By Kaye Nelson
For a child, a whole stretch of summer means no school, days playing with friends and inevitable boredom. For parents, keeping kids entertained is a huge challenge.
Providing some welcome relief, the Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum offers two summer programs for children ages 5 through 12.
Saturday Safari runs every Saturday morning through Aug. 5, introducing topics such as “Monkeys and Apes,” “Creepy Crawly Fun” and “Birds of Prey.” Classes are two and a half hours long – plenty of time for parents to hit the mall.
“We signed up our daughter for Saturday Safari so she has a variety of things she can be interested in,” said Kline Nelson from Provo. “We”re trying to keep her busy during the summer.”
BYU students are hired to teach the museum”s summer programs and are called museum educators.
In the Saturday morning “Big Cats” class, Angela Jensen, one of the museum educators studying integrative biology, showed a cougar head and asked the children what they knew about cougars.
“My mom told me about cougars,” said Renee Nelson, a 5-year-old attending the class. “She said they eat you.”
Helping children learn facts about wildlife is one of the goals of the student educators who teach at the Bean Museum.
One grandmother, Mary Bee Jensen, dropped her twin grandsons off at the museum on a Saturday morning for class.
“I just want to share all of the magic that life has to offer,” Jensen said. “Within this museum alone, there is knowledge they can gain to appreciate nature more.”
Older than most specimens in the building, Saturday Safari began before the museum stood on its present site.
“I started the program in the Grant Building when the museum collections were over there,” said Doug Cox, assistant director of the Bean Museum. “I ran it as a grad student, and it”s been going for over 30 years now.”
Enrolling kids in summer activities can be a costly venture with a short life span. Sports camps fill up fast even with a high price tag attached. Saturday Safari only costs $8 per class for each child.
“We signed our son up for a soccer camp that lasts four days and costs $300,” said Tamela Blake, mother of four young children. Blake”s children haven”t participated in Saturday Safari yet but she said the price sounds good enough to look in to.
Another program, called Wildlife Adventure has been at the Bean Museum for about five years, Cox said. Classes begin June 6 for children age 6 to12, and take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“It”s really fun for the kids because they spend Tuesday here in the museum,” said Lisa Briscoe, a senior and museum educator from Providence. “And then every Thursday they”ll go on a field trip.”
The first week, young students will explore stars and galaxies, build a space probe and visit the BYU planetarium.
The following week, students will see several varieties of live reptiles up close, both in the Bean Museum and at Hogle Zoo.
Experimenting with plants and touring green houses on campus enable children to understand the study of botany, and each student will take home their own plant.
Learning basic survival skills and visiting Bridal Veil Falls to test newly learned skills completes the series of classes.
“We rent BYU vans for the field trips,” Cox said, which explains the higher fee for the Wildlife Adventure program. It costs $30 for one week, but discounts apply if more than one child from a family is registered.
Free nightly programs and a Saturday afternoon program also take place at the museum, and are free for the whole family. Museum educators introduce some of the Bean Museum”s live inhabitants to visitors.
“We have a king snake, a red-tail boa constrictor, some pythons, a blue-tongued skink and even a tortoise named Otis,” said Briscoe, one of the museum educators. “Right now he only weighs 25-30 pounds, but full grown, he can weigh above 100 pounds.”
Private shows for groups may also be scheduled on a variety of topics, including Bears, Elephants, Animal Adaptations and Insects. Groups are advised to schedule a private show one week in advance.
Of course, the museum is open for self-guided tours, and some exhibits are changed and updated regularly.
The southeast corner of the museum displays cabinets holding aquatic insects, the camouflage and mimicry of insects and some fierce-looking beetles.
“We built those cabinets low so school kids can see them,” Cox said. “That becomes a pretty congested corner.”
With so much to offer, the Bean Museum provides many hours of learning excitement for children and adults alike.