Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Children explore aquatic life in nature center’s ‘Stream Splash’

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J. Adam Fenster⁄The Gazette
Quinn Southall, 4, of Silver Spring wades through a stream Sunday at Brookside Nature Center in Wheaton on a search for aquatic critters such as crayfish during the center’s ‘‘Stream Splash.”
Betsy Taylor stood over two buckets of water filled with crayfish, tadpoles and minnows as a captive audience of children gathered around her Sunday evening.

‘‘You guys caught some awesome things,” proclaimed Taylor, the park naturalist at Brookside Nature Center in Wheaton.

As she passed around some of the more interesting subjects, the children, many preschool-aged, wowed at what they found in the seemingly ordinary creek just below the nature center.

‘‘I think he wants to get out,” one child told Taylor, while looking at an adult crayfish, originally thought to be a lobster by one of the participants, swimming inside its glass jar.

It was the culmination of another edition of ‘‘Stream Splash,” which has become one of the nature center’s most popular summer programs.

Taylor led about 15 children accompanied by their parents to a stream, gave them nets and let them catch all types of aquatic critters. The goal was to give the children an interactive learning experience about the natural ecosystem that exists near their homes.

‘‘It’s good for them to learn there’s so much life under here,” Taylor said. ‘‘It gives them an opportunity to watch what’s happening, to watch nature do its own thing.”

The children were certainly excited to take part. They willingly walked knee-deep into the creek, put down their nets and ran to Taylor with whatever they caught.

According to some parents, the interactive nature of the event is what made it so appealing.

‘‘I kind of like how it’s hand-on for the kids,” said Rachel Dorfman, a Gaithersburg parent of one child who participated Sunday. ‘‘It’s the kind of thing you can’t really do on your own. It’s good to have the teacher here guiding them.”

Participants found a number of crayfish, minnows, snails, insects and a large bullfrog tadpole, all indicators of a healthy stream, according to Taylor.

After the children finished passing around the critters, Taylor allowed each child to carefully place one back into its natural habitat.

‘‘The kids have fun and any opportunity for the kids to get out into nature is good,” said Dana Whitman, a parent from Germantown.

Afterward, Taylor gave her final message, which was well received.

‘‘Anything spilled in roads or driveways ends up in the stream,” Taylor said. ‘‘Then it takes about two to three weeks to flow down to the Chesapeake Bay.”

‘‘Do we need to take care of the stream?” she asked the kids. After ‘‘Stream Splash,” when members of the group found out for themselves just how many living creatures call the creek home, they answered with an emphatic ‘‘yes.”