Wonder Bugs – Aldo Leopold Nature Center

This summer we signed Milena up for the Wonder Bugs preschool program at Aldo Leopold Nature Center. This week was her second-to-last class (we learned all about ants!). We have had so much fun learning and exploring!

“Introduce your toddler or pre-school aged child to a safe and wonderful natural world. This program is specifically designed for children ages 2-5 (before entering kindergarten). Each week, we’ll explore a different seasonal topic through hikes, outdoor exploration, music, puppetry, songs, stories and more.”

Going into this summer camp, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Very few places have classes for 2 and 3 year olds, so I was really excited about the opportunity, but nervous about what the classes would be like. I was pleasantly surprised at just how wonderful they are!

Every week focuses on a different topic (parents are able to sign their children up for one class or multiple classes). Each begins with a discussion about the topic: for example, in our “Antsy Pantsy” class about ants today, we first looked at large toy ants to see the different parts, legs, etc. We talked about what ants eat and where they live. Our teacher, Miss Nicky, always does a great job keeping the kids’ attention and encouraging them to participate and shout out answers (right or wrong). Milena LOVES Miss Nicky!

All sessions involve some time outside where the kids can attempt to see the insect/plant/etc outside in its natural habitat. Each session also involves a snack and sometimes a craft, which often tie into that week’s topic.

Wonder Bugs Objectives:
1. to provide an opportunity for parents to interact with their child in a natural setting
2. to foster a sense of wonder for the natural world
3. to foster admiration and respect for the land

We LOVE Wonder Bugs, and we’re excited about the fall program sessions coming up. Aldo Leopold Nature Center also offers Wonder Bugs Family Days September 24, October 22 & November 19 from 9:30 -10:45 am, which take place on Saturdays (perfect for working parents!) – though they often repeat the topic covered during the week, so be sure to check before signing your child up for both!

Go here for information about the fall Wonder Bugs program sessions.

For more information about the Aldo Leopold Nature Center and its other events and programs, go here.

The Aldo Leopold Nature Center is located at 300 Femrite Drive in Monona. (608) 221-0404


Elvehjem Boundless Playground

Those of you who have met Dahlia know that she’s pretty much a boundless fount of energy, in nonstop motion, and keeping an eye on her at many outdoor playgrounds can be quite an exhausting feat, especially given how pregnant I currently am.  So when my friend described the playground at Elvehjem Elementary to me, I immediately thought it would be right up Dahlia’s alley — and much more relaxing for me.

You see, the Elvehjem playground is a Boundless Playground.  Boundless Playgrounds are playgrounds designed to be inclusive of children and adults with mobility and developmental impairments.  This isn’t to say that the playground is perfectly 100 percent safe and boring — far from it!  I would have to say this is far and away the coolest playground in town.  It’s designed largely as a series of ramps, to provide access to kids and parents in wheelchairs.  But to kids who aren’t in wheelchairs, it basically amounts to a fun maze.  There were plenty of climbing surfaces and walls, but they all seemed perfectly set at angles where I didn’t worry that one misplaced sneaker would send Dahlia careening backwards through the air.  The ground surface is soft and pliable, not the gravel or shredded tires you find at most parks.  Dahlia was both well-contained and very stimulated.

The parents in Madison are luckier than most to have such a wide variety of great parks, but the Boundless Playground at Elvehjem Elementary is really a step above.  Building this playground was really a labor of love for neighborhood families, and it has paid off.  Dahlia didn’t want to leave, and I can’t wait to go back.

Elvehjem Elementary is located at 5106 Academy Drive in Madison.

Irwin A. and Robert D. Goodman Aquatic Center

Last summer, I reviewed the Goodman Pool on Olin Street.  Well, not everyone knows it, but there’s ANOTHER Goodman Pool in the greater Madison area.  It’s the Irwin A. and Robert D. Goodman Aquatic Center, at the Jewish Community Campus in Verona.  Since my family just moved to Fitchburg, we thought we’d take a trip to our neighboring town to see what the Goodman Aquatic Center had to offer.

The pool at the Goodman Aquatic Center is a 5,500 square foot outdoor pool with a lap-swimming area and a zero-depth entry with fountains for younger kids.  The pool is solar heated and uses a salt-water generator to produce natural chlorination rather than liquid chlorine.  There are spacious locker rooms and a snack bar that offers drinks, frozen treats, and a small selection of bagged and hot snacks.

My daughter Dahlia seemed a little underwhelmed by the splash offerings compared to the variety of sprinklers at the Goodman Pool on Olin, but she did play in the fountains for a bit.  Mainly, though, she seemed to enjoy the slightly less crowded atmosphere and scampered around throughout the shallow end with delight.  It’s amazing how few bells and whistles you really need to keep a two year old entertained in a pool.

