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by Amanda Nowicki, Lloyd Center Educator/Naturalist

On Monday, October 5th, the Lloyd Center hosted its first After School Program, from 3:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. As both a mother of a child in a hybrid school setting and an educator at the Lloyd Center, I feel that this After School Program fills a niche that kids need right now. My daughter is eight years old and very active. After a day of social distancing at an in-person school setting or endless hours in front of Zoom, she is itching to be outside and ‘free.’ Teachers, parents, and students are all working extremely hard to make this new school schedule as rewarding as its traditional school year counterpart. One thing I have noticed, children are missing the interaction and exploration that they usually receive during a typical day containing gym or recess periods.

Inviting students to the Lloyd Center to participate in small socially-distanced groups while exploring the natural environment is a great outlet from the new challenges and stress that many are facing. I have seen students arrive antsy from being inside all day, or tired from having to follow so many new procedures. Once they get started with their after-school lesson, it’s like a new spark ignites and they are ready to explore, learn, and play! I think everyone is doing an amazing job adjusting and making the most out of this new ‘way of life’ right now, and these programs offer a special outlet for the ones most impacted by these changes – our students.

A typical afternoon at the Lloyd Center’s After School Program: Student drop off is between 3:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. When students arrive, temperatures are checked and possible symptoms reviewed with guardians before they join the program. Our small group of eager participants are led to our outdoor classroom area where they spend their time learning and having fun. We also have an indoor classroom in case of rain. This space contains our aquariums and terrariums which hold our best partners in education, the animals! The animals don’t seem to mind the masks or the noise of excited children. Our small band of learners socially distance and wear masks when indoors. The students are given activity packets which introduces the topic for the day along with some fun activity sheets. All materials and supplies are kept separate for safety.

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The topic for our first After School Program was “decomposers”. Around 4:00 p.m., we started with a half hour hike through the Lloyd Center’s maritime forest. During this hike, we discussed what decomposers are and their essential functions within the ecosystem. Later on, the class participated in rolling over small logs and searching through leaf litter to find some of the interesting creatures. After our hike we headed back to the classroom to wash our hands and have a quick snack to recharge our energy. To reinforce the lesson, each student was given a small container of soil/leaf-litter composite for an independent discovery of more decomposers. At 5:15 p.m. we started our craft project, mud painting! Students used soil collected at the Lloyd Center and combined it with powdered paint and water to create a uniquely textured paint. They proceeded to use these nature paints to create their own art. The day wrapped up with a little workspace cleaning and more hand washing in preparation for parent pick-up.

As students packed up their belongings, they discussed the afternoon amongst themselves. One student was overheard saying excitedly, “This is exactly what I’m learning about in school right now!” Before leaving for the day, I asked the students if they had fun, there was a resounding “YES!” – success!