It’s pouring rain when I arrive at the newly opened École d’art de Sutton in Quebec’s Brome-Missisquoi region, about 110 km southeast of Montreal along a river in the wooded foothills of Mont Sutton. I’m here to attend an educational workshop about benthic macroinvertebrates, the spineless insects and crustaceans that live in riverbeds. Ecologist and geographer Isabelle Grégoire is setting up her learning material on a long table made out of a tree trunk: a microscope, laminated visual identification aids and a leather case containing vials full of 70% alcohol preserving various specimens. As I peruse a diagram about water pollution, 11-year-old Charlotte Lavigne-Bernard (daughter of the school’s founder, Anne-Marie Lavigne) is busy adjusting the microscope for a close-up look at scarlet beebalm flower petals.
Though Grégoire hosts monthly workshops open to all ages, today’s is held with a group of seven- to 12-year-old girls participating in a week-long day camp. They’ll learn about the important role these overlooked but essential critters play in maintaining the health of waterways, and they’ve invited me along for the bug-filled ride. As the girls peruse the laid-out learning material, Grégoire smiles at their excitement. She tells me that educating people about the natural world is one of the most viable paths to sparking interest in environmental protection, and her workshops have gained popularity in recent years. Experiences like these that transmit knowledge and passion for the environment, especially with the next generation, are an important first step in citizen science. It’s the perfect match for then heading out to gather the masses of data that contribute to scientific knowledge, which has been made easier in recent years with the rise of various nature tracking apps.