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Aug 24, 2016 03:26PM

'Toddler Tales': Nahant Marsh welcomes tiny guests for big learning


By Alexandra Olsen
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Jenna Skopek, left, naturalist at Nahant Marsh lets Freja Wenker 4 of Rock Island touch a Leopard frog while learning about frogs at the Toddler Tales program at the Nahant Marsh Education Center in Davenport on Tuesday.
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Children line the dock at Nahant Marsh as they watch the release of a Leopard frog while learning about frogs at the Toddler Tales program at the Nahant Marsh Education Center in Davenport on Tuesday.
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Gary Krambeck/gkrambeck@qconline.com
Johan Wenker 4 of Rock Island and Barrett Goff 6 of Wichita, Kansas touch a Leopard frog while learning about frogs at the Toddler Tales program at the Nahant Marsh Education Center in Davenport on Tuesday.
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Four-year-old Henry Woodward and his mom, Kim, have made it to all but one of the Toddler Tales program at the Nahant Marsh Education Center in Davenport this summer. Even before the program, the two have visited the area.

"It's just a fun place for kids," she says.

"When they do the Toddler Tales, it's just the perfect thing for him to come and explore and learn about animals," the Geneseo woman says. "The staff just does a really great job teaching the kids about nature, and then taking the kids out to actually see the things they talk about. I don't think Henry gets to see these kind of things very much, so he's learned a lot."

Toddler Tales at Nahant was created to introduce young children, ages 3-5, to the wonders of the outdoors using educational activities and the center's natural surroundings. The marsh offers 513 acres of upper Mississippi wetlands and nearly 400 wildlife species, some of which are featured in the Toddler Tales programs.

The location is an ideal example of the Midwest's natural wetlands and plains.

"I think that our children these days don't get as much exposure to the outdoors," says Linda Goff, one of the volunteers who plans the lessons and teaches the Toddler Tales program. "I am always so happy to see that many parents want this for their children and are willing to bring them to these kinds of activities because I think you have to work at getting your kids outside."

Goff is a retired teacher and principal who worked in the school system for about 35 years. She says she has a "delightful" experience working with the program to bring young children closer to nature.

Behind the program are several volunteers and staff members who bring the sessions to life. Some, similar to Goff, have backgrounds in education, while others have studied biology and environmental science.

"Our natural world is our environment, and so important to learn about," Goff says. "The more that children can be exposed to the outdoors at a young age, the more they will love it and care for it."

Toddler Tales sessions take place once a month from March through October. Each session is an hour long and features various animals that can be found in the marsh, including birds, butterflies and frogs.

Woodward says the bird-watching session in March sparked an interest in Henry, and ever since then, "he's been pointing out birds that he knows every chance he gets."

Woodward says Henry gets excited to come to each session, and he learns something new every time.

Henry says his favorite part about Toddler Tales has been touching a frog and learning about how snakes use their tongues.

Each Toddler Tales session is broken up into several activities, including a story, crafts and games. Sometimes, the kids also have the chance to touch and hold the animals they are learning about.

Mike Tandy, of Bettendorf, brought his granddaughters, Norah, 5, and Evie, 3, to a recent Toddler Tales session, which was all about frogs. It was the first time Norah and Evie had attended.

"They enjoy being outside; they enjoy nature, and Norah, especially, loves bugs," he says, watching Norah pet a frog at one of the learning stations. "I thought it would be a great thing to do with them."

After the children visit each station, the group goes outside to observe aspects of the marsh that relate to the session's subject. In July, when the subject was frogs, the children watched as AmeriCorps member and environmental educator Jenna Skopek released the frog they met earlier in the day back to his natural habitat.

"It's just so fun — especially being in Davenport, which is more of an urban city — for the kids to come out and get to touch frogs and see insects and truly enjoy the marsh," says Skopek, who has a bachelor's degree in environmental science from the University of Dubuque.

Skopek has been working at Nahant Marsh since September, and says she enjoys seeing the young explorers take interest in the environment.

"Hopefully, they'll learn to enjoy nature more, and it will encourage them to explore," she says. "It's good for the kids to realize how fun — not scary — nature can be."

The next and final sessions of this year's program will be on Sept. 13 and Oct. 11 at Nahant Marsh, 4220 Wapello Ave., Davenport. Two sessions will be held each day, from 10 to 11 a.m. and 2 to 3 p.m.
September's session will focus on butterflies — monarchs, specifically, as monarchs begin their fall migration in September. At the Toddler Tales session, children will learn about the monarchs' journey and then see how many are traveling through the marsh.

The October session will focus on how animals at the marsh prepare for winter. Children who attend will learn about the animals that fly south, hibernate and gather food before winter.

Children must be accompanied by a parent or caregiver when attending the program. Admission to each session is $5 per child, or $3 with a Nahant Marsh membership.

For more information, visit nahantmarsh.org.


Contributor Alexandra Olsen makes her debut this month in Radish.







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