It weaves like a flowering vine through my son's 14-year timeline: the delightfully entangling Lee County kids' learning experience. Aaron was born here and we took full advantage from day one.
Before Aaron even started school, we had begun an unconscious educational pilgrimage around the county's kids' attractions with trips to Imaginarium Hands-On Museum and Aquarium and the boardwalk nature trail at Six-Mile Cypress Slough Preserve. With his first-grade Tiger Cubs den, we visited Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium to pet snakes and hike trails. Fourth grade's history project took our family to downtown Fort Myers at the Southwest Florida Museum of History to research local cow hunting legend Jake Summerlin and the Cracker lifestyle. In fifth grade, I chaperoned Aaron's class on a tour of Ostego Bay Foundation Science Center in Fort Myers Beach.
Between the city and the environmental, Aaron gained a balanced first-hand, hands-on wisdom that put him on an even keel for life. Here are some of the lessons and fun facts we learned along the way, both "on the street" and "in the raw."
Taking it to the Streets
For urban sophistication in neighborly, kid-favorable settings, we head to Fort Myers. As a toddler, Aaron got his first lesson on weather when he walked through a thunderstorm and sat through a hurricane at Imaginarium. And stayed perfectly dry!
In the history department, we toured the Cracker House at Southwest Florida Museum of History to hear that the term "cracker" referred to the snap of cow hunter's whips and that tin roofs reflected the sun's heat to keep homes cool. Electricity surges through lessons at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates, where tours offer insights into the lives of two geniuses who lived side-by-side. Aaron's favorite lessons: Thomas Edison held 1,093 inventions patents, and Henry Ford used local Spanish moss for stuffing his early car seats.
Nature for Dummies
Decaying mangrove leaves are the baby food of the estuary. The sea robin - a fish with fins, spikes, legs and even wings - looks like some kind of weird animal experiment gone awry. And blue crabs have an internal "pause button" they push when they're stressed out.
On Sanibel Island, we learned from an expert of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) that barnacles eat with their toes, gopher tortoises munch at the turtle grass "salad bar," and scallops have 100 eyes.
Other tidbits of information we've gleaned on our nature-learning quest across Lee County:
Snakes have smooth, silky - not slimy! - skin. You should always pet a snake in a head-to-tale direction. (Calusa Nature Center)
Stone crab fishermen remove only the claws, which regenerate. A stone crab goes through several sets of claws in a lifetime. (Ostego Bay Foundation, Inc. Marine Science Center)
The 1,500-pound manatee sings soprano! (Manatee Park)
In addition to drop-by visitor experiences, many attractions deepen their enrichment value with special programs and camps geared toward the family. Lovers Key State Park in Bonita Beach, for instance, schedules weekly programs in cast-netting, birding, fishing and beach habitat. Ostego Bay Foundation, Inc. Marine Science Center conducts summer camps and kid group programs.
No matter how involved you and your children become, Lee County's wealth of family attractions strike the perfect balance between street smart and nature wise.