By Chris Fish
VIERA -- In an attempt to help Brevard children get outdoors and experience nature, Brevard Zoo is creating an early childhood education program, thanks to a recent donation.
The PNC Foundation awarded Brevard Zoo a $46,000 grant to fund the two-year, early-childhood education program.
The program, which will begin this fall, is designed to help 800 pre-kindergarten students and their families, and 60 early childhood educators enhance their appreciation and knowledge of nature through hands-on experience, said Keith Winsten, executive director of Brevard Zoo.
"More and more, kids are not going outside because there are no electrical outlets out there," he said. "(The program) is experimental, where we learn with our bodies and see if something is hot or cold. It's not about facts. It's about the experience and (seeing if something is) hot or cold and caring for animals."
Mr. Winsten said the program will serve as a pilot and is designed to impact the lives of economically-challenged 3 and 4-year-old students.
The first component of the program will be a six-hour workshop the Zoo will host in September, Mr. Winsten said.
At the workshop, invited teachers will be trained by Brevard Zoo facilitators in tools to bring nature to their classrooms. This will include an introduction to components of the Brevard Zoo program, as well as training in the national programs.
Mr. Winsten said that teachers will also receive a learning kit, which is designed to enhance nature learning in the classroom.
Other areas of the program include the Zoo visiting each facility with animals; a family day program at the facilities to engage parents in experiencing nature with their child; a Zoo field trip in early 2014; and a family festival, where all students and their families are invited to the Zoo on Saturday, March 15.
Mr. Winsten said that half of the pre-kindergarten students will participate through Head Start programs run by Brevard Public Schools, and the other half of the children will participate in the School Readiness child care and voluntary pre-kindergarten programs, administered by the Early Learning Coalition of Brevard County, Inc.
In a press release, PNC Regional President Craig Grant said that the donation will help children better understand their environment.
"Research shows the measurable impact school readiness has on the success children in school and life," he said. "By letting our youngest citizens interact in unique educational activities, where they can learn about wildlife from across the planet, we are strategically investing and broadening their knowledge of the world around them."
This grant comes in the wake of a $162,500 gift that PNC Bank awarded Brevard Zoo for the opening of a new exhibit, featuring meerkats.