The Rio Brazos Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists is doing its part to invigorate young minds with a passion for science and nature.
“Rocks Alive!” — an interactive science exhibit for children and their families — will be held on Saturday, Sept. 30, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Acton Nature Center, 6900 Smoky Hill Ct.
The free family-friendly event will provide children and adults alike with an educational experience about the natural resources that make up our world.
Melody Holm, organizer for the event, explained that the event used to be held under a different name: “Discover Earth Science.” However, she said that the name was “dry” and added how she believed that the word “science” has a negative connotation for some people.
"The vast majority of people don't really know technical details about science as a field of study, so we just changed the name, and we came up with ‘Rocks Alive!’ and it kind of fits with our mission a little more,” she said. “As a geologist, for many years, my longtime interest has been in the role that geology plays in ecosystems, and as I've worked with the Master Naturalists, and how our sights are on the ecosystem as a whole, I realized that it's the physical aspects of the ecosystems that people don't see so much and don't think about. But I would argue, they're the most important parts of the ecosystems, because without any single one of those, whether it's rocks, soil, water, air, and even the sun, the ecosystem wouldn't exist.”
Holm explained that she wanted to revamp this event to help people recognize that there are parts of ecosystems that most individuals don’t see, and yet they are critically important to life.
"I tried to put this together and get exhibitors and the people who would lead the children's activities, to start seeing the whole picture and to help people realize that what you don't see counts, and sometimes the rocks have everything to do with what you see,” she said.
Throughout the interactive and hands-on event, children will learn about the rocks that shape Texas landscapes, as well as the contents of soil.
Featured exhibits will include weather, geology, groundwater, and a special preview of the 2023 Annular Eclipse (set for Oct. 14) and the 2024 Total Eclipse (set for April 8, 2024).
“We have a telescope and solar filters, and some of our chapter members are going to work with a local amateur astronomer to provide information about the upcoming eclipses,” Holm explained. “They'll give a little information about what to expect and some safety information and handouts, as well as the little glasses that people have to use to look at the eclipse, so it won't damage their eyes.”
Kids’ activities for the event will include recovering fossils, making and eating a rock, making a mini ecosystem, face painting, and creating pebble pictures.
“We have a chapter member who travels a lot, and she's an artist,” Holm said. “I talked to her one day about using pebbles to make pictures, and having the kids think up something from nature to make a picture out of pebbles, like a lizard for instance. You can put little stones and have different sizes, so there's some for the heads, some for the tail, and the ones in the middle. They sometimes use sticks for their legs. She has a collection of pebbles that she’s gotten at different places, and so she’ll talk about pebbles and how they’re formed.”
Holm said last year’s attendance at the Discover Earth Science event was low, as it was held at the same time as the Harvest Moon Festival in October. She said she hopes that by moving the event to the end of September, it will draw more interest from the community.
"I'm excited about the eclipse preview to see how that goes because there'll be another exhibit about planetary geology in our solar system," Holm said. “The person who does that is a chapter member, and he makes it really fun for kids to get this concept of how big our solar system was, and the relative sizes of planets. The soil scientist is really good too. He digs a soil pit and people can get down there and actually look at it with their hands and see what kind of organisms live in the soil.”
Aside from the events, Holm is looking forward to seeing the excitement on kids’ — and adults’ — faces as they learn something new.
“I love seeing expressions of wonder when children and adults learn that plant communities differ across a landscape — even the Acton Nature Center landscape — because the underlying rocks, soils, and subsurface water change across the landscape,” she said. “I love sharing little examples of those relationships and the unique characteristics of each component that influence the shape and appearance of ‘what we see out there.’ What we don’t see counts. Upon learning that, many start looking at, enjoying, and using our native landscapes differently. Sparking interest in young minds is often the initial step of developing leaders, experts, and scientists of the future — and that’s what excites me about offering this event to our community.”
The event is free and open to families and children of any age. Dogs are also allowed if they are on a leash.
“Our chapter enjoys doing these events,” Holm added. “We think people get a lot out of them. It's very informal, and it doesn't have severe time restrictions. You don't have to sit and listen to lectures. So, bring your dog, bring your kids, bring your grandmas, and grandpas. It’s going to be a fun time.”
For more information on the Rio Brazos Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist program, visit txmn.org/rbc online. For more information about the Acton Nature Center, visit actonnaturecenter.org online or call 817-326-6005.
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