As schools close for the summer, planners at Landis Arboretum hope students will trade in their backpacks for seining nets and dirty sneakers.
Wading for Wiggly Water Wonders, a youth nature class taking place at the arboretum Saturday, will be taught by science educator George Steele. Landis Director Fred Breglia warns that Steele has a very hands-on teaching style. The arboretum website recommends wearing “old sneakers that you won’t mind getting wet.”
“If you’ve never been to a George Steele class, you’re missing out,” Breglia said. “Adults have as much fun as their kids.”
Armed with seining nets, Steele will lead a group of up to 25 knee deep into the Landis pond to gather some of those wiggly wonders. The larger creatures will get a group examination right out of the net, the smaller ones through a microscope.
Wiggly Water Wonders is only one of many family-friendly classes Landis is offering this year. Over 20 years, the arboretum has taught a host of classes, but the 2012 event calender is one of the largest Landis has ever launched. Classes and events run year round, but according Breglia, now that school is out, there are a lot more kids.
“We bring hundreds of kids through here every year,” he said. “Over half of our events are geared toward families and kids.”
For the squeamish child, or parent, Landis offers other family-friendly events, such as the monthly Star Parties. Anyone is welcome to peer through high-powered telescopes aimed and focused on the sky’s most impressive celestial bodies, courtesy of the Albany Area Amateur Astronomers Club.
“The natural world wasn’t made in a lab,” Breglia said. “It’s healthy for kids to get out in it. They can either watch it on TV, or they come out here and see it for real.”
Landis isn’t the only organization working to get kids outside.
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Fulton and Montgomery Counties will offer several youth classes in addition to their 4H clubs.
This year they’ll be offering “What’s on Your Plate?” — a produce-based health class — and “Are You Energy Smart at Home?” — which teaches kids how to save power.
Extension Educator Linda Wegner says the single-session, hourlong classes will supplement the programming of 10 organizations, from Frothingham Free Library in Fonda to the Canajoharie Youth Center .
“What’s on Your Plate?” is designed to combat poor nutrition and obesity through teaching methods Wegner says really change behavior.
“Kids need to learn healthy habits in a usable way,” she said, “so we keep it hands-on, with activity and exercise.”
After the health class, kids get outside to run a Healthy Meals Relay, where students race to collect plastic replicas of healthy food choices. The team with the most-balanced meal wins.
Birds of prey
The Canajoharie Library, by nature an academic organization, is also concentrating on the natural world for at least one event. Today, the ordinarily quiet building will house several large birds of prey thanks to Wildlife Rehabilitator Trish Marki of the Eastern New York Wildlife Institute. The idea is to teach kids about the adaptations and conservation of raptors in a way they’ll remember.
All these organizations are working to bring nature to the public despite tight budgets — providing services for free or at very low cost.
Landis charges from $5 to $10 for Wiggly Wonders and the Star Party is free.
Cornell’s youth classes are free by request. Normally they offer four different classes. This year only two are offered because of budget cuts, but Wegner says enrollment is as high as ever.
The Canajoharie Library’s recent request for public funding was voted down, yet the birds of prey event is free.
For more information on Landis Arboretum classes and events, visit www.landisarboretum.org/calendar.html.
To view a full schedule of Canajoharie Library events, go to www.clag.org/calendar.html.