Nursery school naturalists Bronx/Riverdale Family

Wondering what to do with your young children this summer? Thanks to one dedicated parent, you can now take advantage of a new, great summer activity at Van Cortlandt Park.

Rossy Almonte, a mother from the Bronx, got the idea to create a free, outdoor nature program when looking at the Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy’s website which suggested that parents could take their kids on “Imagination Walks” through the park and share their experiences online.

In her quest for a more structured summer program, she contacted Margot Perron, the president of the conservancy, and together they developed the curriculum for the “Imagination Walks with Juan” series which takes place on Saturdays, from June 18-July 30.

The program seeks to inspire 4- to 7-year-old children to explore the outdoors, use their imaginations, and learn about biology, environmental science, ecology and respect for nature.

The sessions will be led by Juan Acosta, who worked as a garden science educator for the New York Restoration Project, which “bring[s] the outdoors into the classrooms and the classrooms into the outdoors” for students in Manhattan and the Bronx. He has experience in early childhood education, and studied at the Department of Environmental, Geographic and Geological Sciences at Lehman College.

Almonte says that the program aims to introduce kids to the wonders of nature and “to serve as an encouragement for urban children to play outdoors and socialize with others,” rather than spend countless hours playing video games or sitting in front of televisions and computer screens.

The Conservancy hopes young families will take advantage of this fun, educational summer series. Although Almonte indicated that the program was designed “to give kids in the Bronx community an opportunity to learn about and experience nature,” the program is open to everyone.

During each one-hour session, Acosta will highlight the wildlife or their habitats and use a variety of techniques and activities to help kids understand the world around them — and the other living things inhabiting it with them. They will observe the colorful palate of nature’s art, and discover the value of protecting the environment.

As “park explorers,” they will use maps for a scavenger hunt, magnifying glasses to examine trees and bugs up close, learn how to identify different species of birds, focus on the relationship between mankind and the park’s wildlife, and examine fish in the park. Parents and caregivers can participate in any — or all — of the sessions.

Almonte says that this is the “premiere of a program for this age range in Van Cortlandt Park.”

According to the Department of Parks and Recreation, Van Cortlandt Park is the city’s fourth largest park, at 1146.43 acres. Over half of the park is a protected nature preserve, and it boasts a variety of trails, including the scenic John Muir and Cass Gallagher Nature trails.

Consider taking advantage of this unique summer program with your children. But don’t be surprised if, after the program ends, your child harbors a secret desire to pitch a tent and live outside!

Imagination Walks with Juan at Van Cortlandt Park [Meet at Nature Center. Enter on foot at Broadway at 246th Street, (718) 430–1890] Saturdays, 10-11 am, June 18-July 30. Free. For more information, call (718) 430–1890 or visit

Risa C. Doherty is an attorney and freelance writer from East Hills, NY.

Copyright 2011 by Risa C. Doherty

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