May 4, 2008
Her classroom encompasses 180 acres:
As the outdoor education coordinator at Heit’s Point Lutheran Camp in Lincoln, Nikki Freeman teaches youngsters and families about plants, animal science, aquatic and forest ecology, outdoor recreation, camping skills and pioneer living.
Freeman, who says she enjoys the fact that hiking boots are part of her work attire, has a degree in education. She also has a passion for the outdoors.
“I’ve just been lucky enough to blend the two,” she said.
Freeman guided kindergartners from St. Paul’s Lutheran School through a nature scavenger hunt Tuesday, where the answer to each clue led to the next paper flower.
“This is our state tree; isn’t it pretty?” Freeman said as she pointed out a flowering dogwood.
The outdoor teacher attempted the near impossible by challenging the dozen kindergartners to stand silently to hear the babble of a small creek and the chirps of birds.
Freeman talked to the children about how humans, water and animals move seeds. She demonstrated how seeds can travel by blowing dandelion seeds.
“Pretty soon, the dandelion will travel and we’ll have a lot more dandelions,” Freeman said.
Kindergarten teacher Kim Anderson said the class had finished studying insects and had just started learning about gardens.
“This is perfect,” she said. “It fits right in with what we learned in the classroom.”
For older children, Freeman said she does more hands on “investigations” in the creek, where they find insects and plants in the water.
Freeman said she hopes the programs will show children how to appreciate the nature in their own backyards.
“One of my goals is just to give the kids the opportunity to learn what’s directly around them,” she said.
The outdoor program is new at Heit’s Point. It started in February, and Freeman helped design programs for families and school, Scouts and home school groups.
“We’re just really trying to promote people getting outside and spending time with each other,” Freeman said.
Freeman designed student programs based on the expectations for the grade level.
“We want to tie it back to the school,” she said. “We hope that it all flows together.”
Growing up in Manchester, Iowa, Freeman enjoyed the outdoors and summer camp. She later became a camp counselor and always wished she could make a career of it.
Freeman was the supervisor of public programs at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis before moving to Sedalia when her husband, Jeremy, became the associate pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.
In an age of video and computer games, it’s important for children to learn about the outdoors, Freeman said. Children can use their imaginations and be more creative when playing outside, she said. That’s why Freeman encourages them to touch plants and bugs in the outdoors.
“I think they gain so much stronger respect when the see it and experience it,” she said.
Children can also learn to be more environmentally conscious.
“It’s teaching them to be good citizens from a very young age,” she said.