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Kids

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Summer activities for the family

West Meadow Beach is not the only option for summer fun.

This blog was originally posted in July 2013. It has been updated with current information.

You may still be recovering from those last couple of weeks of careening from one end-of-school-year event to the next, but once the novelty of not having to make it to the bus in the morning or churn out homework in the afternoon wears off, boredom will set in hard and fast.

When younger kids are not in camp, entertainment often falls on mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, or whoever else is looking after the little ones.

Fortunately, our area is not wanting for things to do, and we all have our fail-safe go-to’s — the Emma S. Clark or the Middle Country Libraries for their smorgasbord of classes and activities, the fields or labyrinth at Avalon, West Meadow Beach, or the sprinklers in Port Jeff.

For those days when you want to venture out a little farther, here are just a few more ideas for getting out and about. And let me just preface my recommendations with one bit of advice: wear insect repellant in addition to the sunscreen!  The bugs are out in full force!

Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown

The nice thing about Sweetbriar is you can just get up and go without any real planning or effort, and you can easily spend a couple of hours between picnicking, walking the exhibits and enjoying the outdoor setting. Because much of it is outside, it may not be ideal for a sweltering day.

The animal rehabilitation center is home to horned owls and other birds of prey, and if you hit the right time, you might just see Iggy, the iguana who usually resides inside, walking the grounds sunning herself. The butterfly house is open for business, and there are walking trails, an English garden and an outdoor play spot, complete with water play area, chalk boards and even a log see-saw.

The indoor exhibit features reptiles, amphibians, honey bees and other small animals, as well as skeletons and other educational displays. The rainforest room upstairs is a child’s favorite because of the “bridge” that extends over a faux river. Just watch out for the ginormous tarantulas hanging out, quite literally, in their tanks at the back of the room and make sure to have some pennies to toss into the “river.”

For hours, directions and information about camps and special programs, visit the website, http://sweetbriarnc.org. Sweetbriar is located at 62 Eckernkamp Drive, Smithtown, NY11787, 631-979-6344.

Brookhaven Wildlife and Ecology Center in Holtsville

Another great place for animal viewing is the Holtsville Ecology Center. The small zoo is home to a variety of animals including a bald eagle, emu, horses and a giant pig. All inhabitants are previously injured animals that cannot be re-released.

Though entrance is free,  you may want to have change on hand to buy feed for the goats from the dispensers. Afterwards, you can enjoy a picnic lunch in their picnic area,  run around the playground or ride bikes, scooters or roller blade on the trails.   Oh, and there is an ice cream truck parked outside the entrance, so be prepared to indulge!

For more information visit brookaven.org The Town of Brookhaven Wildlife and Ecology Center Nature Preserve is located at 249 Buckley Road, Holtsville, NY. 631-758-9664.

New York State Parks

Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown and Connetquot River State Park Preserve in Oakdale both offer biweekly Tiny Tots Nature Discovery classes for children 3 to 5 years old. All you have to do is call ahead to reserve a space. The hour-long class is only $4 per adult and $3 for children!

There are also programs for older children, families and adults. This Saturday from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. there will be a bat program at Caleb Smith Park. You can learn about bats in the educational center before walking through the woods scouting for the creatures. While this particular event is recommended for those 5 and up, you can get information about other programs at Caleb Smith by calling 631-265-1054. (They are in the process of updating their website).

For more information on programs at Connetquot River State Park, go to nysparks.com.

Sailors Haven and the Sunken Forest on Fire Island

If you’re looking for a bigger adventure, take the Sayville Ferry across to Sailors Haven on Fire Island, where you’ll find the Sunken Forest and a beach with fine sand and huge seashells for collectors. A boardwalk connects the visitors’ center, the showers, beach and forest. You can either wander around on your own, or take a free ranger-led tour.

Bring your own snacks, since the snack shop is closed while the marina is under construction. Both should reopen at the end of July. The good news, though, is there are lifeguards on duty and the bathrooms and showers are open.

As you can expect, attire for the woods and attire for the beach are not exactly compatible, especially because the forest, situated on freshwater bogs, is extraordinarily buggy — we’re talking total feeding frenzy. Shorts and sleeveless shirts are not advisable, or you will be running to avoid being devoured. Bug spray is ESSENTIAL.

The Visitors Center is open Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and weekends from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information visit the website nps.gov or call (631) 597-6183.