Her other favorite part of the Community Campus was the Noah’s Ark play area.  There are statues of animals cueing up two-by-two to file onto a large wooden boat.  The boat has lots of climbing areas and some slides.  It’s a great distraction for when the whistle blows and the lifeguards enforce a 15-minute adults-only swim.  (Being nine months pregnant, I took full advantage of said adults-only floating time while my husband chased Dahlia around Noah’s Ark.)  I found the Aquatic Center to be much less hectic than the Goodman Pool on Olin, and given that the hours on weekdays are much more suited to those of us whose kids still take an afternoon nap, I think we’ll be returning for another jaunt before the summer ends.

The Goodman Aquatic Center is located at 7762 County Highway PD in Verona.  It is open until September 5th from 11 am to 8 pm, with the exception of September 1st and 2nd, when it will be closed.  Admission for adults 16 and over is $5, children are $4, and infants under 1 are free.

Day Trip – Appleton Children’s Museum

Just before Father’s Day, Milena and I visited The Building For Kids (Appleton’s children’s museum) with my sister and her three girls.

I’ll start by saying that I really wish museums had different rates for children! I’m okay paying $7 or $8 for myself, but I’m always surprised when I have to pay the same amount for a 2 year old who I knew might throw a tantrum two minutes into the visit and have to be removed. (Thankfully, this didn’t happen, and we had a nice time.)

But on to the museum!

The first floor really inspires pretend play, with a doll hospital, grocery store, and restaurant. However, most of these areas had very few items to play with (my sister mentioned that there used to be more), so we didn’t spend much time here. We did, however, spend a lot of time playing in the Gulfstream Jet with its realistic cockpit and control tower! The girls had a great time pretending to be both passengers and pilots.

The museum centerpiece is the huge Story Tree with 5 tree forts to climb in. Varying degrees of difficulty offer kids of all ages fun and challenging make-believe opportunities. (Most of the climbing areas were netting, and I didn’t really want to have to climb in it if Milena decided halfway up that she wanted out, so she didn’t get to try out this exhibit!)

The first thing Milena and I saw when we went up to the second floor was the Happy Baby Garden – for children 0-3 years of age. This over-sized garden drew Milena right in! The slide alone was a big hit, and I think if her cousins had been young enough to play in there with her, Milena would have spent the majority of our visit here.

The second floor has numerous other permanent exhibits including a digger, a heart slide, a golf simulator, and a water room.

The museum also has a nice art studio. We visited right before Father’s Day, so the girls each got a (large!) lump of clay to make presents for their dads (or grandpas). Milena enjoyed “making” a bowl and then painting it for her grandpa, but my sister and I didn’t enjoy having to carry the wet clay projects home with us! Plus, they weren’t ever fired, so none of them lasted very long.

My only real complaint was regarding the fire truck. Milena had a great time dressing up like a firefighter and pretending to drive the truck and play with the fire hose. I thought it was pretty neat that there was even a “control station” where you could press a local city’s button and hear real emergency broadcasts over the truck’s radio – until firefighter Milena was asked to respond to a woman who had overdosed and was currently unresponsive! I’m all for realism, but I’d much rather she respond to a cat stuck in a tree.

The Building for Kids is located at 100 W. College Ave., Appleton (Phone: 920.734.3226). Hours, directions, and parking info can be found here.

Dream Bikes

It’s biking weather! I love biking with my kids, and I’ve had nothing but amazing experiences getting out and biking safely from the folks at Dream Bikes.

Dream Bikes is an amazing organization and their mission statement is as follows:
“To make our community better, we provide our youth with work experience to open up more job opportunities and to create a difference in people’s lives.  We provide access to affordable, quality bikes to those in need.”

And they really follow through. Bikes are donated  from individuals and Dream Bikes teaches young people how to repair and maintain bikes and get the donated bikes ready to be sold. They also learn to help customers in the retail portion of the shop. Bikes that have been repaired and ready to be sold are available at a variety of price points so everyone has access to a bike for transportation. My bike and my daughter’s bike are from Dream Bikes and we had some maintenance done on another bike there. The staff is friendly, helpful and attentive. When I didn’t find just the right bike on one visit, they took detailed information about what I was looking for and called me the following week when my “Dream Bike” came through the door.

They offer a wide range of new, used and adorable vintage adult bikes, a large variety of childrens bikes and some times specialties like adult tricycles and recumbent bikes.  They also carry helmets, baskets, reflectors and other gear.

