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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Amusement Park is for the Birds

Amusement Park is for the Birds:
CT Audubon workshop focused on building a fun habitat 
for feathered friends
By Mike Lauterborn
(Posted to 5/14)
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – It was a way of educating young people about native birds and woodland creatures while inspiring creative thinking.

On Saturday morning, the CT Audubon Society, 2325 Burr Street, hosted the third workshop of five in a program titled “Swing and Fly Amusement Park”. Targeted to students in grades 4 to 6, the series, which was developed by the Fairfield Public Library, challenges young minds to develop components of a miniature amusement park for birds using natural earth materials. The program is made possible by a generous grant from LEGO Children’s Fund. About a dozen students are enrolled. The final finished elements will be displayed at the Fairfield Woods Branch Library.

“I developed the program as a new initiative this year,” said Deputy Town Librarian Nancy Coriaty. “Though funded by LEGO, we are not required to use LEGO materials,” she said. “The fund essentially fosters creativity and imagination, which is what LEGO is all about.”

Coriaty said she was looking for grants for children’s programming and found the LEGO grant online. Next came the program idea, which was inspired by something similar she found online. Finally, she needed partners to help facilitate the program. “I thought the Young Artists Place and Audubon would be ideal collaborators.”

The first workshop was held at the Young Artists Place and was focused on concepts with regard to what might amuse birds. The second session was at the Audubon, and the students watched birds interacting in their habitats, with the idea of incorporating their activities into the park. Saturday morning’s workshop was designed to help students learn more about birds and to collect natural materials to integrate in the park.

Steven Lehning, of Fairfield’s Dept. of Public Works, a friend of the library, stepped up to offer additional materials, including slab wood from a mill that a friend owns and scraps from carpentry projects. A slab will be given to each child to use as a platform for his/her own park element. The components will then be united as one display over the final two workshop sessions.

“We were really excited when Nancy approached us,” said Priscilla Igram, co-owner/teacher at Young Artists Studio. “Nature art is a definite interest to us. Andy Goldsworthy, a British artist who lives in Scotland, is a great inspiration in this area. He works with only natural items and creates specific art that he calls ephemeral, as it’s only meant to last a short time. We teach ephemeral art classes, so this workshop series is an ideal tie-in.”

Igram said the Studio was there to guide the kids and help them with selecting natural materials and showing how they can be used to realize their vision. “The kids have had some amazing ideas,” said Igram. “We temper them to be viable, remembering that this is for birds.”

Igram mentioned some of the more interesting ideas. “Sam Gottlieb walked into the studio the first day with the idea of a house of horrors feature,” she said. “What better thing in a bird park setting than the wide-open mouth of a cat?” Gottlieb also suggested a fountain that pops popcorn.

Phoebe Nulf, 10, had the idea of a pecking gallery, instead of a shooting gallery, using popcorn. Neel Sikka, 10, came up with a merry-go-round feature with pedestals with water that birds can sit in.

For inspiration, instructors led the group out on the trails surrounding the Audubon Center. They stepped along wooden planks and bridges, gathering scraps but also learning about nature and local woods inhabitants, including owls.

“Now that you know more about owls, if you wanted to create a ride for one, what would you do?” asked Coriaty of the group.

“A night ride, maybe with a tunnel or they have the park to themselves at night,” came a collective reply, as another park element came to life in their minds.

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