, an environmental educator and the creator of Oxford Wonder Walks.

The Oxford Wonder Walks are typically geared towards children ages 2-12, but the special Wonder Walk that will be a part of Green Week will be geared towards people of all ages. The Green Week Wonder Walk will take place on Friday, April 26th from 11am to 12:30pm. This event is free, but spots are limited and registration is required. Sign up for the Green Week Wonder Walk here. 

What exactly is a Wonder Walk? We interviewed Katie to learn more about Wonder Walks and Katie’s career as an environmental educator.

 

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Pictured: Katie Boyle and two of her students discovering a bodark root. 

What are Wonder Walks?

Katie: Wonder Walks are an opportunity for local kids and their families to experience the amazingly complex world of nature that exists right here in Oxford, MS! The walks are child-led, inquiry-based education classes but always include time for imaginative play, storytelling, art and building friendships.

Where did the idea for Wonder Walks come from?

Katie: After spending two blissful years at home with my son, I realized that I missed my work as an environmental educator. I also was not outside nearly as much as I thought I would be. We were busy, it was hard to get motivated, I wondered about the best place to go, etc. I also wanted my kids to experience it with other kids. I was curious if other families felt the same way but just needed the right opportunity. Or, if there were kids out there who were interested in nature but did not have access or a willing guide. That first semester, I only offered two classes and both filled up fast, so I offered one more. And that one filled up too! I feel really grateful and lucky to live in a community in which people value time in nature for children.

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The South Campus Rail Trail, where the Oxford Wonder Walks are held.

How did you get involved with environmental education?

Katie: I loved Girl Scouting as a kid. I was always into building forts, tying knots, camping, and exploring. The first time I stumbled upon some baby rabbits in my yard was just total magic. As I got older, I retreated inside and traveled the world through books. After college, I happened into American YouthWorks, an AmeriCorps program in Austin, TX, and it pretty much changed my life. We were outside every day, working on environmental projects throughout the city, learning the local flora and fauna from whoever would teach us. Like many environmental educators, I had a lot of jobs! I worked for non-profits, city, state and federal agencies and collaborated with many private companies. It wasn’t until my time at Strawberry Plains Audubon that I really learned how to be an environmental educator, instead of more of a project coordinator. What I mean is that I finally had enough confidence to grab a backpack, some guide books, binoculars and a group of kids and head out exploring. To learn as we went, together, without a lesson plan (gasp!). It sounds silly but I needed to build the confidence to say that I didn’t know everything out there and that I never would. I actually didn’t know most of it (and still don’t). I am a student, just like the kids. What I can do is be an adult with a watchful eye, a knowledge of the way and access to resources about where to look for answers to our many questions.

Why do you feel it is important to cultivate wonder for the natural world?

Katie: I believe time in nature is a human right, a collective heritage, not just a privilege. Getting people to feel wonder and awe and meaning in the forest is pretty easy. Just bring them there. A quick internet search will provide a mountain of research into the benefits of experiencing the natural world. I mean, it is staggering how much we have learned about how time outdoors positively affects the lives of people and the health of the planet. But instead we treat time outside as a respite, a vacation. In that way, time in nature is often reserved for those privileged with time and money and access.  Those of us in the environmental field need to do better, including WW. I am looking forward to being part of that conversation.

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Wonder Walks help participants discover things in the world around them, like this Spring peeper!

During Green Week, you will be partnering with the Office of Sustainability to put on a Wonder Walk open to UM students, faculty and staff, and community members. Aren’t Wonder Walks usually for kids? Aren’t we a little old for this? 

Katie: Absolutely not! Wonder Walks are for everyone! Actually, one of the reasons I created the program was to get myself outside exploring. Being in the forest is a great equalizer. I have never met anyone who knows it all. We are all students. I think it may be especially important for adults to give themselves over to wonder more often.

Spring is finally here! In your opinion, what should we be keeping our eyes (or ears) open for this month? (April)

Katie: Spring in Mississippi is just the best, right? Before the trees completely leaf out is the time to look for spring ephemerals. These are the tiny flowers that carpet the forest floor in the short window of time after it becomes warm enough for them to bloom but before the trees make it too shady in the forest. You will have to slow down your walk and keep your eyes to the ground. Some of the flowers are small and some are hidden by leaf litter. But they are all beautiful and it will be worth it! Some to look out for are bluets, violets, and jack in the pulpits. You will see cool and weird mushrooms, maybe a morel or a bleeding heart. If you happen to be your water, look and listen for frogs and check out the water’s edge for eggs!

 

For more information about the Wonder Walk and other Green Week events, click here. 

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