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Children in Decatur to explore the world during five-day science camp

Cook Museum of Natural Science

Children in Decatur get to learn the mysteries of the world and its critters this week. The Cook Museum of Natural Science is hosting its Biomes Bonanza Multi-Day Camp today (July 17) through Friday. Children will visit the museum for the next five days from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The museum is located on 133 4th Ave. NE.

Cook Museum of Natural Science

During this camp, children will learn about the Earth’s many biomes, including deserts, forests, oceans and the tundra. They will also meet several Animal Ambassadors, which are animal breeds and species that live and thrive in these environments.

Children will be divided up into age groups. Children aged 5 to 7 will make paper crafts as well as learn about rivers, caves, deserts, oceans and forests through various hands-on activities. Children aged 8 to 9 will participate in experiments and live animal presentations. Children aged 10 to 12 will also participate in hands-on experiments, including building their own ice shelter, forest succession model, salt dough swamp animals, clay amphibians and reptiles and more. In addition, older campers will discover individual aspects of biomes such as wetlands, grasslands and rainforests.

Cook Museum of Natural Science

Joy Harris is the marketing coordinator for Cook Museum of Natural Science. She said her favorite part of this camp is watching children learn and form new connections with other campers.

“I love seeing the kids grow in their knowledge, and I love seeing the campers that return,” she said. “The ones that are regularly in our classes are just so excited to be back. Those kids might not see any of their classmates in camp, but they make new friends through the week and form a little friend group that’s not even from their school.”

Harris said she especially loves seeing the children think critically.

Cook Museum of Natural Science

“I like watching them make their little shelters [and] their clay animals,” she said. “You think you’ll see a whole bunch of snakes because that would be easiest to make, but they get creative with it. They then make a habitat for it, and they want to make a house and furniture. I love seeing all that creative energy that they bring. You can give them loose instructions and just let them go. Let them have their imagination run with it.”

This is Cook Museum’s second Biomes Bonanza Multi-Day Camp this summer. Harris said last month’s camp was a big success, with 47 of 48 slots filled with smiling, happy campers.

“I know we have people drive all the way from Florence every day to come let their kid be a part of the camp,” she said. “I think that if your kid is interested in science and learning, this is an almost invaluable experience, letting them [be] hands-on with our technology, our teachers and our resources. It’s just another outlet for people that are looking to learn more even while school’s out.”

The Cook Museum of Natural Science is Decatur’s state-of-the-art natural science museum. The museum was initially open between 1980 and 2016 before becoming a nonprofit organization. Cook Museum was reimagined and reopened in 2019. Today, it is filled with live animals and various exhibits meant to showcase the world’s habitats from rivers, streams and forests to the arctic, deserts, oceans and a life-size cave. The museum also features a 600-gallon freshwater aquarium, 15,000-gallon saltwater aquarium and world of insects.

Harris said the goal of Cook Museum and all its camps, including Biomes Bonanza, is to get people excited to learn more about the ecosystem and how humans can help protect it.

“We’re hoping this will spark an interest in these children for years to come, so they’ll be more concerned about the environment but also excited about learning what lives there,” she said. “I think it’s really important that they see the interconnectivity of everything. Not only is it what lives in the environment, but how people, whether they live in that environment or not, can be affecting those places. I think giving kids this opportunity at [a young age] will help them understand, and then they can still use that in their future, whether they become a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer or a marketer.”

Registration for Biomes Bonanza has since closed, but Cook Museum of Natural Science offers summer programming almost daily. One upcoming event is the museum’s Sensory Friendly Day on Sunday, July 30 from 12 to 5 p.m. Families can explore the museum’s exhibits and animals at their own pace. In addition, museum staff will lower the volume of all music and sound effects, limit crowds and offer a designated quiet room and other extra-interactive activities for visitors with sensory or communicative needs. For visitors who may need to prepare before visiting, Cook Museum offers a step-by-step guide on what to expect. It is available on the museum’s website. Museum members get in for free, while visitors pay general admission.

Cook Museum will also host several Aquarist for a Day and Herpetologist for a Day classes in the coming weeks. During these classes, children get the chance to study ocean animals or reptiles and amphibians. Visitors also witness live animal feedings, behind the scenes tours of the museum and an animal dissection. Details for these events are not yet posted, but more information will be provided on the museum’s calendar page as these days are planned.

Families and visitors interested in attending any future events can visit the museum’s Guest Services Desk in-person or call the museum’s Group Sales Department during regular weekly business hours at 256-898-6312.

Joshua LeBerte is a news intern for Alabama Public Radio.
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