The Tadpoles Club has been a staple program at Jones Park since 1989, designed to introduce 3- and 4-year-olds to nature and wildlife found in ecosystems throughout Precinct 4.
The Tadpoles Club creator developed the program to be a fun, interactive experience for children and parents that fully incorporates the park’s natural setting. Jones Park Director Darlene Conley, who once led the program, said it’s one of her favorite programs.
“The concept was given to us by a volunteer, Mary Keelen, who was an early childhood development professor,” said Conley. “She had done and was familiar with this type of program at another park in the northeast United States, moved to Texas and wanted to do something similar. She and the director at the time put together this program.”
Tadpoles Club meets each Wednesday of alternating months during the school year from September through May. Parents and children can attend either a morning or afternoon class.
During the one-hour program, children experience several activities, starting with fingerplays and a discussion about the day’s events. Once the lesson begins, children are invited to participate in hands-on and up-close demonstrations. The ranger then leads a brief nature walk to reinforce the learning activity, followed by craft time. Children are encouraged to explore their creativity as they complete the craft with a parent. The hour ends with a snack and story related to the topic of the day, and children take home their interactive craft.
Park rangers and naturalists develop weekly topics based on the season. So far, more than 75 topics covering subjects like wildflowers, pollinators, and animal winter coats have been covered since the program began.
Keelen also created specific program guidelines to inspire learning and curiosity. For each topic, she encouraged rangers to allow children to interact, speak, and answer questions, with the guiding principle that there is never a wrong answer.
“The program is geared toward the age where they’re first learning and able to interact,” said Conley. “It’s the best age to really start grabbing their attention and their learning capabilities toward nature. I think it really piques their curiosity about what they see outside.”
Commissioner R. Jack Cagle occasionally attends the program, joining in with children during craft and story time.
Longtime Jones Park volunteer and photographer Michelle Eisterhold enjoyed bringing two of her four children to Tadpoles Club over the years and now accompanies her grandchildren. Eisterhold said she believes the program inspired her youngest son, Paul, 16, to remain involved in the park even today. As a Troop 355 Eagle Scout member, Paul now participates in park service projects.
“I think he enjoyed Tadpoles Club a lot, and it introduced him to many things that have to do with nature,” she said. “The program gave him an appreciation and a different way to experience nature than what I taught him. Tadpoles Club also gave him a love for the different activities at the park – like the homestead and the pioneering activities.”
As a parent, Eisterhold said the program not only gave her an excellent opportunity to bond with her children in a fun way, but it taught her new things and allowed her to share her knowledge of nature with others.
The fall 2020 sessions of Tadpoles Club are on Sept.2, 9, 16, and 23 and Nov. 4, 11, and 18 at 10:30 a.m. or 1 p.m. Reservations begin on Wednesday, Aug. 5, for the September session and Wednesday, Oct. 7, for the November session. To sign up, contact the Nature Center at 281-446-8588.