 

 

 

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Stock photo

What if we told you that you could travel to Paris this summer? What if you could finally achieve your dream of becoming an astronaut? What if you had the opportunity to travel back in time to the 1890s or 1960s? Well, you can. Just pick up a book.

Some of our school districts already require students to read one or multiple books over the summer. We commend those districts and think others should follow suit and implement their own summer reading programs in the future.

Summer learning loss, or the summer slide, is real — but we can prevent it. This is more important than ever before as students are being held to a higher standard.

We’ve heard the argument from parents that summer break should be just that — a break — and mandating a child to read a book defeats that purpose. We disagree.

Instilling the value of reading into our lives and those of our children is important. Reading stirs the imagination, helps you think critically and makes you a lifelong learner.

While reading may be difficult for some kids and others may just not like it, there is a book for everybody — or at least an educational magazine — and there are so many places to find them.

Visit your local library to find summer reading programs for kids and adults. Go online and download an eBook. At the bare minimum, try out Audible and listen to an audiobook.

We urge everyone to turn off the video games, get off the computer and escape for a few minutes in the pages of a book. Relax — you will be OK and you may even find it fun.

In the time-honored tradition of required reading, we end with a quote from Betty Smith’s 1943 classic, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.”

“The world was hers for the reading.”

May the world be yours this summer.

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Umbrellas, usually necessary to ward off blazing sun, protected spectators from light drizzle as Ward Melville High School honored around 600 graduates Sunday.

Graduating seniors took their places in bleachers set up alongside the high school’s entrance, which still featured the “Journey to Neverland” backdrop from Thursday night’s prom.

Salutatorian Jayne Green told the women in the audience to remember they were not alone and that as half of the population, women should unite and work together. If they did, she said, “Nothing can stop us.”

Valedictorian Eric Wang shared his moment at the podium with his classmates by mentioning many of them and their contributions by name.

From state athletic champions to talented performers, innovators, “extraordinary leaders,” “patriots serving the country” and those always ready to offer a lending hand, “Each and every one of us is exceptional,” Wang said.

He then urged his classmates to “pay it forward” and channel their energies into their future endeavors.

Following student government president George Zenzerovich’s presentation of the class gift were words from Principal Alan Baum and school board president William Connors. The rain subsided in time for Baum and assistant principal Rosanne DiBella to hand diplomas to the members of the Class of 2015.

‘Officer Drew’ is there for school students

Drew Fiorillo. File photo by Barbara Donlon
Officer Drew Fiorillo’s job is to help students in need. File photo
Officer Drew Fiorillo’s job is to help students in need. File photo

Suffolk County Police School Resource Officer Andrew Fiorillo has the unique job of patrolling hallways instead of streets in an effort to bridge the gap between youth and law enforcement.

The 14-year veteran has been working as a school resource officer with Huntington and South Huntington school districts for more than 10 years. And while he is a sworn law enforcement officer  “Officer Drew,” as he is called, protects and educates students in need.

“I love to speak to them as a mentor, not a police officer,” Fiorillo said in an interview at the 2nd Precinct headquarters in Huntington.

Prior to becoming a police officer in 2001, Fiorillo, a graduate of Queens College with a bachelor’s degree in teaching, was a New York City firefighter. When he got the call offering him a job as a police officer, he knew it was where he was meant to be, as he wanted to help make a difference.

Fiorillo said walking the hallways helps both he and the students get to know each other better. He spends his days walking and talking and helping students in need. The officer said there are many different challenges he faces on a daily basis, which include speaking with students about issues they may be having, giving presentations to forming relationships and ensuring the school environment remains a place where students feel safe to learn and teachers feel safe to teach. Each day is different, which makes it exciting for him, he said.

“I explain things, show how to correct things, obtain information and deliver it in a non-confrontational way,” Fiorillo said.

The officer spends his days in the schools and sometimes goes into classrooms and delivers presentations to the students. One of the presentations he gives is the zero-tolerance law for drinking alcohol under the age of 21. He helps students understand that they cannot operate a motor vehicle with any blood alcohol content if they are under 21.

Fiorillo said he lives by the motto, “no problems, only solutions,” and that is what he tells students when they are in need of advice or any kind of help. He also teaches students that character counts and to do the right thing when no one is watching.

Huntington Superintendent Jim Polansky spoke highly of the officer and said he has proven himself to be a resource for everyone around him.

Drew Fiorillo. File photo by Barbara Donlon
Drew Fiorillo. File photo by Barbara Donlon

“They know he is there for them and will go out of his way to help them,” Polansky said in an interview. “I can’t see anyone doing a better job than him.”

