Aquatic Educator Laura Barrett

Teaching kids about the ocean and nurturing a connection with the natural world is all in a day’s work for Laura Barrett, Education Program Assistant at the Huntsman Marine Science Centre in St Andrews, NB. Every year, spring through fall, students of all ages visit the centre. School groups come to the Huntsman from nearby towns and as far away as Toronto — in some cases visiting students have never encountered sea creatures before!

Getting kids excited about nature is easy, says Barrett, “If there’s water and live animals involved kids are excited about it.” When kids are fired up about nature they’re better able to connect with it and prioritize its protection, and Barrett’s work aims to keep those fires lit. We spoke with her about this work, and how being mom to two girls ages five and eight continues to stoke her passion.

Why did you start doing what you do?

I did a science degree and then worked at a local not-for-profit environmental group. As part of that I had to go into schools and teach children. I realized then that I really liked that aspect of science — conveying it to other people. So, when this job at the Huntsman became available in 2009 I applied, luckily got it, and here we are.

What does this work bring to your life?

It is rewarding. I think that’s why I continue to be passionate about it even after being there for so long. When you tell the kids, “Hey we’re done in the lab, we have to turn off the microscopes,” and they say, “No we want to keep looking, we want to see more.” You can see a lightbulb has come on and this is making an impact on their knowledge and on their life.

Why is this work important?

We get to change how kids think about this stuff… when we go explore the beach — how do we treat the animals? How do we leave the environment when we’re finished exploring? So, if you’re looking under rocks the rocks go back. It’s great to get them thinking that way.

The other thing we do is we collect data when out on our research vessel. We have data on the temperature of the Bay of Fundy going back 25–30 years. So we’re able to get kids to think about how we know climate change is really happening. That makes it real.

Laura helping kids explore the touch tank at the Huntsman Marine Science Centre

How can we fire up our own kids about nature?

Just taking your kids out into the natural environment, whether it be a beach or a park, is a great first step because so much of the time now we’re stuck inside. Just being outside is really, really important to getting kids connected to their environment. Plus, being interested yourself really helps. Unfortunately I do see parents saying, “No. I’m not going to touch that,” or saying things are gross. That is difficult for me to see, because you’re projecting that onto your children. They don’t naturally have that fear. Let them see the world and be excited about it. Your job is to encourage that excitement.

Has parenthood changed how you view your work?

Having children makes it more meaningful, more necessary, and immediate. When I had my daughters I realized that if things are not good in the world that we’re going to leave to these two little people, that’s the mess they’re going to have to clean up.

What do your kids think about what you do?

I think they are happy with what I do. They have career day at school once a year, and my oldest has dressed up as me a couple of times. They visit me at work and my oldest comes to some of my programs with me in the summer. I think they think I have a fun job.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other parents about living with purpose?

I know it’s hard when there’s so many other things to do as a mom, but stopping and doing something that you are passionate about is important. I think it is wonderful for your kids to be able to see that you are passionate about something.

What’s been hardest about what you do?

Well, I work with kids all day and that takes a lot of energy. You’re giving a lot of yourself all day long, so sometimes I find it hard to come home and have patience for my own children. Also, they’re tired at the end of the day when they come home from school, so everybody’s just kind of in this place. We deal with that by sitting down at supper and talking about what we did that day, and I find that kind of just brings it all back into focus.

What other moms do you admire?

I definitely admire my own mother. She always makes it look easy, even when it’s not. Right now she’s dealing with her aging mother, she’s working, and she has still other kids, her grandkids, and her husband. She just takes care of all of us and makes it look easy. I admire her for the strength she has to deal with it all.

As you become a mother yourself you realize all the pressures that moms are under, and that relationship with your own mother really grows because there’s an understanding you never had before.


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