Dream Bikes is located at  4611 Verona Road Madison, WI 53711 608-467-6315  www.dream-bikes.org
(Dream Bikes is moving this month to a new location at 4245 West Beltline Highway Madison, WI  53711)


Keva Sports Center Sports Camp

Our spring break experience at Keva Sports Center left much to be desired. Here’s our story, you can judge for yourself.

Day 1:
The spring break started out well. Keva’s camp was for ages 5 and up, and when we arrived Cass found two other kids from her preschool. Excellent! We were signed up for two days—day one was general team sports, day two was a field trip to Badger Gymnastics. Everyone was friendly enough. Cass sat down in the group circle to meet with the counselors, and I was on my way.

When I picked Cass up, she was sitting watching a group of older boys “wrestle”* each other. That struck me as sort of odd: 1) wrestling isn’t a team sport; 2) it wasn’t on the list of sports Keva said my child was going to learn (soccer, volleyball, basketball, dodgeball (yes, dodgeball!)); 3) I didn’t like Cass watching older kids be so physically aggressive with each other, since the goal of what they were doing wasn’t to score or shoot a ball but to get a person to fall down.

On the drive home, Cass told me they ran out of snack. Cass also mentioned that she hurt her leg playing kickball when she blocked a ball. She said she was ok, and I figured it was par for the course at sports camp.

Day 2:
I packed Cass an extra snack in her lunch. Cass was excited for gymnastics and the chance to show off her moves to her classmates.

At around 3pm, camp called to tell me that Cass had hurt her toe but that they put a band aid on it, and she was ok. No problem, I said, and thanked them for the call.

When I picked Cass up, Cass was again sitting and watching. Campmates were playing soccer. Her sock was off and she was not walking on her foot. While we were signing out, I asked her how gymnastics went that morning. “We didn’t go,” Cass said.

I asked a counselor what happened. She told me that when they got to Badger Gymnastics, the gym was closed because the owner of Badger Gymnastics forgot to be there, so they had to come back. I asked why they didn’t tell the parents this, and why I had to learn this from my daughter. She explained that it wasn’t her fault.

When we got home, I took off Cass’ sock to see that she had stubbed her toe. I rinsed it off, put on a fresh band-aid, and she literally ran off down the hallway. Now, I have no doubt that Cass whined when she injured it. But I would hope that the counselors have experience with 5 year olds who can be overdramatic when they get injured. I wished they would have asked her to walk it off, instead of letting her literally sit on the sidelines for 4-plus hours of camp (the injury happened around noon).

The next day I got an email from Tracy, the Youth Director, saying that she heard I was upset at check out; she explained that it wasn’t their fault that Badger Gymnastics screwed up and no one was there. The email threw me for a loop. I called Tracy, and Tracy reiterated again that it was not Keva’s fault. I told her that while I understood that it was not Keva’s fault, it was still Keva’s responsibility. Did Tracy think Keva responded to what happened as best as possible? Did you teach the kids any gymnastics moves, even a somersault, when you got back to Keva? Did you have any plans to tell the parents so they didn’t have to learn it from their kids? Can you understand that we signed up for this camp package because it included gymnastics in hopes of using this sport my daughter likes to entice her to learn about more sports? Silence on the other end of the phone.

I asked Tracy if there was anything Keva could do for me. Tracy couldn’t think of anything. Nope, there was nothing they could do for me.

The next day, Cass got a welt on her leg from where the kickball hit her.

*When I write “wrestle”, I don’t actually mean the sport of wrestling. From what I saw, the two boys were on all fours, each one trying to pull the other’s arm out from under him so that the other boy would fall on his face. I know little about wrestling, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t part of the sport.

Keva Sports Center is located at 8312 Forsythia Street, Middleton. Check the website for more information on camps, leagues, and classes.

Aldo Leopold Nature Center Camps

The Aldo Leopold Nature Center is outdoor heaven. Ponds, marshes, trees. Frogs, birds, bugs. Too bad they don’t have classes for adults. But they do have summer camps for ages 2 to 12.

Cass just finished her first experience with Aldo Leopold through two days at their spring break camp. She played in the mud, looked for animals, and learned outdoor skills.

The two instructors we met were almost the opposite that I’d expect from camp counselors. They were easy-going. None of this high-octane “are we going to have fun?” energy blast of the usual camps. It was more about fostering an appreciation of nature and a comfort in exploring the earth. Outdoor discovery is not a “crazy adventure” but a daily part of life. This attitude fits with Aldo Leopold Nature Center’s mission: To teach the student to see the land, understand what she sees, and enjoy what she understands.

Summer camps run from June 13th to August 26th. There are a range of programs — from one hour for the 2-3 year olds; to half-days, full-days, and full-weeks for 4 to 12 year olds. And there are three overnighters for ages 8 and up.

Find out more, and sign up for the summer, at www.naturenet.com/alnc/.