Less than a mile away from the Merritt Parkway, the Stamford Museum and Nature Center (SM&NC) offers an oasis of nature in one of Connecticut’s largest cities. It is certainly worth a short trip this spring as the Center goes into high gear with a bevy of activities to choose from that’s sure to please the whole family from your animal-loving toddler to adventure-seeking ’tweens.
Upon entering the Center be sure to check out the river otter pond and see how many playful otters you can spot. SM&NC is abutted by more than 80 acres of nature trails and offers perfect hands-on learning opportunities for kids. The April Adventures program features activities every Sunday afternoon ranging from nature hikes to slime-making time. Celebrate take-a-hike week mid-April with SM&NC’s special themed days offering kids scavenger hunts, stream hikes and mud pie making.
We visited during the Maple Sugar Festival Weekend and my kids loved learning how sap is turned into maple syrup and getting a chance to tap a tree. The free samples of maple syrup plus a special tree-related craft kept these little ones busy.
It’s programming like the Maple Sugar Festival Weekend that exemplifies exactly what the Center’s exploratory nature is all about. “Here at the SM&NC, nature, science and agriculture are all linked, especially when we talk about how food gets to the plate,” explains Lisa Monachelli, the director of education.
The Edible Science program began last year and is a popular series that is held in conjunction with the SM&NC’s Sunday Farm Market. Each week children learn a scientific principle that correlates with a food project and allows families to discover the science behind cooking. “Last year, participants discussed the Maillard reaction (why cooked foods turn brown and taste yummy!) by roasting hot dogs and marshmallows, elasticity by making pizza dough, and non-Newtonian fluids by making edible slime. This year, participants will once again cover the Maillard reaction (SM&NC always celebrates National S’mores Day!), as well as viscosity through maple syrup and honey, acidic foods through citrus and plant parts through salad making. The Center also has an organic garden where little ones can help harvest plants.
My kids liked ambling around the grounds of the 10-acre Heckscher Farm. They saw goats, ponies, sheep and their personal favorite – the cows. They were surprised to see teens caring for the animals. My 5-year-old wondered if she could get a job on the farm. While she can’t get one anytime soon, when she turns 10, she can partake in the Junior Curator or Junior WILD Keeper program that teaches kids how to clean and feed the animals. The WILD program focuses on the exotic teaching animals such as reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates used at the SM&NC for animal meet and greets that the environmental educators give to kids.
If you’ve got more of an active bunch and are blessed with warm weather, be sure to check out the onsite Nature’s Playground before you leave. Nestled into a rocky hillside, here kids can climb up to a tree house, walk across a moving bridge or dig for fossils in a sand pit. For little ones still in strollers or those with mobility issues, the Wheels in the Woods Trail offers a universally accessible nature trail through a mature hardwood forest.
Before we left the SM&NC, we decided to check out the “Birds in Art” exhibition located in the historic 1920s Bendel (as in Henri Bendel of department store fame) Mansion, which runs through May 28. The traveling exhibit features 60 artistic interpretations of birds and is considered the gold standard for avian art. We played a quick game of “I Spy” with the bird art on display and then got ready to leave.
The SM&NC offers many programs from ongoing drop-in classes for the preschool set to after-school programs. Summertime brings day camp options and planetarium shows. And if you have an animal loving or trail-trekking kid, they offer birthday parties year-round. Happy Exploring!
Stacey Pfeffer is a writer and editor based in Chappaqua.
Stamford Museum & Nature Center
39 Scofieldtown Road
Stamford, CT 06903
Stamford Museum Galleries & Bendel Mansion
Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., April-October
Daily 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., November-March
Nature’s Playground & Hiking Trails
Daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (weather permitting)
$10 adults, $5 children ages 4-17, under 3 free.