Pinnacle Explorations brings the outdoors to kids in the city
Sean Chan, right, utilizes Seattle’s green spaces to promote environmental stewardship.
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
Sean Chan, founder and executive director of Pinnacle Explorations Outdoor School, a nonprofit educational organization based in Seattle, leads a group of eager students, ages 5 to 10, to the Washington Park Arboretum, less than a half-mile trek from their classroom in Madison Valley. His class has been conducting science experiments to learn about water, buoyancy and density; today, they’re excited to test their handcrafted rafts made of fallen tree branches and rubber bands in the arboretum’s streams.
As a child growing up in New York City, Chan viewed “nature” as something hours outside of the city, but after earning a master of arts in environmental education and working as an urban park ranger, he gained a new appreciation for the ecosystems within city limits.
Today, his mission is to show urban youth and his own two young children that “the environment” is inside cities. “When people don’t think about urban space, their community, or their neighborhood as part of ‘the environment,’ then they might not think it is worth keeping clean,” he explains.
To promote a sense of stewardship, Chan and his team of educators created a curriculum that utilizes Seattle’s public spaces and engages a child’s basic sense of adventure. This summer, Pinnacle Explorations will expand to Phinney Ridge, with camps including garden-to-table cooking, geocaching, animal safari and nature crafts. Explorers enrolled in the Pinnacle Sealab camp will kayak, fish, collect water samples, dissect specimens and study waterways, all made easier by the new location’s proximity to Green Lake, the Ballard Locks, Golden Gardens and Puget Sound.
Althea Chaivan, Pinnacle Explorations board president and mother to Kealan, 12, and Jude, 7, writes, “Pinnacle’s mission mirrors the conversations kids are starting to have about the environment on conservation,” referring to the Youth Climate Strike on March 15, when students and young adults skipped school worldwide, demanding action from leaders regarding climate change. “As kids learn about nature and science at Pinnacle, they can see how it applies to the changes they see in the world associated with pollution and global warming.”
But does this outdoor school appeal to children who might not like to get their hands dirty?
“Sure,” Chan says. “Pinnacle Explorations is for every child, because we’re all about finding a way for them to connect with nature, whether it’s going on a hike or making art with nature, not the way we want them to connect. Then, once kids learn what their connection to nature looks like, they’ll become lifelong stewards of the environment.”