The City of Gainesville’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs (PRCA) department’s Frogs and Friends program at the Morningside Nature Center is an educational program for children featuring live reptiles and amphibians. The program takes place on the first Friday of every month from September through May.
Each month, a staff member skilled in environmental, wildlife and natural resources-based education selects a topic and creates a specialized program to allow even the youngest participant to learn something new.
In February, Sally Wazny, Morningside Nature Center’s education supervisor, taught the program emphasizing the “friends” part of the program by discussing how reptiles and amphibians move, and how they’re important to the environment. After the presentation was a trip to the turtle garden and an arts and crafts activity.
Many of the children at the event were from 1 to 3 years old, according to PRCA’s Recreation Leader for Environmental Education Kentucky Costellow.
“Recent programs have focused on winter-related themes like hibernation and explaining how certain creatures handle cooler weather through adaptations or hunkering down in their homes,” said Costellow.
At Morningside’s education building, where Frogs and Friends takes place, attendees can experience hands-on opportunities with native and non-native animals. Some of the animals include a pine snake, corn snake, ball python, a newt, tarantula, an invasive cane toad and Florida box turtles.
For past programs, Morningside led hikes around the nature center and identified plants, made nature-themed art, read stories, and fed turtles after the presentation.
“We wanted to reach a demographic that could come out and enjoy the program,” said Wazny. “You don’t always get to see these animals outside, so a lot of people are afraid of them. This is a way to introduce kids to animal species that are really cool and ecologically important.”
Morningside Nature Center has been offering free educational programs in Gainesville for more than 30 years, and Frogs and Friends has existed for over a decade.
When the program first began, it was called “Feed a Frog Friday,” but Wazny says the frogs became uncooperative and didn’t want to eat in front of people. So, the staff shifted the program’s focus to reptiles and amphibians in respect to the seasons.
Both Wazny and Costellow hope Frogs and Friends creates an appreciation for nature while providing an educational, social setting for Gainesville families.
“I strongly believe that learning about one’s local environment, and the plants and animals that comprise it, help people feel more invested in protecting and conserving the nature around them,” said Costellow. “And in turn, as teenagers and adults, they will choose to help protect it.”
For people of all ages, Frogs and Friends provides an engaging learning environment that raises awareness about the importance of the nature that surround us. Before you go, get ready to see animals up close and personal – and bring a friend!