Category Archives: Program Spotlight

Get Unplugged!

Hey kids! How much time do you spend outside each week? According to a recent study, the average child spends 54 hours in front of screen per week – that’s more than two full days! Our life is so tuned into technology, but the Delaware Nature Society wants to challenge you to “Get Unplugged!” by getting outside and having fun in nature. We made it really easy for you by creating a family program for each of the 10 activities listed on the Delaware Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights. What’s that you ask? Keep reading to find out, and don’t forget to check out the awesome family programs at the bottom of this blog!

Delaware Governor Markell wants to see kids outside too! Governor Markell and other adults like him care so much about kids having a positive outdoor experience that they have launched an initiative called Children in Nature. This program is made up of a number of task force groups and committees who promote kids’ development, healthy lifestyles, and academic achievement through spending time outside. They created the Delaware Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights to help achieve these goals. This Outdoor Bill of Rights is a list of activities created to get kids outside and have fun in nature, and it’s a pretty awesome list if I say so myself.

Anna, Christy, and I took a look at the list of activities in the Outdoor Bill of Rights and decided to see if we have accomplished everything on it between the three of us. (Just because it’s technically for kids, doesn’t mean we can’t try to complete this list as well!) In this post and another to come, we will share some gems from our past and recent outdoorsy adventures with you. Check it out!


Go Outside and Play! Grab a friend and go for a walk through a field or a forest and see what you can find. Tracks? Holes? Nests? Scat? Wildlife? The possibilities are endless. Since I started working for the Delaware Nature Society and living at Ashland Nature Center (just one of the perks being an intern!), I’ve hiked each of the trails here many times. I love that no matter how many times you can hike a trail, you never see the exact same things twice!

Taking a walk with a friend is the best way to spend an afternoon!

Another fun thing to do outside is spend some time watching the clouds float by. Find an open spot in your backyard and lay on your back in the grass. Count the clouds or see if the clouds are making any cool shapes! Anna loves searching for fun shapes in the clouds.

On a nice day at Ashland, Anna likes to watch the rolling clouds.


Catch a Fish. Grab a net or a fishing pole and see how many fish you can catch. I’ve caught fish before just using a stick and some fishing line! Each summer, the Delaware Nature Society offers a number of different fishing camps. Each year, the interns on that trip must participate in a special tradition – they must kiss the fish they catch! Both Christy and Anna have upheld this tradition, check out these silly pictures!

Maybe Christy was hoping it would turn into a prince?                        Anna REALLY loves fish.                             Photos by Derek Stoner.


Camp Under the Stars. If you’re feeling adventurous, grab a tent and spend the night outside. Never been camping before? Start simple by setting your tent up in your backyard! Spend some time looking at the beautiful night sky, see if you can find any constellations or count the stars that are out that night. Catch fireflies and make some s’mores. Lay in your sleeping bag and listen to the sounds of the night and see if they sound different from what you may hear during the day. Did you know that you can determine the approximate air temperature outside by the number of times the katydid says its name? Count how many times the katydid says its name in 15 seconds and then add 40 to that number – you should get the approximate air temperature.

Christy camped under the big western sky in Guadalupe State Park in Texas. Photo by Nate Maier.

After you’ve become a seasoned camper and feeling super adventurous, you can strap everything you need to survive to your back and go backpacking! I was backpacking for a weekend on the Appalachian Trail in northern New Jersey when this picture was taken. It was too goofy not to share with you.

I’m rockin’ the headlamp look on the Appalachian Trail, don’t you agree?


Climb a Tree. This is one of my favorite activities! I love scrambling up the twisty branches and checking out the view. It’s amazing how much more of the forest you can see just a few feet above the ground. Sometimes on a hike, it’s more fun to just “hang around” in the trees…

Christy is a monkey hanging around at Middle Run! Photo by Derek Stoner.

Trees are not only great for climbing, but also for jumping in their fallen leaves! A favorite fall time tradition of Anna’s is to gather a big pile of leaves and jump on in. Let’s be real, you can’t simply walk by a big pile of leaves without jumping in, it’s hard to resist!

Anna couldn’t resist jumping into this big piles of leaves at Ashland!


Play in the Waves. I love going to the beach, it’s one of my favorite places. Whenever I would go down the shore as a kid I would spend almost the entire time in the ocean. What am I talking about? I STILL do that now! Anna loves the ocean too. This past summer she played in the Pacific waves another way, she went surfing! She loved the experience, even though she did end up swimming with some Leopard sharks…

Anna and her friend Jill caught some mad waves when they went surfing in California!


Try a New Nature Activity! It’s always fun to try something new! Ever been kayaking? Grab a friend and get on the water!

Nothing but smiles on the reservoir!

Or grab a dive buddy and get in the water and go scuba diving!

Christy dove right in!

