This article was published by EdibleBronx.com on July 14,2017.
Two-and-a-half-year-old Brendan loves picking mint, rubbing it in-between his fingers, smelling, and planting mint in little brown cowpots that he fills with damp fluffy soil. He likes to tell you what he will see outside in the morning. “I see ants. I see butterflies,” he exclaims.
Once a week, Brendan, and his dad, Brian, spend an hour discovering plants and other wildlife at the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden, part of the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. In this recently launched toddler program, called Nature Explorers, the kids are very active outside, using all their senses to experience fun activities. For children like Brendan, who have been to other programs like soccer, swimming and music, the nature activities are truly unique.
“Brendan constantly talks about using a magnifying glass,” says his dad. “That was something introduced to him in the class and now he is absolutely obsessed with it. The other thing he really likes is planting– it’s now one of his favorite things to do.”
The kids are always going somewhere on the grounds; for example, one morning they walked over to a rock garden to do a painting activity. Another time they hiked in the forest looking for objects to collect. Then to display their collected objects, they decorated a little egg carton to take home.
“I think what sets this program apart is that it teaches the kids through fun activities about things they might not usually learn,” says Brian. “I can show my son a flower, but I almost certainly don’t know what it’s called or where it tends to grow. I also can’t be much more descriptive than “that’s a bird.” Brendan can now probably identify more birds than I can. I wouldn’t have thought toddlers could even absorb and process so much about specific plants, animals, and even rocks.”
In fact, toddlers are natural scientists. Experts in education say the research on “active learning” as a “best practice” in early childhood education is very clear. According to Patricia Hulse, Director of the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden, allowing toddlers to investigate on their own, using their senses and natural curiosity about the living world, actually builds skills and interests that serve them well later on in pre-k and kindergarten.
For registration information and program dates click here.
There’s also a “caregiver and me” toddler camp program at the Bronx Zoo for ages 2-3 –with one-hour sessions each day Monday through Friday.
Families also can come to play at the zoo in a different way during a 6- session ʺfamily-and-meʺ program. Toddlers see live animal visitors as well as having free-exploration time. The program incorporates open inquiry and skill building activities using play items and natural discoveries.