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Great Falls Discovery Center teaches children of a new animal each week

  • Janele Nockleby of the Great Falls Discovery Center talks and reads about coyotes to children at the center on Friday. February 23, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz...

  • A taxidermy coyote is on display at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls on Friday. February 23, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz...

  • Janele Nockleby of the Great Falls Discovery Center shows how the jaws of a coyote work to children at the center on Friday. February 23, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz...

  • Holly, 8, and her sister Lilly, 10, Novak check out the taxidermy coyote that is on display at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls on Friday. February 23, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz...



Recorder Staff
Sunday, February 25, 2018

TURNERS FALLS — Outside, the Connecticut River roared, rolling south past Peskeomskut Island and onward to Springfield, Hartford and the Atlantic Ocean.

Inside, more than a dozen children listened intently to Janel Nockleby’s explanation of the 410-mile river’s significance.

“The power of water to sustain life is why we’re here and why animals are here,” said Nockleby, visitor services supervisor at the Great Falls Discovery Center on Avenue A.

“Remember when we talked about bears?” a child called out excitedly.

Each Friday, children gather in the Discovery Center to hear a story, play a game or make a craft focusing on a different animal native to the Connecticut River’s watershed.

“We celebrate and investigate life along the river, and, wow, what a powerful river it is,” said Nockleby, looking out across the river on the final Friday in February.

That day, Nockleby was concentrating on the coyote, an animal that is active and mating in winter. She held up a coyote’s skull, assured the children it was real and asked them what the canine eats.

“Mice,” “insects,” “berries” they chimed.

Nockleby’s animated presentations are playful, even silly — she read a story about a purple coyote. But they are educational, and she said children may not notice that they are learning while having fun.

“Does anyone know what taxidermy is?” Nockleby asked. Of course, none of the 3- to 6-year-olds knew what taxidermy was, but Nockleby filled them in, encouraging them to check out the Discovery Center’s “sadly not alive anymore, but stuffed” coyote in one of its exhibits.

Lindsey Spencer brings her children to the Discovery Center just about once a week, and said her children enjoy learning about the animals and seeing the same animals displayed throughout the building.

“It’s a great place and it’s free,” Spencer said.

Walter Ramsey also appreciated that the event, just like any at the Discovery Center, was free, and recognized the educational value of bringing his two children to the Friday talks.

“They love it here,” Ramsey said. “They do a different animal each week, so it keeps it fresh.”

Nockleby’s goal is to get children interested in the animals that may lurk in their backyards. She also said children can absorb minute details — the purple coyote she read about lived in a desert, giving the youths an understanding of the animal’s sprawling range.

“They’ll hopefully walk away with something,” Nockleby said.

The youths who come to the Friday animal talks, Nockleby said, are also introduced to topics like hunting and prey, facts of nature that can be uncomfortable for young children. When these topics are discussed around other children, with the parents close by and a teacher reading silly stories, they are not so unsettling.

“That was beautiful,” one child said after a story about a coyote prowling through the woods looking for eggs to eat. “She was a mom,” another said.

David McLellan can be reached at dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.