Back in the third or fourth grade, our teacher asked us to bring in leaves of various colors, shapes and sizes. She then dipped each in paraffin and created an autumn display for our classroom. But the key to this memory was her guide book, which let us identify and label our leaves.
Not having come from a nature-oriented family, this was one of my first introductions to the diversity of plants. At that stage in my life, a tree was a tree and leaves were those parts that shaded our tree house in summer, turned pretty colors in the fall and then cluttered the ground before we raked them into piles or burned them in my grandfather's backyard. And while I was familiar with a variety of wild creatures, primarily from trips to the zoo, I knew them more by category than by species. Backyard birds and butterflies were, in my mind, identified by color, not by family.
I will never know if my teacher anticipated the impact that her project and guidebook might have on her students. Perhaps, for her, it was just another seasonal recommendation in the instructor's manual. But, for me, it was a memorable and significant event, one of only a handful that I can clearly associate with igniting my interest in nature. For that, I am sincerely grateful and hope that others entrusted with the education of children will recognize their opportunity to instill passion in young minds.