"The kids in this age group, which aren't going to school, are usually taken care of nannies, daycare or spending the whole day with their parents," said Swaner EcoCenter education coordinator Katharine Veeder during an interview with The Park Record. "So it's nice to get them into a space that is familiar to them every other week to develop love, respect and knowledge for nature."
The first Little Naturalists Story Time for the 2013-14 season will be on Monday, Oct. 7, from 10 a.m. until 11 a.m. at the Swaner EcoCenter, 1258 Center Dr. at Kimball Junction.
There will be two books read during this session — "Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf" by Lois Ehlert and "Leaf Jumpers" by Carole Gerber.
There will also be a leaf-identifying activity and a leaf-printing craft.
The Little Naturalists Story Time, which usually runs until May, started three years ago, Veeder said.
"What we discovered in the past is that there aren't many programs that are offered to this specific age group that let them attend a story time and learn about things," she said. "The goal is that we will host pre-schoolers and read a book that has to do with nature or the nature preserve and do a craft or activity that ties in with the story."
Crafts are a hands-on way to get the children to learn more about what they have read about, according to Veeder.
"For example, if we read a book about a moose, then we'll make a moose magnet or something that goes along with it and talk about moose habitats and what they eat and do," she said.
Volunteers who run the program recommend books to Veeder and the EcoCenter staff.
"We also take other suggestions from others as well, just to make sure we have a diverse selection of books and activities," Veeder said. "So far, in the three years that we've been doing this, we haven't repeated a book, yet. So the kids, who were 3 when they first started coming and have attended the story time when they turned 4 and 5, have not heard the same story twice. We have a huge, incredible number of books that we can read."
The volunteers also come up with the craft and activity ideas.
"We have to make sure the craft fits the age group," Veeder said. "It can't be too hard or too easy, and the volunteers will bring us their suggestions."
The activities can vary.
"We will do a song or a game or sometimes just head out to the preserve and do some winter snowshoeing with the kids, because we have teeny snowshoes," Veeder said. "In addition, we bring in outside organizations to talk about birds or reptiles, so the kids can have hands-on experiences that way as well."
Because the children are reading, seeing pictures and exploring the EcoCenter's different hands-on exhibits, they get a well-rounded education about a certain animal or aspect of nature, Veeder explained.
"They start to understand, for example, that a fox is not just an orange thing that looks like a dog," she said. "They learn what a fox feels like because we have a fox pelt, or they can look at a fox skull and learn about the animal that way.
"The program is just another way to instill the knowledge of nature in these kids, when they are young," she said.
The Swaner EcoCener, 1258 Center Dr. at Kimball Junction, will host a Little Naturalists session for ages 3 to 5, on Monday, Oct. 7, from 10 a.m. until 11 a.m. Pre-registration is appreciated, but not required. The cost is $2 per family per program. A $15.00 punch card good for eight programs is also available. For more information or to register, please contact Katherine Veeder at (435) 797-8942 or Katherine.firstname.lastname@example.org.