Young children sit at stations surrounded by microscopes and tanks of fish. Biologists and volunteers help them make goo and other chemical reactions as they take part in one of the afternoon programs put on by the nature center.
The kids’ programs began in August of last year, just in time for the start of school. Children in kindergarten through fifth grade can register for four days of nature programs that begin each afternoon after school.
Jenna Winters, Nature Center coordinator and biologist, said she wanted to fill a niche that fit for the community. Having young children herself, she wanted a place where kids could have fun after school without staring at a screen.
“Sharing the world and nature with people is important to me too, and it’s so much fun for us here,” Winters said. “Since kids are open and a great audience, an educational afternoon program was perfect.”
Each week has a different theme, ranging from bugs to space exploration. The kids make crafts or do experiments fitting the theme. For Ocean Explorations week, kids folded paper plates in half, creating a crab’s exoskeleton.
The kids were allowed to do the classic Coca-Cola and Mentos experiment for a chemical project. Each child used a mini soda bottle and launched it on their own. Lauren Broddrick, biology senior and volunteer, said the kids’ faces looked as if they saw fireworks explode.
Once a week, the children are taken outside to the playscape area where they can enjoy the outdoors and just be kids.
“The activities we have vary so widely, and we want the kids to have fun,” Winters said. “They get the biggest kick out of picking pecans. It’s the simple things.” While Winters runs the program, with up to 12 kids each day, nine interns help with the activities. The program not only gives degree credit, but also helps the students shape their goals for after college.
“I was planning on being here for one semester, but now I can’t see myself doing anything else,” Broddrick said. “It was a real surprise for me. I was planning on a medical career, but I fell in love with this type of program.”
The interns’ majors range from horticulture to biology to communication studies. Winters said she has yet to find a major that can’t help at the Nature Center. Jordan Garza, communication disorders junior, said she wanted to help after hearing she would work with kids in an unconventional way.
“Before we teach the kids, we give them time to unwind from school and just talk with them,” Garza said. “I’m looking forward to making memories and affecting them in other aspects of their lives.”
Along with learning how to work with younger children, Broddrick said they had to learn how to create fun, educational activities and the importance of having a plan B. She said it has led her to have a whole new respect for teachers who work with children every day.