Many can attest to Fiorillo’s passion for helping students. Those who encounter him each day say he goes above and beyond his daily duties and is not only spotted in the schools, but also at community events.

Huntington High School Principal Carmela Leonardi said Fiorillo is very approachable and that students “flock to him.” She also said he has been a partner to the administration and helped create a great environment.

“The ultimate goal is to provide a safe learning environment where kids can learn and teachers can teach,” Fiorillo said.

The officer said he is very thankful and lucky to get the opportunity to work with the students, teachers and administrators, and he hopes to continue the path for a very long time.

“We have an opportunity as police officers to have a positive influence in young people’s lives, which will hopefully help them become better in life,” Fiorillo said.

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Village ready to kick off parade and fireworks on July 4

Antonio Febles, 3, and sister Sofia Febles, 7, from Port Jefferson Station get into the spirit despite the rain at the Port Jefferson Fire Department’s July 4 parade last year. Photo by Bob Savage

Port Jefferson is going to be a sea of red, white and blue on Saturday, July 4.

To kick off the day, the Port Jefferson Fire Department will hold its annual Independence Day parade, rain or shine.

The event will start at 10 a.m., with participants marching down Main Street from the Infant Jesus Church at Myrtle Avenue to the harbor, turning left on West Broadway toward Barnum Avenue, and then finishing at the firehouse on Maple Place.

According to the PJFD, roads along the parade route and participant lineup areas will be closed at 8:15 a.m. that day, including Main Street going as far south as North Country Road; Reeves Road; and High Street between Main and Stony Hill Road. Detour signs will direct drivers to the ferry and downtown area.

Later in the day, weather permitting, Port Jefferson Village will continue its annual tradition of setting off fireworks between its East and West beaches in a salute to the nation’s freedom and its Founding Fathers.

The free fireworks show will kick off at 9 p.m.

A resident parking sticker is required to park at the village beaches.

The fireworks are also visible from the neighboring Cedar Beach on Mount Sinai Harbor.

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The Long Island Maker Festival debuts in Port Jeff

Spectators view demo of the Voxiebox which will be on display at the Long Island Maker Festival Sunday. Photo by Sean Kane

Opening my web browser the other day, I was dropped into the middle of an Apple “special event” product unveiling where an executive enthused about some app or service or the other. It was something to customize my newsfeed. Since I’m good with the way I currently get my news, I didn’t pay too much attention and moved on.

Sometimes it can be overwhelming — keeping up with apps, worrying about issues of privacy and multi-tasking — all of which can erode productivity and promise access to more content than we could ever properly consume. And yet, we can either be intimidated by technology or energized by it.

People who turn that energy into creativity — makers, doers — can be an inspiration to us all. That’s why this Sunday, June 14, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Maritime Explorium in Port Jefferson Village and KidOYO are hosting the Long Island Maker Festival.

The largest maker festival in Suffolk County, it will showcase the work of people who have seized technological innovations and turned them into opportunities to become innovators, says Cindy Morris, the event’s organizer.

As Cindy describes it, the maker movement stems from accessible innovation.

“Technology has changed so much, you can do almost everything from your own home,” she says.”

You don’t need millions of dollars or fancy hi-tech facilities to realize your ideas.

I have to admit that I love the word “maker.” People who create, contribute and value utility. It’s the opposite of consumption and requires grit and ingenuity. How could anyone not be excited by that?

Sunday’s family event will bring together 50 volunteers from ages 11 on up to the Port Jefferson Harborfront Park. There will be scientists from across the island wearing shirts saying, “I’m a scientist. Ask me a question.” They want to encourage those who attend to learn more about the science behind what they will be seeing.  And Cindy assures there will be lots of science — professional robotics, a children’s science exhibition, a demonstration of green screen technology and a hologram machine built in a garage — to name just a few offerings.

Festival participant takes in the Voxiebox 3D video consul. Photo by Sean Kane
Festival participant takes in the Voxiebox 3D video consul. Photo by Sean Kane

The maker movement encompasses more than just science and technology, Cindy says. There’s art, performing art and crafting, much of which will also be seen Sunday.

Stony Brook University’s theater department will demo theatrical make-up, while attendees can take sewing lessons, observe an African drumming circle, or take in other musical performances. Workshops from computer coding to organic gardening will also be offered.

“We always talk to our children about being imaginative, but as we get older, we stop doing it ourselves,” Cindy observes.

