Bear Mountain State Park is an enjoyable place to visit and explore especially in warm weather. The park offers many activities including hiking, swimming, boating, fishing, and ice skating. Kids will definitely love exploring the Trailside Museums and Zoo where four museums focus on different topics.
The Herpetology House contains native turtles, snakes, frogs, toads, salamanders, and skinks as well as many species of fish. The Nature Study Museum is designed to teach animal recognition. The Geology Museum introduces a variety of natural resources, and the History Museum provides an introduction to Native Americans and their descendants.
When I visited Bear Mountain, I loved the scenery and the Museums. It was interesting to learn about the animals who have lived there for a long time. Also, I enjoyed the hands-on activities and games that help children become engaged with nature, local wildlife, and ecology.
Experiencing Bear Mountain State Park is a great way to help children have fun while increasing their awareness of the environment and how it impacts them daily. A visit to Bear Mountain or any park can help even the youngest children think about how we breathe oxygen from air, get water from rain, as well as food, shelter, and warmth from the sun.
Where to begin
All of the Museums will interest kids, however, I suggest choosing just two in order to engage students more deeply. Before you visit, ask them to imagine what the park will be like or draw what they think they will see. Also ask them to think about one or more things they’d like to learn about at the park.
After sharing students’ ideas, take a few minutes to add anything they haven’t thought of — some background on the park and what they’ll see and do makes for a better experience. Be sure to highlight anything you want students to be sure to notice or anything that connects with what you’re doing in the classroom.
You can arrange with museum staff to do hands-on activities such as painting, touching animal skulls and/or plants, and making observations. Most kids love experiencing things on their own and learning by doing. Seeing animals up close and in person is unusual for many students and will help them remember facts like what an animal eats and how long it has lived. Many kids will also be excited to see how different animals move.
After the field experience, keep the learning going. Give students time to think about and discuss new information and make comparisons to what they imagined or drew before the trip. Find out what interested them most and what they are still curious about. Then, look for opportunities to let students practice their research skills, find out more, and present what they learn to the class.
Edna is a SUNY New Paltz sophomore majoring in elementary education. She hopes to teach kindergarten children. All photos are from the Trailside Museums website.
Notes on visiting
Contact environmental educator Chris O’Sullivan at 845-786-2701, ext. 29, at least four weeks in advance to schedule school or other group visits even if you are not requesting a tour or activities. There is a suggested donation of $1 per person.
Buses must have permits to enter the park; the fee is $60-100 depending on the type of group. Bus permit applications are available from 845-786-2701, ext. 244. You must obtain a permit at least two weeks in advance. There is also a parking fee of $10 per vehicle. Allow 20 minutes to walk from the parking lots to the museums.
Covering the cost. Title 1 classrooms throughout New York State are eligible for Connect Kids grants for visits to NYS parks, nature centers, or historic sites and Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Environmental Education Centers. Connect Kids reimburses schools for bus costs, tolls, bus entry fees, and programs fees up to $750. Hudson Valley schools and not-for-profit after-school or summer programs can apply for Explore Awards that will cover up to half of trip costs.
Bear Mountain Zoo, a poem by Amelia Jensen, Grade 5, West IS, Arlington CSD, Dutchess County
A Fun Day at Bear Mountain, poem by Liliana Rivera, Grade 5, Warwick Valley MS, Orange County