Or if you’re not interested in being anywhere near water, try going on a bird walk! Grab some binoculars and a field guide and count how many different kinds of birds you see. Anna enjoys birding because she says there is no other activity where you see such pretty colors in nature.

Anna loves birding!


The Delaware Nature Society has written a program for each number on the Delaware Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights. If you complete 7 out of the 10 you’ll get a Nature Family Outdoor Fun Kit. Check out the descriptions of the programs below, they sound awesome!

Saturday, March 23rd 1-4pm – Go Outside and Play! Take a fun nature walk through fields and forests and play nature games as you look for wildlife. Program meets at Ashland Nature Center.

Sunday, March 24th 2-4pm – Discover Wildlife in Your Neighborhood. Invite House Wrens and Chickadees to your yard to nest by building a bird box with your family. Help reduce insect populations as you enjoy watching parents busily feed hungry babies. Craft your own bird house using simple tools. (Cost includes materials for one box per family). Program meets at Ashland Nature Center.

Saturday, April 6th 1-4pm – Explore Delaware’s Culture. Take a hike around the historic Cooch-Dayett Mill where the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge was fought in the Revolutionary War. See what lives in the Christina River that flows here. Tour the inside of the old grist mill and see how they used the river to grind flour and other products. Program meets at Cooch-Dayett Mills.

Saturday, April 13th 1-4pm – Play in the Mud. Look for animal tracks and learn how to find signs of animals. Make some tracks of your own in the mud and make a track snack and take-home craft. Program meets at Ashland Nature Center.

Saturday, April 27th 4:30pm – Sunday, April 28th 10:30am – Camp Under the Stars. Camp out at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve near Kennett Square, PA. Bring your own tent, use one of ours, or sleep in an Adirondack Shelter (first come-first served). Bring your own dinner, take a night hike, morning walk, and enjoy a campfire. Program meets at Bucktoe Creek Preserve.

Sunday, April 21st 1-3pm – Plant a Seed. Help us plant seeds around the farm, from sunflowers to spinach. Sow the seeds of multiple gardens on the farm, and end with a potting a plant in a pot that  you decorate yourself that you can take home. Program meets at Coverdale Farm Preserve – entrance on Way Road.

Saturday, May 4th 1-4pm – Climb a Tree. Take a walk at Ashland Nature Center to learn about some of the different trees here and collect leaves to “press” so you can keep them in your own tree book (one per child). Climb up onto the “Climbing Sycamore tree of Ashland”. Program meets at Ashland Nature Center. (Hey, I climbed this tree last weekend!)

I climbed the Ashland Sycamore! It’s one of the BEST climbing trees.

Saturday, May 18th 1-4pm – Catch a Fish. Use our fishing poles at the Coverdale Farm Preserve to go fishing in the farm pond. Try to catch bluegills and bass with an expert. Program meets at Coverdale Farm Preserve – entrance on Way Road.

Saturday, June 1st 9am-3pm – Play in the Waves. Family Horseshoe Crab and Shorebird Trip. Take a trip to the Delaware Bay to discover horseshoe crabs and the shorebirds that depend on their eggs for food. Hold horseshoe crabs, learn about how they live and their body parts, look at migrant shorebirds through a scope and binoculars. Afterwards, have some beach time to play in the sand and the waves! Meet at Ashland Nature Center – van transportation provided.

Saturday, June 15th 10am-3pm – Try a New Nature Activity. Family Nature Fun Day! Come to Ashland for a day of trying new things in nature. Choose between going on a bird walk, catching insects to identify them, pond dip-netting, and nature photography. We supply all of the equipment. Bring a lunch and have a family picnic at Ashland at noon. Here a story from a professional story-teller at 12:30pm. Program meets at Ashland Nature Center.

Don’t be left inside! Register for the “Get Unplugged!” series at or call us at (302) 239-2334.


Look for part two of the “Get Unplugged” post coming up later this spring, where I will feature the rest of the activities on the Outdoor Bill of Rights!



Winter Never Tasted So Sweet

February is in full swing, and that means it’s Maple Sugaring season at the Delaware Nature Society. This is the time we have a number of families, school students, and even Young Naturalists that come to Ashland Nature Center to learn about the exciting process of turning maple sap into maple syrup!

The Young Naturalists love maple sugaring…do you!? Photo by Kristen Sensabaugh.

Have you ever wondered where the syrup you put on your pancakes comes from? You need maple trees and the right weather that allows sap to flow.  Sap only flows during freeze-thaw cycles, when overnight temperatures dip below freezing and the days are sunny and warm, with temperatures between 40-50 degrees.

