Become a Volunteer Naturalist
Sign up today for our Spring training session: Mondays, March 18 through April 29 from 9:30 am until 2:30 pm. Please note: there will be no class on April 1. Call (412) 963-6100 for more information - or read below to learn more and download your applicaiton.
See the World through the eyes of a child--become a volunteer naturalist! Volunteer Naturalists lead school children from the greater Pittsburgh area on outdoor discover walks, informal educational hikes at ASWP's Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve. Experience is NOT required! You bring enthusiasm for children and nature; we train you in the natural history and trailside activities you need to be a confident, effective Naturalist.
As a Volunteer Naturalist, you will lead several walks per month in spring and autumn. Choose walks according your personal schedule. Walks vary from 90 minutes to 4 hours, depending on age and topic. Walks take place weekdays during school hours. We provide initial training in a six-session course, available in March and September. We provide ongoing education at monthly meetings held September through May. Read the FAQ below for details!
ASWP's Outdoor Discovery walks feature:
- Low number of students per leader (typically 12 or less)
- Emphasis on hands-on and discovery-based cooperative learning
- The natural diversity of 134-acre Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve, Pittsburgh's Outdoor Classroom
Next Volunteer Naturalist Training:
Mondays, 9:30 am to 2:30 pm, March 18 through April 29; no class on April 1; at Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve
We offer the Volunteer Naturalist Training every spring and fall.
To enroll, download this application, or email or call us we will send you an application. You will also need to submit a background check; read below for details.
Our Volunteer Naturalist Training is an Act 48 Approved Professional Development course, eligible for 30 hours of credit! Download the explanatory letter here.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does a volunteer naturalist do?
The Volunteer Naturalist "facilitates," that is, he or she helps the students make their own discoveries and answer their own questions, rather than simply points-and-names like a tour guide. However, structure does lie behind this open format. Our hikes have specific themes targeted to the age of the hikers. Themes include senses, animal homes, seasonl changes, habitats, watersheds, and biodiversity. We also offer special maple sugaring walks in March. We serve preschool through grade 12, though the majority of our participants are elementary age.
We have approximately 8-12 children in each hiking group, depending on age and theme. This low leader-to-student ratio is a hallmark of ASWP's Outdoor Discovery programming. Each hike begins with an introduction to the day's theme. As we hike, we look for natural discoveries that support the theme. We punctuate the hike with short activities and games that reinforce the theme and add to the fun.
How will I know what to do?
Each hike has a lesson plan that outlines the theme and describes the activity options. You can customize your hike by selecting from the lesson plan's menu of appropriate activities. You are free to blend open discovery time and directed activities into a format that works best for you.
How often will I lead? Which themes or ages?
After training, Volunteer Naturalists lead at least one hike per two weeks in our busy seasons, roughly March (for Maple Sugaring), mid-April to early June, and mid-September to mid-November. We also offer walks in winter and summer, although we have no minimum volunteering requirements for those seasons. You choose your hikes according to your schedule and preferences for age groups and themes.
How do I sign up?
Please return this Volunteer Naturalist application. Or, contact us with your name and address and we can send you an application. You will also want to submit background check forms as soon as you can as well.
What is the background check?
ASWP requires those who work with children unsupervised to submit to a Background Check at the applicant's expense. (Only Pennsylvania residents may apply.) This includes two separate screening forms: Child Abuse Clearance and a Criminal Record Check. Download the forms here. The Criminal Record Check only can also be done online here. (The online processing is much faster.) You cannot lead programs yourself until ASWP has your forms on file. However, you may train, observe and assist in the meantime. One set is good for as long as you volunteer for ASWP regularly. You may submit previously completed documents if dated within one calendar year of your application.
It can take 3 to 6 weeks (or longer in autumn) for these to be processed by mail, so please submit them promptly. We recommend you use the online option for the Criminal Record Check because it is much faster. At this time, there is no online option for the child abuse screening.
What takes place at the training?
You need no experience or knowledge--just enthusiasm. We'll provide the rest. The six-session training covers our thematic hikes, natural history pertinent to the themes, and in-depth studies of general topics, such as birds or trees. You will receive our Volunteer Naturalist Handbook containing our lesson plans and supplemental resources. We offer the training twice a year, every March and September. (See the schedule above.) Bring a lunch and prepare to be inside and outside in any weather. You will also observe at least two "real" walks before your own. You may observe any time, preferably before the end of your training.
What takes place at the monthly meetings?
We hold monthly Volunteer Naturalist meetings September to May, which you are encouraged to attend. They are usually the first Wednesday of the month, 9:30 to Noon. We discuss some business then participate in a program on a natural history or environmental educational topic.
Wow! Can I do this?
This program has successfully trained scores of volunteers from widely varied backgrounds. Becoming a Volunteer Naturalist takes some time at the beginning, but soon it will be second nature to you. To get started, download the application. Or, contact us. We hope to receive your application soon!