Reaching, teaching children about nature Patuxent Refuge program strives to educate young about the environment

July 02, 1996|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

Pine cones, peanut butter and seeds make good bird feeders. Deer need grass, water and shelter to survive. Grass, in turn, needs water and space to thrive.

Children can learn these and other basics at hourlong educational programs sponsored by the Patuxent Research Refuge -- North Tract in Laurel. The refuge offers a selection of free programs for children 4 and older, as well as nature programs for all ages.

"One of the missions of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is to educate the public about nature and resources," said Marion Kinlein, outdoor recreation planner at the North Tract. "We do strive to reach them when they're young."

The 8,100-acre tract, with access from Route 198, once was used by the Army as an artillery testing ground. It now is part of a 12,800-acre parcel of forests, fields and wetlands preserved as a wildlife refuge and research center.

On Friday morning, a group of eight youngsters gathered in a small building near a man-made wetland area at the refuge to learn what makes birds different from other animals.

"What do birds have that no other animals have?" Suzanne Krawczyk, a college student interning at the refuge, asked the group.

"Wings," Nathan Perrault, 6, of Laurel called out.

"That's one thing birds have," Krawczyk said. "They have wings, and they can fly."

The senior environmental science major at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University also told of pesticides and destruction of habitats that threaten birds.

"What can we do to help?" Krawczyk asked. "If we take away their house, do you think we can give it back to them?"

The children had no answer for that one, but Krawczyk went on to show them how to make bird feeders to take home.

Each child selected a pine cone, used a plastic knife to slather it with peanut butter, then dunked the gooey mass into a bowl of birdseed.

"I'm going to hang it up in the front yard so birds can eat it," said Hannah Davidson, 4, of Severn.

On another day, children learned about deer, grass, water and other natural entities and used green yarn to construct a "web of life," connecting animals to each other and to the environment.

The children's programs are held in the morning and end well before noon to avoid the heat of mid-day. They are targeted to 4-year-olds and children 5 to 7 and 8 to 10. In July, among other activities, children can join in an outdoor scavenger hunt or use a net to look for animals that live in water.

The refuge also offers guided nature walks, bird-watching sessions and other programs for all ages. All the programs are free, but visitors must call the refuge for reservations.

Barbara Perrault brought her son Nathan and daughter Rebekah, 4, to several programs in June and plans to come back for more.

"It's educational; it's free; it's nearby to my home," Perrault said. "They are interested in animals, and they kind of gear it to the animals that are here at the reserve."

For more information, call the North Tract visitor contact station at 674-3304.

Pub Date: 7/02/96

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