With our upcoming summer journey to Newfoundland just around the corner, we’ve been scrambling to visit some final places in New England before our departure. At the top of our list was the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in Holderness, New Hampshire. We’ve heard some wonderful things about how they blend natural learning with hands-on fun, so we knew we had to visit to experience all that they have to offer for ourselves.
Our first stop was the biweekly river otter feeding (since the animals are fed at night, this was really just a snack). The younger fives were mesmerized by the way the two otters ate, slid, and played, but the learning was not limited to observation. Otter pelts invited the fingers of the younger Fives, and they eagerly explored a clever “otter lunch box” depicting river otters’ favorite foods. A very friendly and knowledgeable staff person also pointed out interesting details to the kids, and she answered dozens of questions from Five Spice and myself. We were most surprised to learn that one of the otters was a refugee from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (all of the animals at the Center are either injured or unable to be released into the wild due to prolonged human contact).
Our next stop was the thoroughly impressive Gordon Children’s Center, a two story barn filled with playful learning at its best. From climbing spider webs to crawling through gopher tunnels, we were a blur of activity as we explored the barn’s offerings. When we needed to catch our breath, there was an inviting “night sounds” room and a magnetic “build your own plant” board on which High Five soon created an imposing plant overflowing with leaves and stems.
As we continued along the Gephart Exhibit trail, we couldn’t get enough of the combination of seeing live animals and learning about them through play. After observing two black bears in the enclosure, we got a chance to explore a bear cave, learn about a “bear plug”, and lift panels on a beautifully painted mural to visualize the varied foods that bears eat (the vast majority being insects and plants).
As the day wore on it was hard to keep track of all the things we had learned and done. A few highlights include comparing our arm span to different raptors, participating in the Mountain Lion Olympics (we fell quite short of the mountain lion’s 30-foot long and 15-foot high leap), and wiggling through a chipmunk burrow. We loved how the interesting facts about each animal were set in the larger context of the surrounding ecosystem to show that all the parts are connected.
With so much fun and learning packed into a day, we’ll be sure to keep connecting what we learned and did at the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center with our homeschool studies for many years to come. And we’re glad to know we still have a few more years to train before the next Mountain Lion Olympics comes around!