Kids learn about nature at Walter Elwood Museum’s Spring Camp

While schools were closed this past week for spring recess, Amsterdam’s Walter Elwood Museum held it’s Spring Camp program for children ages four and up. Dozens of campers took part in the three day event and learned about the natural world of planet Earth.

“We’ve had fifteen to twenty five kids per day combined with both programs which is good numbers,” said the museum’s director Ann Peconie. “Some are here on the Dr. Rao Charitable Trust Grant. The tuition helps support the museum.”

The April 14-16 camp program had two classes per day. Instructors Suzanna Van Schoonhoven Hunter and Mary Going were in charge of one camp that helped campers with craft projects in honor of Earth Day. The other camp was headed by area naturalist George Steele, who gave campers a closer look at the animals and birds that live in the world around us.

Van Schoonhoven Hunter and Going helped students with craft projects that included making dolls out of recycled materials.

“Yesterday was beautiful,” said Van Schoonhoven Hunter about Monday’s camp. “We made dolls out of stuffings, fillings and recycled textiles and materials. We made snakes out of neckties. Tomorrow we will be drawing 3D animals.”

Tuesday was all about the birds.

“They’re thinking about spring and what happens in Spring,” said Peconie. “Walter Elwood had an impressive collection of bird eggs.”

Peconie opened one box containing several eggs of an Eastern Phoebe that had dates written on them. One was dated from 1913.

“Walter Elwood loved birds. He has an incredibly detailed collection. This is the first time we’ve shown them.”

Campers learned about painted wooden eggs from Poland and the Ukraine. They also had the chance to paint their own eggs.

“They did beautifully,” Van Schoonhoven Hunter said as students showed her their completed projects of multi-colored eggs. “There were a lot of projects and they completed them spectacularly.”

Children in Steele’s group toured the museum’s natural history section and marveled at Elwood’s collection of birds and gave them a closer look at the often elusive creatures.

“Do you know what this bird is?” Steele asked the class.

“It’s a road runner,” campers replied.

“Very good. Do you know where road runners live?”

Steele, a naturalist and science educator at the Landis Arboretum in Esperance gave students a closer look at the creatures that live in ponds during Mondays’ ecology program. During Tuesday’s ornithology (birds) program, Steele was hoping to get outside to see birds in action.

“We were trying to get outside but the weather wouldn’t cooperate,” said Steele noting the downpour that occurred on Tuesday. “Today we learned what owls eat, and opened owl pellets and found the bones of mice and small birds. They were fascinated.”

Steele’s class went on to build bird feeders using plastic bottles. The students cut holes in the bottles and attached sticks as perches then filled the feeders with seed and put on the cap. Campers helped each other with the projects and got to take them home.

“This is wild,” said Steele. “They learned to build bird feeders and hopefully will build more in the future.”

Steele invited campers to attend a hawk watch on Saturday, April 19 at the Landis Arboretum. According to Steele, thousands of the birds will be returning to the upstate New York region.

Campers returned Wednesday for the “Im a Mammalogist” program.

“Walter Elwood had a great collection of animals,” Van Schoonoven Hunter said. “There is a set of fawns just around the corner. We’ve moved the collection from one year to the next,” she said in reference to museum’s change in location due to flooding.

Campers used their imaginations and learned how to draw their favorite animals, then worked on 3D animal drawings in Van Schoonhoven’s class. Campers learned how to identify animal footprints made t-shirts with their favorite animal tracks on them in Steele’s class. Children explored Elwood’s collection of animals that included foxes, deer and bears as well as unique creatures such as anteaters.

A lifelong educator in Amsterdam, Walter Elwood founded the museum in 1940 so that young people could learn more about the world around them. Formerly housed in historic Guy Park Manor and before that on Guy Park Ave., the museum opened last year at its current home on 100 Church Street, Amsterdam.

“He collected all these things because he wanted to help people learn,” Peconie said. “We honor Walter Elwood. This is something fun to do on a rainy day.”

Peconie went on to say that the Walter Elwood Museum will be holding more educational camps in the future including one this summer. More information on these and other programs is available at the museum’s website.

Photos by Scott Mulford.

Scott Mulford

Scott Mulford has been covering local sports for over 20 years. He previously wrote for the Amsterdam Star and The Free Press of the Mohawk Valley.