First-grader Kaitlyn Joshua says she and her classmates know Smokey Bear is just a guy in a costume.
But, she said, that doesn’t mean his lessons are any less important.
“He’s still Smokey Bear,” she explained. “And because of him I learned that it only takes one match to start a big, whole forest fire that could burn down most of the animals’ homes.”
Joshua and about 80 other first-graders at MOT Charter School got to meet the 69-year-old mascot of the U.S. Forest Service on Tuesday as part of his statewide tour to promote National Fire Prevention Month to about 9,000 children in the First State.
“Because the eco-friendly movement has gotten so big over the years, it seems like kids today are more aware of the role that forests play and the importance of protecting them,” said Micheal Sethman, a conservation technician with the Delaware Forest Service, who led the 30-minute presentation.
The first-graders at MOT Charter, for instance, had no trouble naming things in their classrooms that come from the forest, such as paper, pencils, walls, tables and chairs.
Things got a little dicer, however, when the children were asked what they might eat that comes from the forest.
Answers like apples, pears and maple syrup were interspersed with responses of hamburgers, milk and sticks.
The limits of the first-graders knowledge was also tested when Sethman asked them to hold up their fingers to show how many matches it takes to start a wildfire. Most of the children responded by holding up multiple fingers, with more than a few using two hands.
But things turned around after the students watched a video in which Smokey Bear stops four young friends from using matches to build a campfire, instructing them to instead give matches and lighters to an adult.
Afterward, Smokey Bear made a personal appearance and the children were asked again how many matches it takes to start a wildfire.
“The first time, I think only one kid put up just one finger,” Sethman said. “But by the time Smokey came in, they all knew the answer. It’s very important that they get that, and I think it shows learning can be fun.”
School Psychologist Cara Dougherty said that awareness also trickles down to younger students, even those who didn’t get to meet Smokey Bear.
“Our kindergarten students get very excited when they hear who the first-graders got to meet,” she said. “And by the time they get to first grade, we always get some at the beginning of the year who want to know when they’re going to get to meet him.”
Page 2 of 2 - Smokey Bear is scheduled to make three more school visits in the coming weeks, including stops at Bunker Hill Elementary on Thursday, Olive B. Loss Elementary on Oct. 31 and Old State Elementary on Nov. 4.