Outer Island is one of the Thimble Islands in Long Island Sound off the coast of Connecticut – five acres of granite outcroppings, cobble beaches and small salt marshes. Part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, it is perfect habitat for migrating and nesting birds. The island is open to the public from May to September, typically staffed with Refuge System volunteers or Friends of Outer Island members. It is accessible by ferry or private boats.
Friends president Jim Lockhart wanted an activity for families visiting the island and in 2015 he initiated the Outer Island Photo Challenge. Kids receive a checklist of items to photograph – tree bark and leaves, a bug, a rock bigger than you, a living thing in a tide pool. They show their photos to a volunteer at the island’s education pavilion who in turn hands out stickers.
“Children have enjoyed doing it and parents love that they can participate with their kids, providing guidance or just tagging along. The idea is certainly not new,” says Lockhart, “but it’s working well on our little island.”All the tools fit into a manila envelope: checklists, stickers, pencils, small digital camera. All of the items on the checklist can be found in areas open to the public and safe to access. Volunteers are able to print the photos if requested, but families may also use their own smartphone cameras. Volunteers are told to “emphasize the fun,” and guide children to items on the checklist as needed to make sure they are successful. “Any of the items could be teachable moments,” says Lockhart, “whether it be science or history.”