June 8, 2013

Kid Tracks: Learning, with plenty of enjoyment

By Wendy Almeida walmeida@mainetoday.com
Assistant News Editor/Features

Learning about the outdoors is a work in progress for my family despite the fact we are outside all the time and I've been writing this column for 10 years. But when I'm asked how I learned about trees, birds, the night sky and a whole host of other useful (and maybe not so useful but fascinating) tidbits about the outdoors, I think back to my family's early adventures. When my kids were younger I spent a fair amount of time looking for family-oriented classes. Not classes where I dropped my kids off. No, I'm talking about classes where adults and kids could learn together.

click image to enlarge

Bring a pair of binoculars when you visit Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park in Freeport. The kids will love getting a close look at the osprey nest.

Wendy Almeida Photo


FOR MORE information about family-oriented outdoor programs in southern Maine, try these resources:

Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park, Freeport

Southworth Planetarium at USM, Portland

Wells Reserve at Laudholm, Wells

Maine Audubon

These type of classes are more common than they used to be and I am happy to see this trend has taken off in southern Maine in a variety of venues.

Below is only a short sampling of options based on my family's first-hand experience (both recent and during my kids' younger years).


My children's first introduction to tree identification was a ranger program at Wolfe's Neck Woods State Park. We went on a tree "scavenger hunt" (now called the "Tree Hunt") with a worksheet and pencil. We returned a short while later with an almost-blank worksheet and spent time chatting up a patient ranger who gave us tips on how to look at trees to figure out what kind they were (it's not just about leaves; bark matters too). We still have that hand-out, now nearly 8 years old, in our family scrapbook.

I contacted Andy Hutchinson, park manager at Wolfe's Neck Woods State Park, about ranger programs this summer. These programs are offered every Saturday and Sunday until June 15; on June 16 the ranger programs are offered daily through July and August at 2 p.m.

Hutchinson said one of the highlights is the "Osprey Watch" scheduled every Tuesday and once every weekend in July and August.

"In July the babies in the nest should be learning to fly and fish. In late August or early September, the baby ospreys should be self-sufficient and ready to migrate to South America on their own, after the parents have already left for South America themselves."


I have taken my kids to planetarium shows since they were preschoolers and they have always loved the experience. Despite having seen some of the shows in the dome multiple times, we still seem to learn something new we missed. But mostly my family likes the mythology and other storytelling orientated programs offered there now that they're older.

There are also some changes in store for the Southworth Planetarium this summer. They have given the "Rusty Rocket's Last Blast!" show a makeover. The new computer-animated omni-dome program, which will debut July 15, will offer even veteran planetarium-goers a chance to see and learn about the solar system in a new and entertaining way. Show admission prices for shows range from $5 to $6.50/per person, depending on matinee or evening showtimes.

The planetarium is also teaming up with Portland Trails to offer star watching walks along some of the trails this summer. Check trails.org/programs for more information.


There is a fun, easy trail system that leads to the beach that we have always enjoyed, particularly in the spring before it actually warms enough to swim (although that doesn't stop my youngest from rolling up her pants and giving her feet a cold water dip). There are also a wide variety of special programs, guided tours and general nature walks that are open to all ages. Some programs have a small fee while others -- like the ones I list below -- are free with the cost of admission ($1/kids; $4/adults).

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