By Hayley Crandall
After dealing with the cancellation of spring and early-summer events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hawthorn Glen Outdoor Education Center is back in action and working to bring nature and education to families.
One of the events, “Tales for Tots,” incorporates stories with the vast space of nature offered at the center.
On Friday nights, children three and up along with their parents, can enjoy a nature-focused story time, related arts and crafts session and a family hike through one of the various offered trails.
“Our trails are family friendly,” said Nicole Sponholtz, outdoor education recreational supervisor. “It depends on the naturalist doing the hike, but we do have arbor trails, a garden, a man-made pond, a prairie, an aviary and a forest. It’s family friendly, nothing difficult.”
Stories change each week and are chosen as a guide the program, Sponholtz said. Prior books included “Outside your Window” by Nicola Davies and “The Sunflower Squirrel” by Laura C. Oakes. All the books chosen highlight nature and animals one way or another.
The arts and crafts portion vary as well as “naturalists,” or instructors, specialize projects to fit with the given theme. Projects can include painting or, in prior instances, creating your own caterpillar.
Previous years have featured a tour through Hawthorn Glen Outdoor Education Center’s nature museum where children have the chance to see Wisconsin-native animals such as birds and turtles being housed and cared for.
That’s usually a big selling point for many visitors, said Sponholtz, but due to the pandemic and recommended guidelines, they have opted for bringing the animals to the kids.
“It’s usually a big draw for the families,” said Sponholtz. “But this summer we’re doing things a bit different. On random days, depending on the weather, we’re actually bringing the animals outside. Potentially in a class, there could be a visit from an animal. We’re not doing any touching, but they can at least see a live animal in action.”
Other pandemic response precautions have been implemented for the center. Visitors will be required to wear masks for the event, complying with the new Milwaukee ordinance, according to Sponholtz. Cleaning protocols have been established and they are working to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. Event sizes have also been reduced for safety, she said.
“Tales for Tots” does run throughout the year but summer is where a majority of the sessions take place. In other seasons it is held once a month, but it is upped in the summer to once a week, Sponholtz explained.
Tickets are $5 for Milwaukee residents, and $8 for non-residents. Online registration is done through the Milwaukee Recreation website.
Although the pandemic forced the center to cancel its summer camps, it has had success virtual visits, Sponholtz said. Through videos, they gave tours of the center and celebrated events such as Earth Day.
The center is currently offering additional events, and Sponholtz said registration is filling up fast.
“It’s good to see that people are still interested in coming out,” said Sponholtz. “Being outdoors there is that bit of a comfortable level with it.”