BOWDOINHAM — Nearly 200 third and fourth graders from multiple schools in the Midcoast all converged on the Merrymeeting Bay Wildlife Management area for a full day of outdoor education on Sept. 26.

Students from Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, North Yarmouth Academy, Dresden, and Fisher-Mitchell School in Bath got a hands-on education in dozens of different topics. The annual event is hosted by Friends of Merrymeeting Bay and a team of volunteers who give their time to help educate in their areas of expertise.

Ed Friedman, president of FOMB, said events like this are a great way to introduce kids to the unique resources of Merrymeeting Bay, a unique inland delta, formed at the confluence of six rivers – the Kennebec, Androscoggin, Eastern, Muddy, Cathance, and the Abagadasset.

Almost 40 percent of Maine’s fresh water passes through the area, which is affected by both the current of the rivers and the force of the tides.

Some students got to experience the tidal aspect directly when they got into the mud on the edge of the bay. Jason Bartlett of the Maine Department of Marine Resources was on hand to teach students about the various fish species and how biologists catch and examine fish in the bay.

Ellen Gagne, a teacher at North Yarmouth Academy, looked on as her students got a crash course on fish identification after a net full of them was brought to shore.

She said programs like the one FOMB puts on each year are great at getting students interested in science and the environment. “It is amazing. Some of the sessions are structured, but others they get to go off on their own and it’s great to see.”

While Merrymeeting Bay is the biggest focus of the day, students got to learn about plenty of other topics, too. Archaeologist Fred Koeber volunteered his time to show students the finer points of archaeology. Classes participated in a dig on the site of an old farmhouse. Pieces of earthenware, bricks, nails, and more were dug from the ground.

For Koeber, getting kids to be directly involved with history goes a long way towards making it interesting for them. “When you actually get to handle history, or discover history on your own, you take a lot away from it,” he said.

After a pep talk about the methods for excavating, students were largely self-directed. Some focused on scraping away the soil, while others excitedly snagged small pieces of pottery or centuries-old nails.

“All you have to do is steer them in the right direction and they’ll learn on their own,” said Koeber.

Other seminars included watershed modeling, primitive skills, macro-invertebrates, art in nature, bird walks, anadromous fish printing, wildlife ecology, and more.

For Friedman, programs that involve local kids are important to fostering a love of the outdoors. “Most of us who do work in this field had a formative experience in the wilderness much like this one,” he said.

For more information on Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, visit www.friendsofmerrymeetingbay.org.