This event, this gathering of creators and entrepreneurs, is to show that “anybody can do this,” she says. “We want our children to know that they don’t have to be adults to be creative, and for adults to realize that they don’t have to be children to be creative.”

All of this came together in four months, which Cindy sees as a show of the community’s interest and desire for such an event.  There are close to 100 makers participating, and organizers expect the festival to draw some 3,000 attendees.

Cindy’s background as a strategic planner for non-profits — she owns The Benson Agency — definitely came in handy when gathering sponsors. Without them, the undertaking would have cost anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000, she estimates.

Port Jefferson Village is allowing the organizers to use the Harborfront Park rent free, while The Rinx, the roller rink at the Village Center, is offering all attendees free roller skating for the day. Stony Brook University College of Arts and Sciences and its department of technology and society, Stony Brook Medicine, Hofstra, The Science Academy Camp at Park Shore, Long Island Parent and PSEG are among the other sponsors.

If you are a mover and a maker, or you want to be one, head “down Port” this Sunday. Maybe something you see will spark your sense of invention!

Tickets: Purchased in advance $10/person or $40/family. Day of $15/person or $60 family. www.limakerfest.com

Port Jefferson held its annual Boater’s Maritime Festival on June 6 and June 7, bringing pirates, art, animals and water sports to the village’s downtown area on a warm weekend. Residents and visitors learned how to row, stepped onto paddleboards, wiggled into kayaks, went on treasure hunts, stuffed their faces with clams, petted slippery snakes and more.

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Gift cards are a much appreciated end-of-year gift.

Color-coordinated shirts for field day? Check. Watermelon, bubbles and chalk for class party? Check. Graduation party invites? Check. Teacher gifts? Teacher gifts….

Still trying to devise a fresh way to show your appreciation to the people who meet your children at the other side of the bus or car line, whose supply of patience seems to outpace yours by miles and who, most importantly, educate and nurture our children throughout the day? No pressure or anything. I’m just saying.

The good news is that, in many cases, classes pool their resources, taking donations from all the parents, to purchase a class gift for the teacher.  If this is the case, then you’re golden. But not all classes do a group gift and some families still like to do something for the teacher in addition to a class gift. Of course, if you have more than one child and each has more than one teacher, personalized gifting can get a bit daunting and even a little pricey.

So I reached out to my network of mom and teacher friends to get some more ideas of gifts that say “thank you,” are useful and don’t contribute to clutter.

  1. Gift Cards. Everyone — teachers and parents alike — universally agree that you can’t go wrong with a gift card.  Barnes & Noble, Starbucks, Target, Visa, restaurant gift cards and movie passes. It’s all good!
  1. Photo gifts. If you’ve got a camera-happy class parent or students on sports teams and in clubs who like to document everything with their cell phone camera, you can put together photo gifts like travel mugs or photo books. And FYI, the end of the year coincides with fantastic Father’s Day sales on photo sites, so photo gifts can be sentimental and economical.
  1. A gift that is personalized and says something about your child’s relationship with the teacher. A friend mentioned personalized cereal bowls. She has a word each of her children uses to describe their teachers, along with the teachers’ names, inscribed on a cereal bowl.  As far as I can tell, you can never have enough cereal bowls! Another friend who taught high school mentioned a student who made awards — à la the Emmys — for his teachers. She still remembers the student and his thoughtfulness years later.
  1. A new take on homemade treats. Or maybe this is an old take, but it’s yummy and relatively healthy. If you have the time and energy and like to cook, like one of my Martha Stewart-esque friends, homemade preserves may be the way to go. And I think it’s pretty safe to say that most teachers don’t have an overabundance of preserves landing on their desks.
  1. Potted Plants.  I’m sure it’s been done before, but it’s such a lovely idea, especially at this time of year. Another mother — and former Camp Fire Girl, always the nature lover — mentioned that you can get really nice plants on clearance at the end of the season. That will make both your teacher and wallet happy.
  1. Thank you notes from the kids. This, by far, seemed to have the greatest resonance among teachers, who said they remembered those notes for years after students had left their classrooms. Whether your child is young and draws a picture or writes a few words, or is older and can tell the teacher what he learned from her that year, this is always a treasured gift.

At the end of the day — or school year, really — what really matters is that your gift is a token of appreciation and acknowledgment of the role a teacher has played in your child’s development. And while teachers don’t expect anything and will appreciate just about any gesture, it is the simple one — the one that expresses what your child experienced with that teacher — that has the most meaning.