Last Friday, I joined about a dozen preschoolers and their moms or caregivers for the Little Stewards Story Time at the Sebago Lake Ecology Center in Standish.

It wasn’t my first visit to the Center, run by the Portland Water District. Last summer I’d visited Water Resource Specialist Mary Gilbertson and had written a column about the rain garden she had established. But Friday was my first opportunity to see one of their children’s programs.

With a cozy corner near the library designated as a reading area and a separate room with tables and chairs set up for craft projects, the Center is well-equipped to accommodate any rambunctious, inquisitive groups of children who walk through its doors.

And you should have seen last week’s group! There’s nothing like the serious, sparkling faces of children – especially when they’re dressed up for Halloween, which many of them were. There were four very earnest princesses, complete with tiaras, fancy gowns and dress up shoes. The Incredible Hulk and a Power Ranger were also in attendance, while one mom carried Raggedy Andy in her arms.

Environmental Educators Lisa Vickers and Abby Morgan greeted the crew and gave each child a paper bag and a picture list of items to look for while on their scavenger hunt walk. Then, we all went for a nature walk on a trail through the woods, the four princesses tripping along enthusiastically in their fragile shoes.

Before long the children’s bags overflowed with acorns, colorful leaves and pine needles. We returned to the Center and the children settled on the carpet while Vickers read them a story.

With the story completed, it was time for crafts. Little hands shook the contents of the paper bags out onto the craft tables. Using the items they collected, along with glue and glitter, the children made fancy masks with some assistance from grown-up hands as well. They also made mobiles with their outdoor finds.

The Portland Water District has come up with a winner in their Little Steward themed story/craft times. These children were encouraged to be curious and creative – in other words they were given the opportunity and the setting to be themselves. And, in the process, they were learning to value our natural resources.

There are four more themed story times planned for the next few months, each with morning and afternoon sessions. But space for this free program is limited. If you are interested, contact the Center at 774-5961, ext. 3337 or 3319.

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