Swaner EcoCenter develops Little Naturalists
- Oct. 24: “Fall Is Not Easy” by Mary Kelley and “Leaf Man” by Lois Ehlert. Kids will collect evidence of the changing season for an art project.
- Nov. 7: “Buzzy and the Red Rock Canyons” by Melissa Marsted and “I Took a Walk” by Henry Cole. Kids will explore the diversity of Utah’s habitats.
- Nov. 14: “Animals in Winter” by Henrietta Bancroft and Richard G. Van Gelder and “Hibernation Station” by Michelle Meadows. Kids will learn which Utah animals hibernate or migrate. Hawk Watch International also will visit.
- Dec. 5: “Little Owls Night” by Divya Srinivasan and “Bat Loves the Night” by Nicola Davies. Kids will learn about Utah’s diverse wildlife, even the nocturnal species.
- Dec. 12: “When Winter Comes” by Nancy Van Laan and “First Snow” by Bernette Ford. Kids will find out what happens when winter comes.
- Jan. 9: “Whose Tracks Are These?” by Jim Nail and “Who’s Been Here? A Tale in Tracks” by Fran Hodgkins. Kids are encouraged to dress warmly for a snowshoe adventure on the preserve.
- Jan, 23: “The Drop Goes Plop: A First Look At the Water Cycle” by Sam Godwin and “Did a Dinosaur Drink This Water?” by Robert E. Wells. Kids will learn to understand the importance of water.
- Feb. 6: “Yucky Worms: Read and Wonder” by Vivian French and “The Worm” by Elise Gravel. Kids will find out why bugs aren’t always creepy crawly.
- Feb. 13: “This Tree Counts” by Alison Formento and “Why Should I Protect Nature?” by Jen Green. Kids will learn how to protect nature.
- March 6: “Into the Outdoors” by Susan Gal and “S is for S’mores: A Camping Alphabet” by Helen Foster James. Kids will learn basic outdoor survival skills and camping safety.
- March 20: “Clara Caterpillar” by Pamela Duncan Edwards and “Where Butterflies Grow” by Joanne Ryder. Kids will learn how caterpillars transform into butterflies.
- April 3: “We Can’t All Be Rattlesnakes” by Patrick Jennings and “I (Don’t) Like Snakes” by Nicola Davies. Kids will learn to love the slippery, slimy, creepy, crawly creatures with a hands-on visit from Kim’s Cold Blooded Creatures.
- April 17: “Michael Recycle” by Ellie Bethel and “I Can Save the Earth” by Alison Inches. Kids will play games that teach the dos and don’ts of recycling.
- May 1: “To Be Like the Sun” by Susan Marie Swanson and “Flip, Float, Fly: Seeds on the Move” by JoAnn Early Macken. Kids will embark on a hike on the nature preserve.
- May 15: “Near One Cattail” by Anthony D. Fredericks and “Growing Frogs” by Vivian French. Kids will explore hidden wildlife and the importance of the Swaner Preserve’s wetland habitat.
Parents, teachers and other concerned adults have spent years urging children to spend an hour outside each day.
The Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter also encourages children ages 3 to 5 to not only explore nature, but learn about it.
Between the months of October and May, the nonprofit offers Little Naturalist story times twice a month. It’s an hour-long program that welcomes kids and their guardians, be they nannies, parents or anyone else.
“We offer specific themes each day,” said Education Coordinator Natalie McHale. “Some days are just about exploring nature. Other days are about the changing of the seasons, while other days are about recycling. The themes are pretty much anything that addresses sustainability or environmental issues.”
The next Little Naturalist story time will at 10 a.m. Monday, Oct. 24, at the Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter at 1258 Center Drive. in Kimball Junction.
The cost is $2 per child, but a 10-course punch card is available for $15.
“The group is limited to between 15 and 18 kids, but we usually don’t have an issue because our average group is 10,” McHale said. “However, the program continues to grow, so it would be great if people registered just to give us an idea of how many we should expect each session.”
McHale and other employees decide on educational themes at the beginning of the year.
“This year, we’ll have one day when we’ll learn about camping,” McHale said. “So, the kids will learn about fire safety, and we’ll cook some s’mores.”
After selecting topics, McHale and her team pair the themes with stories that bookend each session.
“First and foremost, we make sure the books are age appropriate,” McHale said.
Monday’s stories will be “Fall Is not Easy” by Mary Kelley and “Leaf Man” by Lois Ehlert.
Some of the books lean to the educational genre, while others are more fun.
“We want to make sure the stories will help the children appreciate nature and being outside,” McHale said.
The Little Naturalist sessions also include a creative period and an activity between the stories.
“We also try to do a craft and we try to get the kids outside depending on the weather because we want them to get up and move around,” McHale said. “We all know how hard it is for kids to sit still for long periods of time.”
If there is enough snow on the preserve, which has 1,200 acres of open space, the group will go snowshoeing.
“That’s a great time to look for animal tracks and learn about how to track animals,” McHale said.
Sometimes the kids are able to track animals by finding scat, McHale said.
During winter sessions, the groups may see elk or signs of elk.
“Every once in a while we’ll see a moose and we do see a lot of deer throughout the year,” McHale said. “If we’re lucky, we can see foxes and coyotes. By the time the Little Naturalist program starts, we don’t see a lot of those animals, but we do see signs of them, especially around the EcoCenter.”
If the weather is bad, the group will stay indoors and play games or do animal-inspired yoga poses such as Downward-Facing Dog.
The creative crafts that take place each session always pertain to the day’s theme.
“It will usually be something that is made or based on things that have to do with the outdoors, and something they can take home with them,” she said.
McHale also added during her interview with The Park Record that this season’s sessions will be a tad different compared to prior years.
“In the past, we’ve had two volunteers from the community who rotated to read the stories to the kids,” McHale said. “This year, we are going a different route. We will have volunteer interns who are studying elementary education.
“I’ll also be in the room and will help facilitate the activities, but the intern will basically run the show.”
Like all youth programs at the Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter, Little Naturalist story time is conducted in partnership with Utah State University Extension 4-H.
The Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter at 1258 Center Drive in Kimball Junction will host its next Little Naturalist story time at 10 a.m. Monday, Oct. 28. Registration is recommended. The cost is $2 per youth. To register, contact Natalie McHale at 435-797-8938 or Natalie.McHale@usu.edu. For more information, visit http://www.swanerecocenter.org.
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Park City High School sophomore Emily Bronstein founded the Seraphine Project that helps at-risk teens in Zimbabwe and Zambia.