Hurray! It’s half day!
Once a month, Payson Schools’ half-day schedule may leave some students unsupervised, but last Wednesday, a happy, inquisitive group of 21 first- through fifth-graders had two hours of semi-structured free-play in the forest. It’s called “Hurray! It’s Half day,” and is part of Parks and Recreation’s Geo-Kidz program.
The kids boarded a school bus and left Rumsey Park at 1 p.m. They rode to the paleo and fossil site near Kohl’s Ranch. The paleo site is in the Old Highway 260 roadbed — a place where millions of tiny fossils have risen to the surface of the ground.
A huge parking lot makes a perfect staging area for children. They had snacks and water in the parking lot. Facilitator Michael Rose said, “Fifty years ago, kids grew up outside. Now they grow up in front of a screen. We are trying to get them back outside.”
The kids darted here and there along the old roadway. When a child found the shape of a seashell in a rock, she called out, “I found one!” Kids quickly gathered around her to see her treasure. Then came another enchanted call from up ahead and they ran off to the new excitement.
They rustled through the woods to the top of a nearby hill, and found themselves on a ridge covered with tiny shards of red rock. Many had fossils. “They’re everywhere,” said one little blond, as he scratched dirt from the snail-like swirl in the red rock, his eyes wide with wonderment.
Rose encourages every child to connect with nature on his own level. Some focused on fossil-displaying rocks. Others ripped apart a rotten log and looked for the little critters that live in a young imagination. Some found fascination in pinecones and leaves, and even elk dung. They all got a break from the stresses of school and home.
“This is especially beneficial for the kids that don’t get to the woods much,” said one of the five volunteers accompanying the kids. “It would be great to have them out here for four full hours. We could build a fort and study animal tracks.”
Geo-Kidz are planning another “Hurray! It’s Half Day!” in December. “We will be indoors only if the weather is bad,” Rose said. The cost is $15 per child, and parents may register their children at the Parks and Recreation office at Green Valley Park.