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Travels with Laurie: Spring

A Home Educator's Travel Guide

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See also Books That Celebrate Spring / Spring Gardening in NYC / Summer / Fall / Winter
Recommended Road & Field Trips with pre- and post-trip resources (including April Field Trip Ideas) / Tips for Traveling with Kids – making every trip fun for the whole family / Books that Help Us to Appreciate Nature / Armchair Travel

Spring As the weather (hopefully) improves and the days grow imperceptibly longer, it's time to get out of doors. See What's Free or Cheap in New York: Phys. Ed.

For the Birds! / Garden Gambols / Learn about Passover

For the Birds!

owlTime for spring walks and bird watching! Take your science curriculum outdoors, along with binoculars if you have 'em, a trusty bird guide like Peterson's, a sketch pad or camera, snacks for the kids and (most importantly, because this is all you really need) your eyes and ears. See also Birdwatching on our Activities and Crafts page.

Then rent a car or get a friend who has one (if you don't) for this fabulous day-trip about 45 minutes from the George Wwashington Bridge. Take I-80 west, to I-278 towards Morristown, to exit 30A, North Maple Ave. Bear left onto South Maple, then turn left onto Lord Stirling Road. Pass an inviting nature center on your left and find the parking area (also on your left) for the Raptor Trust, with an educational center on one side and trails to the birds past the gazebo to your right. This is a bird hospital in the middle of the forest!

They are open every day of the year, FREE (suggested donation $2), and have self-guided tours with giveaway information sheets on owls, hawks, eagles, all kinds of raptors. This rescue organization takes injured birds, not just raptors, from all over the state of New Jersey and rehabilitates them to release back into the wild.

If we lived closer this is where my kids would be volunteering and interning for hands-on science. But just taking an annual walk through the ramshackle aviaries that dot the shady forest paths and cluster around the hospital building is an unforgettable experience. As you peer through the dim windows and allow your eyes to adjust to the light, suddenly you notice an enormous, dignified Golden Eagle perched above your head, or three tiny saw-whet owls huddled near the corner of the ceiling.

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American BitternIf you have time afterwards, drive further along Stirling Forest Road and you will pass a turnoff to your left to another Nature Center for the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (both nature centers are well worth the visit), but keep going to the next intersection. Turn left and then left again quickly, into a parking lot with short trails to bird blinds in the Great Swamp Refuge. Even in early winter, when no birds seemed visible, I have seen an American Bittern fishing in the swamp, amidst hundreds of tiny frogs and turtles. In late fall I have spotted wild turkeys strolling through the woods.

Nearby, Morristown and Basking Ridge offer much history to explore. Signs that "Washington Slept Here" are everywhere. Old inns and taverns offer a variety of menus along with a historical dining experience. A local walking tour (check out the Morristown website) would make another great field trip, along with a visit to Morristown National Historical Park where Washington kept his winter headquarters.

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Local Bird-Watching

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Cherry BlossomsGarden Gambols
The first of May always brings garden blooms to mind, and fond childhood memories of visits to the magnificent cherry blossom esplanade in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. Located near the Japanese Garden, the cherry blossom collection boasts over 200 flowering trees, a grouping unmatched outside of Japan. The height of the blooms is usually around May first, and you can check their progress on-line with the CherryWatch Blossom Status Map. Then return in June for the rose garden!

Check out the Bloom Guide for Central Park.

To see what's in bloom this week at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, visit their Gardens & Collections page.

In Yonkers, the Lenoir Preserve, (914) 968-5851, open Wed - Sun, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., a beautiful 40-acre sanctuary, serves as the headquarters for the Hudson River Audubon Society, which maintains the butterfly and hummingbird garden . The Nature Center, in a turn-of-the-century carriage house, has a five-foot demonstration beehive with glass walls, a 55-gallon terrarium, taxidermic mounts, interactive quiz boards, and more. Educational programs can be reserved for groups. Located on Dudley St., off Broadway (Route 9) about 30 min. north of the city.

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Teatown Lake Reservation is a rare wildflower reserve, with 470 acres and a 33-acre lake. Free (donations accepted) Raptor Education Programs are offered on weekends with live hawks, owls, and falcons. Other educational programs also available, call (914) 762-2912 for reservations. Trails are open daily dawn to dusk. Located in Ossining on Spring Valley Road. By car: I-87 North to I-287 East. Stay right for first exit. Turn left onto Rt. 119 East. At next light turn left onto Rt. 9A North. Take 9A to Rt. 134. East on 134 for 0.2 miles to Spring Valley Rd. Turn left and drive about one mile. At the fork, choose left to stay on Spring Valley Road. The Nature Center is just beyond the intersection on the right-hand side, parking just beyond buildings. Teatown is about an hour north of the city, and near the historic homes of Sunnyside, (914) 591-8763, and Philipsburg Manor (914) 631-3992.

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Learn about Passover

Learn about Passover by partaking in family activities and learning about history at the Eldridge Synagogue. You don't have to be Jewish to attend or enjoy these events.

Seder Plate
The Seder Plate
The Passover Seder plate (ke'ara) is a special plate containing six symbolic foods used during the Passover Seder. Each of the six items arranged on the plate have special significance to the retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The seventh symbolic item used during the meal — a stack of three matzot — is placed on its own plate on the Seder table.

The six items on the Seder plate are:
  • Maror and Chazeret: Two types of bitter herbs, symbolizing the bitterness and harshness of the slavery which the Jews endured in Ancient Egypt. For maror, many people use freshly grated horseradish or whole horseradish root. Chazeret is typically romaine lettuce, whose roots are bitter-tasting. Either the horseradish or romaine lettuce may be eaten in fulfillment of the mitzvah of eating bitter herbs during the Seder.
  • Charoset: A sweet, brown, pebbly paste of fruits and nuts, representing the mortar used by the Jewish slaves to build the storehouses of Egypt.
  • Karpas: A vegetable other than bitter herbs, usually parsley but sometimes something such as celery or cooked potato, which is dipped into salt water (Ashkenazi custom), vinegar (Sephardi custom), or charoset (older custom, still common amongst Yemenite Jews) at the beginning of the Seder.
  • Zeroa: A roasted lamb or goat bone, symbolizing the korban Pesach (Pesach sacrifice), which was a lamb offered in the Temple in Jerusalem and was then roasted and eaten as part of the meal on Seder night.
  • Beitzah: A hard-boiled egg, symbolizing the korban chagigah (festival sacrifice) that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem and was then eaten as part of the meal on Seder night.

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