WHO: James Burnett of the Globe staff and his wife and son
WHAT: The South Shore Natural Science Center
I’ve said a dozen times if I’ve said it once, that as I learn to be a good parent to a high-energy toddler, the key to keeping him happy and me sane is the great outdoors served up to my boy on a platter, so to speak.
Few places my wife, son, and I have visited since moving to Greater Boston 15 months ago have captured life in the woods and water as well as the South Shore Natural Science Center in Norwell, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
The Center, which merged recently with the South Shore YMCA, sits on a 30-acre wooded campus surrounded by 200 acres of conservation land maintained by the town of Norwell.
From its humble beginnings in June 1962 as what amounted to a nature-themed meeting place, meant to encourage locals to get out and enjoy the life and greenery around them, the Center has grown to include a preschool, a nature-themed art gallery, the EcoZone Museum, which holds a collection of kid-friendly animals, a large garden maintained in part by the children who frequent the Center, a year-round schedule of nature classes, hiking tours, and the like, and scouting and summer camp programs.
“The thing we emphasize most is the interactive nature of our facility,” says Chris Jacobs, resident naturalist and volunteer coordinator at the Center. “Virtually everything here, the children can either touch, observe closely, or take part in.”
True to Jacobs’s word, inside the EcoZone our 20-month-old Max, who is both fascinated and still a little creeped out by “critters,” was able to get eyeball to eyeball with giant Madagascar hissing cockroaches, which were, quite frankly, much neater looking than the variety associated with grime and germs.
Max also got to pet a wood frog, and take in a variety of non-poisonous snakes, as well as eastern box turtles, and salamanders.
The EcoZone, built and maintained by donations, even features impressive human “displays” from time to time.
Most recently, celebrity naturalist and TV host Jeff Corwin, who grew up in New England and inspired and helped design the EcoZone, Jacobs says, dropped in for a visit.
“That’s one of the neat things about our facility too,” she says. “People who have benefited from it as children do maintain a pretty high level of contact. Jeff has been a great contributor and visits often for special events and sometimes just to see how we’re doing.”
Perhaps most enjoyable for Max was when Jacobs led him outside the EcoZone Museum to see Hedwig, the barred owl, a species native to New England, and to lead him along beautifully wooded trails, sprinkled with toddler-friendly learning exhibits, like a musical fence, a xylophone to be played with sticks, a sensory box, dicovery tables, and even tree stump “mushroom hoppers” and balance beams.
He was pretty big on the Jose Carreiro Garden and the chicken coop too. It’s amazing what fancy feathered birds and permission to dig in damp soil will do for a kid his age.
The South Shore Natural Science Center, 48 Jacobs Lane, Norwell. Open Monday to Saturday
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; closed Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Admission is $3/child (2-15 years), $7/adult,
$5/senior citizen (60+), and free for children under 2. Admission to Vine Hall Art Gallery, the Nature Gift Store, and trails is always free. Information: 781-659-2559, www.ssnsc.org.