Young scientists explore nature during new day camp

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Shelly Birkelo
Wednesday, August 6, 2014

JANESVILLE—Armed with clipboards, notepaper, pencils and magnifying glasses, several young scientists spent Tuesday morning learning about metamorphosis.

They searched for different stages of a butterfly in the prairie, Thomas Jefferson, Jungle and Pollinator's Paradise gardens at Rotary Botanical Gardens. When they happened upon what they were searching for, they were encouraged to chronicle their findings.

"Write it down, we are scientists taking notes of all the creatures we see,"  said Kris Koch, the gardens' education coordinator.

The activities all were part of a new Nature Explorer Day Camp, offered through to children ages 6-11 through a partnership between the gardens and Janesville Leisure Services.

As soon as campers arrived on the prairie Tuesday, Koch introduced them to milkweed, asking them to examine the plants to see if they could find any eggs.

"I see one!" one girl shouted as the others grouped around her for a glimpse.

As part of the hands-on outdoor adventure camp, eight young sleuths found holes in leaves that caterpillars had eaten, aphids, a ladybug, crickets and grasshoppers.

“It's been common practice of Janesville Leisure Services to bring their day campers to Rotary Botanical Gardens for field trips every summer, and Rotary Botanical Gardens Education has wanted to delve into day camp for a long time," Koch said. "Hopefully this will lead to expanded day camp and other program opportunities for 2015."

Koch explained the value of the camp.

“Kids need to have hands-on opportunities to get up close and personal with the wonders of nature,'' she said.

The camp's goal is to inspire children to slow down and pay attention to the complex systems functioning around them.

“We're all connected, and by fostering connections between kids and nature we show them we are part of a really big picture and not the only part,” Koch said.

Koch's hope for the camp is that attendees gain a sense of how awesome nature is, and that they and become inspired enough to want to spend more time outdoors learning through play.

The camp is an “opportunity to engage a child's sense of wonder without a constant barrage of technological stimulation,” Koch said.

That's why Anne Wanke, Janesville, enrolled her 9-year-old grandson, Christopher Mullen, in the camp.

"He needs to get off the computer," she said. "This is a good way of getting hands-on science and the science component he'll need for the STEM reading program at Hedberg Public Library."

With education being a critical component of its organizational mission, Koch said the gardens would continue to collaborate with community partners, expand offerings geared toward youth and families and install interactive components to enhance experiences for all visitors.

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