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Swaner EcoCenter program cultivates Little Naturalists

The Swaner EcoCenter and 4-H launched the Little Naturalist Story Time last year. The event, which is held the first and third Monday of the month was originally aimed at introducing children ages three to five simple concepts of ecology.

Since parents and children alike seemed to enjoy the program, Swaner and 4-H decided to start it again on Monday, Oct. 1, said Sally Upton, director of education at the Swaner EcoCenter.

The goal of Little Naturalist Story Time was to provide a service for pre-school aged children, she said.

"We do a lot of programming for elementary, middle-school and high-school aged kids, but we kind of missed out on the younger kids," Upton explained during an interview with The Park Record. "So, we wanted find a way to offer them a nature-based program that focuses on environmental concepts, and since there were a lot of story times at the libraries around the county, but we wanted to offer something a little different."

The Little Naturalists routine is the same as other story times in town, but are focused differently.

"We still read a book and do an activity, but the books are about animals, trees or the environment and things like that," Upton said. "The activities we do after we read the books are more interacting with nature. We’ll go outside for a little bit and do something that follows the topic of the book."

The books read are chosen in different ways.

"The education staff at Swaner develops and plans the Little Naturalists programs, and we just know some of the books, having been around them in the past," Upton said. "We also look online and go to the library to look them up to get ideas of which ones relate to the local area."

Once a book is chosen, the staff figures out and plans different types of activities they can do that will tie into the book and the local areas.

"It not like we can choose a book about the Arctic and do an activity relating to it, because as much as the snow falls and the temperature drops here, it isn’t the Arctic," Upton said with a laugh. "We also have two wonderful, long-time Swaner volunteers that lead the programs Donna Fisher and Karan Swanger who do a great job of engaging the children and teaching them about the natural world."

In the past the volunteers have read books about wetlands and have taken the groups outside to explore the preserve.

"During the upcoming spring, we will read a book about sandhill cranes, which is really relevant in our area, and then we’ll go out and, hopefully, see a live crane," Upton said. "In the winter, we usually choose a book about how animals spend wintertime or, maybe, we’ll read about moose or how to track animals in the snow and then go outside and see if we can see a moose or some tracks.

"We have tiny snowshoes the kids can put on and go walking in the snow."

The first book of the 2012-13 season will be "This Tree Counts," by Alison Formento.

"That is a book that we got last year and didn’t use, but it’s a cute book about a school class who wonders why there’s a tree on their playground," Upton said. "They ask their teacher why the tree is there and why trees are important. After they learn some things about the tree, they decided the tree is lonely and begin planting more trees so it has friends."

The activity will be a matching game with leaves and seeds from different type of trees that grow in Park City.

"Then they’ll do some finger painting," Upton said.

One of the important things to remember is that it’s important for kids at that age to explore and learn about their surroundings, she said.

"As we all know, they are really into touching things, and the outdoors provides a perfect venue for them to learn and experience textures," she said. "They’re just starting to learn about animals and the changing of seasons, so we try to use the environment and the outdoors as a learning tool."

The sessions, however, stay away from hard-core conservationism.

"Still, the earlier we start teaching kids to think about the ecosystem and how humans are just one component of the environment, the sooner they may develop a respect and interest for the concept as they grow older," Upton said. "They’ll be more apt to make informed decisions throughout their lives, and we just want to instill that connection in them."

"The Swaner EcoCenter mission is to ‘Preserve the land, educate the community and nurture the connection between the land and the community,’" Upton said. "My position is both with the Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter, but also 4-H. They go hand in hand, because 4-H is a youth development program. The goal for 4-H is to provide youths with life skills and to give them a chance to reach their full potential."

The Swaner EcoCenter, 1258 Center Dr. at Kimball Junction, will begin the second season of the Little Naturalist Story Times on Monday, Oct. 1, at 10 a.m. until 11 a.m. Cost is $2. For more information, visit http://www.swanerecocenter.org.


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