By Lisa D. Mickey

The Marine Discovery Center has opened registration for fall educational programs, offering options for students taking virtual classes this fall, as well as for students in year-round homeschool programs.

“Our programs are designed to offer kids a safe time in nature,” said Michelle West, MDC Education Coordinator. “If they are learning virtually or even if they are inside more right now, we’re offering programs in which they can safely explore outdoors and enjoy a natural outlet alongside other kids.”

New this year will be Marine Ecology Series classes for elementary students (ages 6-10) and middle school students (ages 11-14).

This program features one-hour science classes on the listed Tuesdays from 9:30-10:30 a.m., and is designed to give youngsters hands-on experience and knowledge about coastal ecosystems.

Each session of the Marine Ecology Series is $10 per person and the classes will be held once a month on the following dates through next spring: Oct. 6, Nov. 3, Dec. 1, Jan. 5, 2021, Feb. 2, March 2, April 6 and May 4.

Also new to MDC’s programming will be the High School Marine Biology Lab Series, designed to enhance a homeschool marine biology curriculum for students ages 14-18. This series includes two boat trips, a kayak trip, five dissections and other science-based activities.

The high school program will be held on Wednesdays from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Students must sign up for all nine classes to participate. Classes will be held on: Sept. 2, Oct. 7, Nov. 4, Dec. 2, Jan. 6, 2021, Feb. 3, March 3, April 7, and May 5. Cost for each session is $25 per person.

Another new offering will be the Creature Connections Homeschool Field Trip program, in which children ages 4-18 will embark on a two-hour eco-tour of the Indian River Lagoon on MDC’s Discovery boat and observe the variety of species captured in a trawl net. This interactive tour will be led by a certified naturalist operating under a Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission permit to collect species.

Students must be accompanied by an adult for this trip, scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon, on Friday, Sept. 25, Friday, Oct. 23, and Friday, Dec. 11. Cost is $20 per person.

“We will identify different creatures collected in the trawl net and discuss them on the boat during this tour, which is a popular homeschool field trip,” added West. “Students may sign up in their homeschool co-op groups or they may book their own charter dates.”

West noted that the listed dates are designed especially for students and families who may not belong to an established educational group or have enough students to fill an entire 20-participant list.

The popular Total Immersion Homeschool Field Trip also returns to the fall program lineup, giving parents a chance to participate and learn alongside their children. Participants take the Discovery boat to an island where a certified naturalist leads the group in exploring the water and shorelines. Seine nets and dip nets will be used to capture and examine resident coastal species.

These three-hour sessions will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., on Friday, Sept. 11, Friday, Oct. 9, and Friday, Nov. 13. Cost is $24 per person.

MDC’s Sea Squirts program introduces marine life to the youngest explorers, ages 3-5, who must be accompanied by a parent. Activities may include outdoor exploration, animal observations, arts and crafts, stories and games.

This program is offered from 9:30-10:30 a.m., and also from 11:30-12:30 a.m., on the following dates this fall through next spring: Oct. 7, Oct. 30, Nov. 4, Dec. 2, Jan. 6, 2021, Feb. 3, Feb. 12, March 3, April 7 and May 5. Cost is $5 per adult and $5 per child.

School Holiday Adventure Camps will also be offered at MDC this fall and into the spring for students ages 4-10. All camps will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

One-day camps feature a coastal-based curriculum, science activities, arts and crafts, fishing and hands-on saltmarsh exploration on the following dates: Oct. 19, Nov. 11, Jan. 4, 2021 and Feb. 15. Cost is $45 for MDC members and $50 for non-members.

Three-day camps include a Discovery boat trip on the Indian River Lagoon, an estuary-focused curriculum, science activities, fishing, island exploration and arts and crafts. The camps will be held on the following dates: Nov. 23-25, Dec. 21-23, and Dec. 28-30. Cost is $135 for MDC members and $150 for non-members.

A five-day Spring Break Camp will be held March 22-26, 2021, with such scheduled activities as saltmarsh adventures, island exploration, a Discovery boat trip on the lagoon, fishing, science activities and arts and crafts. Cost is $225 for MDC members and $250 for non-members.

“All of these programs give students a chance to experience nature rather than to just read about it,” West said. “The whole idea is to give them the opportunity to go outdoors and learn about nature in a fun, hands-on way.”

MDC’s educational programs will continue to follow CDC guidelines regarding Covid-19 precautions to keep students safe and socially distanced when they participate.

Students will be asked to wear masks while indoors during each program. In addition, MDC will utilize a car line for student curbside drop-off and pick-up each day to minimize the number of people in the building.

Registration for these programs is in progress. For more information or to register, call Michelle West at 386.428.3310 or visit the education section of our website.