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2 the Outdoors: Self-guided science at Penn Dixie

The park has always placed an emphasis on education, and it's no different these days. A fun, new program aims to help families learn about natural history.

HAMBURG, N.Y. — Penn Dixie Fossil Park in Hamburg has always been a great place to learn about natural history. The fossils resting here are an open book, a glimpse into the history of the region and the planet.

The park has always placed an emphasis on education, and it's no different these days. On Wednesdays for the next four weeks, Penn Dixie will be open for self-guided science tours. 

These tours are an opportunity for parents to bring their kids to a safe place of learning, and challenging them to seek answers about the world around them.

"We have five different adventures that families can choose from, and they're a series of guided inquiry questions, meaning they're open-ended, that they're good for all ages," said Dr. Holly Schreiber, the park's director of education.

The Director of Science, Catherine Konieczny added that "the child is asked questions that are very open ended, so it really gets them thinking why. And the parent, grandma, grandpa, babysitter, or whatever is there to just guide them along so that they can feel comfortable, confident answering these questions on their own."

Credit: Terry Belke
Director Of Science Catherine Konieczny helps Jordan Carr and her son look for fossils.

The park staff and volunteers will be available to help guide the students. There are also some extra visual aids along the way.

"We have staff and volunteers on site to answer questions," Schreiber said, "to help parents learn that process of guided inquiry."

Konieczny takes us through some of the visual aids.

"We have these touch boxes here, and each one corresponds to one of the adventures that you can take," Konieczny said. "So instead of picking up plants or disturbing the wildlife, here you can come to these boxes and see them and touch them that way. We also have some extra goodies like dinosaur tracks and animal skulls."

Credit: Terry Belke
The park is rich in fossils, and a great place for hands on learning.

As the nature of education has changed within the past several months, programs such as this provide a number of benefits for both parents and children. Schreiber and the staff here believe that that the self guided process leads to deeper learning.

"Maybe when we went to school, right, a teacher often kind of gave us that information," Schreiber said. "Now there's a switch to answering a question with a question, making the students really think for themselves and kind of reason out that answer."

Jordan Carr spent the morning exploring with her young son.

"It's getting him outside, it's interactive, he loves finding things, its healthy to get fresh air, vitamin D, and this is a perfect environment," Carr said.

If you would like to learn more about the program, click here.

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