Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Zion Nature Center

This last week we stopped by our old house in Zionsville, visiting a few friends and the nature center we always visited. The center was usually only open on weekends, yet with preschoolers we often started with a program at the nearby library and then walked over to the nature center for hands-on exploration of the topic. Zion Nature Center is open on weekends.

It was a gorgeous day--we were okay outside without jackets! I noticed they were already tapping their maple trees. Looking forward to this soon. I also liked how they depicted the water of the area on panels along the fence. This is a great visual to see the impact of the water along the shoreline.

The Center is also a Certified Wildlife Habitat. There is a school next door--it is great they have access to nature so readily! Inside there are many animals. I liked how this section was organized with amphibians on one side and reptiles on the other. Above, they had information about each category, showing the differences and similarities. Of course the kids immediately watch the animals and I had information at my fingertips to discuss the differences with them. We could refer to the posted information as needed.

Throughout the museum, I noticed the intentional blend of good science and the invitation to play. There was a nice display on birds with information about each and a big basket of bird puppets. This was perfect for my preschooler. We could also make connections between the real specimens and the puppets. 


This whole front room was full of bird items. I like the varying heights, the interactive displays, the information available, and hands-on puzzles, puppets, etc. The specimens are up above where little hands can see, but don't touch; however, there are many opportunities of things to touch!

The nest display with floating shelves was effective as they let the viewer really see the details of the nest without being obscured with a wooden shelf.

Details throughout the center invited children to touch and make sense of the natural world.

There are seasonal displays throughout the center. These keep the center interesting and make opportunities for frequent visits throughout the year.

One room is entirely dedicated to play! There are small animals, games, tree blocks, costumes, puppets, and more! While small, this is a nice place to just chill and let children play for a while. 

These quiz displays allow interaction with information and pictures. During the winter, many "feeder" birds are easier to identify. These activities give practice in identification and more in-depth information on the birds.

I love how my son was engrossed in counting the rings. This was a huge piece of wood down at his level that he could inspect closely. The history of Indiana throughout the rings added to his experience.

There was a nice reading room. The books were color coded to easily put them back. Comfy chairs were available to sit and read for a spell. While children books were available, this was an inviting space for adults who want to learn more about nature.

Once again, this display on wild turkeys gave information and real specimens, yet also included puppets and hands-on items for the children to touch and feel.

Most of the walls were covered with information on animals of the area. Credit was given to local photographers in this interactive snake display. 

A whole room was dedicated to an insect display, including a live bee hive. 

It was great to see the birds up close! 

They had another room dedicated to Indiana Mammals with a focus on tracks, items to feel, and a place to play. All the specimens were up high on the wall for reference, yet out of the way of being destroyed.

Once again, special items were protected, yet could easily be seen. Items to touch and feel were nearby.

Another room had lots of animals. The turtles are usually kept in the attic over the winter, yet they come downstairs for a bath once a week. The boys enjoyed watching them up close. They also have a great aquarium to view! 

We had a great time visiting our old stomping grounds! This is next to a school and woods with a small creek running through it. There are hiking trails nearby. We've put the backpack carrier on many, many times to stroll through the woods and explore. They also regularly hold programs at the Center and larger programs, like animal shows at the nearby town hall. If you're in the area on a weekend, this is a nice place to explore and connect with nature. I appreciate all they do to encourage nature education in the area.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


We braved the cold to get in on snowshoeing while we still had plenty of snow this last Saturday. We had all our kids and 2 cousins. Thankfully we had a deal through Wild Wednesdays for half of us. I only went snowshoeing one other time, back when I was an undergraduate student in Utah. Snowshoeing was a much cheaper option to skiing, though there was plenty of good skiing nearby. Since we've had more snow in the Michiana area since we moved back, we want to get in snowshoeing while we could.

