There’s no time like summer to get out, explore and play with animals. The Alley Pond Environmental Center in Douglaston offers a variety of programs for children of all ages to appreciate nature throughout the summer.
A matrix of trails radiates from the APEC on Northern Boulevard, winding through the surrounding estuary, woodlands, salt marsh and meadow. All trails are extremely easy to walk on and have points to stop and learn about the varied ecosystems.
APEC is also home to a collection of animals, which children can observe, pet, and play with, including birds, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, turtles, lizards and snakes. Some were rescued from the surrounding area. There are also rooms set up for arts and crafts, playtime and story time.
Rosemarie Favuzza-Papachristou, the head of education at APEC, said the goal of the center’s summer programs is to “provide children with a seasonal hands-on experience in a relaxed nature setting.”
APEC hosts classroom visits for camps and programs for children with special needs, as well as “mini-camps,” which are about two hours per day twice a week. Session one begins on or after July 8, and Session two starts around July 29.
The weekly classes vary based on childrens’ ages. For example, the Wee Sprouts program for 18-to-23-month-olds is designed to expose young children to nature by playing, petting the animals, and going on mini-nature walks and Toddler Time, for 24-to-35-month-olds, incorporates crafts, stories, and short nature walks. Both involve parental participation.
APEC is piloting a program for fourth- and fifth-graders, this summer, called Alley Pond Pioneers, which will take the children out to the surrounding wetlands and on beach cleanups, among other activities.
“All programs offer an animal component and an outdoor component,” Favuzza-Papachristou said. “Children in city schools don’t get the chance to explore nature and touch live animals.”
Programs for all ages inbetween also seek to connect children with the environment through age-appropriate activities.
There will also be additional programs on the weekends, such as Storytime Safari, where 3-to-7-year-olds will listen to a story about Fish Fun and do a relevant craft activity, followed by a nature walk, on July 13, from 1:30-3 p.m. The following day, from 1:30 to 2:45 p.m., Adventure Hour for 18-to-36-month-olds will be all about fish too, with art projects, play, and trail walks.
Favuzza-Papachristou said the programs also incorporate academic skills, including reading, math and science. Programs for younger children also emphasize fine and gross motor skills.
“The childen thoroughly enjoy it,” she said. “It’s a nice break from traditional classes. Inner city children don’t often get to enjoy nature, to get up close, touch it, smell it and hear it.”
‘APEC Kids Programs’
When: Throughout the summer
Where: APEC, 228-06 Northern Blvd., Douglaston
Tickets: Varies, (718) 229-4000, alleypond.com