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Thursday, May 26, 2011 02:55 am

School’s out, but there’s plenty for children to do


A visitor at one of the Illinois State Museum’s special events works on a project meant to reinforce a natural history lesson.

For at least a few students, the countdown to summer vacation began last August. Others maybe waited until January, by which time the bitter cold and recent memories of semester finals started giving way to daydreams of summer sunshine and three months of test-free bliss.

But Illinois summers also come with high humidity, and, come next August, teachers, parents and students (whether they admit it or not) all feel the brain draining effects of a three-month television marathon when school begins again. But complaints of thick air and the familiar “I’m bored” refrain don’t have to be this summer’s status quo. Springfield offers a range of summer treasures, at least a few of which are both free and air-conditioned.

The Illinois State Museum, 502 S. Spring Street, for years has offered the Bob Steffan Summer Film Fest. Each week in June and July, the museum offers a Tuesday and Wednesday daytime viewing of a short film geared towards young children. Covering all things from dinosaurs and erosion to aerodynamics, the list of films includes a few Magic School Bus gems.

After watching the films and enjoying special day events, or as a separate trip altogether, children can also check out the new Mary Ann MacLean Play Museum, where they’ll find hands-on insight into the world of natural history and museum professions.

“You’re walking into a new environment when you’re walking into that room. With trees and a rock cropping, it’s a very fun experience,” says Elizabeth Bazan, the museum’s education coordinator. “It’s a place for discovery.” She adds that the free museum is the perfect place for a family outing. For more information, visit www.museum.state.il.us or call 782-5993.

Story times are another enrichment program offered to children in the Springfield area. Lincoln Library, 326 S. 7th Street, holds a “Lap Sit Stories” program for the youngest children, those 18 months and younger, on Mondays at 11 a.m. Registration is required for Lap Sit Stories, but not for two story times designed for children of all ages. Thursday Stories are held at 10:30 a.m. and Saturday Stories are held at 11 a.m. Both programs are closed for the month of May but will begin again in June.

ural history lesson. Inset: A family explores the Illinois State Museum's Mary Ann MacLean Play Museum.

This year’s summer reading program theme is “A Midsummer’s Knight Read,” which means a reading room decked out to look like a dungeon and at least one potential sighting of a living, breathing “knight in shining armor.” Registration starts June 4, and the program, complete with daily activities and weekly prizes, is open to anyone 18 years old or younger. For more information call the library at 753-4900 or visit www.lincolnlibrary.info.

Henson Robinson Zoo, 1100 E. Lake Drive, offers summer-long programs for any student between the ages of 7 and 17. Seven through 12-year-olds are invited to Zoo Camp, a four-hour program held on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays in June, July and August at a cost of $50 for Springfield Park District residents. For a younger set, those aged five and six, the zoo will host Saturday Zooper Edventures, full of games, crafts and critters, in June and July from 1 to 3 p.m. Though fun is key to all children’s programs, participants will also learn about different animals, plants and habitats.

The zoo’s education coordinator, Emily McEvoy, admits there’s a motive beyond entertaining kids: “To try to accomplish a conservation goal, people have to care. The best way to get people to care about the animals and the situations they’re in is to get people interested. If you get kids interested in it, hopefully someday when they grow up they can make a difference out there for the animals in our area or maybe even world wide.”

If children’s summers are already too booked to commit to the two-month-long programs, they can still get special looks at the zoo during one-day events, including World Oceans Day on June 11 and a free admission Zoofari on July 9. For more information call Henson Robinson Zoo at 753-6217 or visit www.hensonrobinsonzoo.org.

Children can learn about natural history scientists’ work in the Illinois State Museum's Mary Ann MacLean Play Museum.

When hunger strikes, look no further than Springfield Public Schools, where eight schools across the district are expected to offer free breakfast and lunch to any area child, regardless of income, courtesy the federal government. The list of schools offering the program is still waiting for approval, but parents can call the district’s food service office at 525-3046 for more information, including dates and times. Most of the schools will start serving in early June. Parents and grandparents can come too, but expect a fee of a few dollars for each adult meal.

For high school students, summer school is always an option, too. Whether to make up lost time or to get ahead, District 186 offers summer coursework in a number of areas, including driver’s education and ACT preparation. Students can register for summer courses through June 17. For more information call 525-7913 or visit www.springfield.k12.il.us/summerschool.

Contact Rachel Wells at rwells@illinoistimes.com


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