We rented snowshoes through St. Joseph County Parks at Baugo Station of Ferrettie/Baugo Park. The cost is $3/pair. We could have used them until four or so in the afternoon, which is plenty of time. They are rented on a first come/first serve basis. The snowshoes really seemed like big tennis rackets with a flexible guard to squeeze feet with boots through. They were a little difficult to get over the boots, yet after getting them on all 6 of the kids with us, we were getting better at it! To put the snow shoes on, one should be on the snow, not the concrete. There is a convenient picnic table nearby.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Innertubing at Ferrettie/Baugo Creek County Park

On Saturday, we stopped by Ferrettie/Baugo Creek County Park to use a Wild Wednesday deal we had for innertubing and another for snowshoeing. I have only driven by the park, so it was neat to try out another local park. There is a gate fee for entrance and then a fee for using the hill. Be sure to get your tube hill passes at the front gate if you intend to go innertubing. We ended up going back twice to get what we needed, though the staff was friendly and said they'd go get them for us. We arrived before the rentals were open, so drove around to check things out a bit.

There are several large shelters for rent, which would be great for get togethers. 

My kids always like finding a playground. We can spend time outside on a hike or other activity and then have fun with recreational activities. The park also offers disc golf and public boat ramp access. 

The information booth had a QR code hiking map which could be helpful. I often take a picture of the map with my phone before we head out. Programs and other information are also included on the display. 

While waiting for the rest of our group, the kids started climbing the mountains of snow in the parking lot. A lady walking her dog remarked they would have just as much fun on the snow piles! It was fun and I've seen the children enjoying these as winter progressed at a few different areas.

We checked out the Tube Hill rules when we arrived and the kids grabbed innertubes to get going!

It's a fairly long walk up the hill. My husband kept wondering about the electronics near the lamps and finally decided he thought they were snow makers!


They had fun going down the hill, having races and trying different ways to go down the hill. There are several people in position to help with safety. 

I liked this shot of my husband's feet. He even took a fast video! 

This little bundled up toddler walked all the way to the top of the tube hill. He saw everyone going up and started that way. I thought I'd let him go to see how far he made it. He kept going and going. About half way up I caught up with him. He made it up to the top. He liked watching other young kids play at the top and all the tubes going down the hill. I didn't get a pass to use the hill, but I could have taken turns easily with my husband had I purchased a pass as well. Though the temps were low, it was sunny and not windy. With layers and sufficient gear, we were all doing okay, especially with a little physical activity. The temp predictions were about 20 degrees for the high, but we needed to use our special passes. This experience helps me not to be as afraid of the temperatures being low. I even sent the kids out again this morning (15 degrees) to go sledding and play in the snow. The toddler went, too, with an older brother for his special helper.

Some people like to make chains and all go together. 

I heard plenty of hypotheses about which track was faster, how the tracks would be different once exposed to warmer temperatures or sunlight. The hill is also available for night innertubing as a private rental. Contact St. Joseph County Parks for details and more information on rentals. 

Our tips:
1. Buy your innertubing passes at the gate.
2. My husband liked going down headfirst as the snow didn't blow up in his face as much.
3. My husband liked the valve pointing up so it didn't drag in the snow. 
4. Many people kicked their tubes up so they didn't have to carry them.
5. Try a chain of tubes--it can be another fun way to go down. 
6. Wear proper gear, like gloves. 
7. There were fewer people when we got there; however, there were 5 tracks so there weren't any lines to speak of. People moved through the hill quickly. 
8. Have fun! We enjoy sledding and this is a bigger hill than we usually use. It was fun to try another way of going downhill. My husband thought the tubes were more comfortable. They were light and easy to carry. 
9. If you go, combine it with a little nature study, looking at the snow, any ice accumulations, the plants in winter, any tracks you might see, etc. These are natural observations that can be made during the excursion. 
10. There is a nearby warming shelter that sells concessions and rents snowshoes. Many people also brought their own food to take a break. We took a break to go snowshoeing, warm up, and then hit the tubing hill again. Fun times!