So what exactly is sap and how does it flow? Sap is actually sugar water. Most people (myself included until I taught this program) thought all sap was very thick and sticky like syrup. While some tree sap does have a thick consistency, like pine sap, maple sap is 97% water. How is that possible? Trees make sugar in their leaves during the summer and then store it in their roots in the fall. During warmer winter days, the roots begin to thaw and water moves from the soil into the roots and flows up the tree through “pipes” called xylem vessels. As the water moves through these “pipes” it picks up the sap as it moves upwards.


So how do we extract the sap from the tree? The first step to making maple syrup is tapping the maple tree. You must drill a upward-angled hole about 1 1/2 inches deep into the tree, just enough to tap into the xylem “pipes”.

This Young Naturalists drills a practice hole into a dead Red Maple. We only tap alive trees because sap only flows in trees that are alive. Photo by Kristen Sensabaugh.

A metal spile is then inserted into the hole in the tree and the sap flows out of the spile on warm and sunny winter days. We always taste the sap as it’s flowing out of the tree!

Have you ever tasted the sap directly from a maple tree? Photo by John Wessels.

We collect the sap in big blue bags. Every couple of days we collect the sap and then use it for our programs.

Do you see how full the blue bag is? It was really heavy! Photo by John Wessels.

Now, the sap that we collect directly from the tree is not what we put on our pancakes. If we did that, our pancakes would be really soggy and taste pretty awful. The sap must be boiled so the water evaporates and the sugar is concentrated. We boil just enough to let everyone in the program sample the syrup because it takes a very long time. We would need to boil 40-60 gallons of sap to make enough maple syrup to put on our pancakes!

We have to concentrate the sugar in the sap to make maple syrup. Do you see the steam coming off the pan? That’s the water from the sap evaporating into the air! Photo by John Wessels.


Phew! After all that work we finally made maple syrup, but I haven’t even told you the best part! The best part about the maple sugaring season is eating a lot of pancakes! After we spend some time outside learning about the process of maple sugaring, we head back into the nature center to make some breakfast. It’s fun comparing the tastes of the maple syrup to the pancake syrup (like Mrs. Butterworths or Aunt Jemima). Those syrups are made from corn syrup. Next time you eat pancakes, try to compare the two different syrups. You will definitely taste the difference!

Summer Lovin’

The groundhog may be hibernating, but we sure are not! We are ready for the  Delaware Nature Society’s Summer Camps to begin!

Groundhog is ready for Summer Camp

Even the groundhog is excited about Summer Camp!


If you like hiking, catching frogs or butterflies, canoeing and kayaking, crafts, birding…

It's a bird...

It’s a bird…it’s a raptor…it’s Summer Camp 2013!

…cooking,  fishing, geology, building forts, archery, or just the general thrill of being outside in nature, don’t wait to sign up!


Tell your parents to mark their calendars, because Summer Camp registration starts this Friday!

February 1-14: DNS members with Household Plus level or higher

February 15-28: All other current DNS members with a Household membership.

March 1: Non-Member registration begins


Be sure to check out our website to see our awesome list of Summer Camp programs!


We’re ready to get our Summer Camp on, are you!?

Program Spotlight: Nature Photography

Hey nature lovers! Have you ever wanted to know more about our programs at DNS? We are starting a recurring post called Program Spotlight. These posts will tell you all about some of our most popular programs and include pictures and sometimes videos, some of them will contributed by the participants themselves. Our first Program Spotlight will be on a program that has a lot of participation; Nature Photography!

DEEC Nature Photography Day Camp participants. From left to right; Zoe Skibicki, Devin Jiang, and Reuben Busick-White

Julian Wahl getting a close-up of some sumac

Katie Skibicki taking pictures at Hoots Hollow

Stella Hostin is looking for something in the rocks to take a shot of

Nature Photography is all about going out and enjoying nature. Students are given cameras to take photos of the great outdoors that they then print at the end of the program. DNS Staff show kids techniques such as the rule of thirds and framing to help take more impactful pictures. Students get to go to many different habitats to find interesting pieces of nature to practice these techniques and take the photos they will take home. The photos above are from participants in the Nature Photography Day Camp at the DuPont Environmental Education Center.

Julian Wahl used the macro setting to take this great close-up pic of a ladybird beetle

Katie Skibicki’s favorite photo was this one that she took of an eastern red bud in the gardens

Stella Hostin spotted a yellow jacket working on a new nest.

Zoe Skibicki Takes a nice landscape shot of the Christina River and the Riverfront

Reubin Busick-White took a nice aerial view of the garden at Hoot’s Hollow.

Devin Jiang really liked the live animal collection. His favorite photo was this one of the common snapping turtle.

Nature Photography programs are offered at four DNS sites; Abbott’s Mill, Ashland, Coverdale Farm and DEEC. Nature Photography programs are available for schools, scouts, DNS members, the general public, and also as summer camps! If you are interested, check out when we are offering these programs on our calendar or on our main website ( We hope to see you at these programs and more! Until then, this is Austin Conley saying, Stay Wild!