Nature Net

Nature Net is a not-for-profit initiative that provides “one-stop shopping” for environmental education resources for teachers and families of South-Central Wisconsin and beyond!

You’ll find nature centers, museums and other providers in Southern Wisconsin and all sorts of free ideas, suggestions and free educational resources on how to explore your local environment.

Nature Net has a great breakdown of local summer camps (including Aldo Leopold Nature Center, the Madison Children’s Museum, Olbrich Gardens, and Henry Vilas Zoo).

Wondering what to do with your children this summer? Looking for a family activity that costs nothing, has a variety of convenient locations, and is scheduled exactly when you want it? Do you enjoy the thrill of discovery and the fresh air? Get ready for the Summer 2011 Nature Passport!

Nature Passport Includes:

For Kids…
Each child receives a special Nature Passport containing pages to draw and write about their amazing journeys at various Nature Passport sites! This year’s theme also includes a “Movin’ Mission” to encourage healthy, physically-active kids.

For Parents…
Look at the Parent’s Guide for fun facts and explanations to help spark your kids’ imagination and answer those big questions like: How do we see color? And don’t forget to sign up for Nature Net’s FREE Nature Net News to stay up dated on area nature events and activities!

(Go here for info on where to pick up a Nature Passport):

For more information about Nature Net, visit the “About” section on the website or find it on Facebook.

Henry Vilas Zoo

A friend of mine recently pointed out that we have yet to write a post about the Henry Vilas Zoo! I think the zoo is one of those Madison locations that locals often take for granted (like the fact that many of us probably cut through the Capitol building without a second thought).

The fact that we have a free zoo that’s open daily, year-round is definitely not something we should take for granted, however! Maggie and I bring our little girls there fairly regularly, actually. And I intend to make good use of the zoo’s indoor exhibits this winter on those extra chilly, gloomy days!

For those of you who may not be familiar with the Henry Vilas Zoo, here’s some info:

The land the zoo is located on was given to the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association by the Vilas family back in 1904 with the stipulation that admission would always be free. There are, however, still many ways to support the zoo.

There are numerous animals on exhibit (both indoor and outdoor) including bears, primates, giraffes, and a badger. We’ve realized that if you go too early in the day, many of the animals are still asleep, and if you go after 4pm, most of the animals are heading toward their indoor areas ready for their dinner.

The Children’s Zoo section contains more than just animals, including Milena’s new obsessions: the carousel and the electric zoo train (both of which cost $1 per ride). There is also a large play area perfect for toddlers and school-aged children. And don’t forget to check out the animal exhibits in this area – the red panda is one of my favorite animals to visit while at the zoo. This year I also noticed that there’s a small garden on your way into the Children’s Zoo (maybe it’s there every year?). In the garden there are signs by each of the fruits and vegetables with information on what’s growing and which animals in the zoo will later get to enjoy it. (Like the buildings, the entire Children’s Zoo opens at 10 am and closes at 4 pm).

If you’ve visited the zoo recently, you’ve probably noticed lots of construction happening where the goats used to live. Turns out (and how did we miss this announcement?!) they’re adding a children’s zoo barn! Along with sheep, goats and pigs, there will also be a farm-themed play area. The area is expected to open in early 2011! (For now, the goats have moved in next to the black bear.)

The Henry Vilas Zoo is located at 702 South Randall Avenue and is open 9:30 am – 5 pm daily (building hours are 10 am – 4 pm). For more information regarding the zoo’s history, exhibits, and upcoming events, be sure to visit the website.

Fun for babes under 1

RM reader Beth suggested we put together a list of fun places to take children under the age of 1. Such a great idea! I know I struggled to find places to bring Milena last year – especially during the winter months. Below is the list we came up with, but we’d love to hear from you as well!

Milena exploring Olbrich Gardens last summer

Madison Children’s Museum: Although the museum doesn’t open until mid-August, we already know the Wildernest area is going to be a great place for your little ones! The best part is that children over 5 years of age aren’t even allowed in this section of the museum unless they’re acting as “helpers” for the younger ones, so you won’t ever have to worry about the area being overtaken by school-aged children.

Wiggle Room: Held at the Westside Community Service Building in Sun Prairie (2598 W. Main Street), Wiggle Room takes place in the fall and winter. Appropriate for those over 6 months and under 6 years, Wiggle Room can be a bit chaotic at times, but there’s a nice separate area for younger children. It’s a great place for parents with more than one child! Admission is $1 per child.

Henry Vilas Zoo: The zoo is perfect for all ages! Plus, it’s free and open all year! And don’t forget about the indoor exhibits – they’re warm and inviting during the cold winter months.

Parent/baby groups at Happy Bambino: Although these groups are intended to be more for the parents than the kids, there are always lots of fun toys around! And Milena and Dahlia met most of their current friends in these groups (since Maggie and I met a lot of our friends there!).

Olbrich Botanical Gardens: The outdoor gardens are free (!) and open at 8 am during the summer (I know I’m always looking for something to do with my early-riser!). The Bolz Conservatory is a great place to go during the winter months! It opens at 10 am year round with a $1 admission for anyone 6 and up. (During Olbrich’s Blooming Butterflies – taking place now through Aug 8 – admission to the Bolz Conservatory is $5 for adults, $3 for children ages 3-12, and free for children 2 and under).

Library Story Times: “Book Baby” storytimes are for children 0-15 months, while “Storytime for the Very Young” is for ages 0-35 months. Both include songs, stories and activities! (Check the events’ calendar for dates, times and locations. Some libraries require you to pre-register.) And we’ve found that the children’s section is always a great place to play as well!

So how about you? Where do your little ones love to explore and play?