A touch-tank filled with sea creatures is just one of the many interactive and educational exhibits at the Jones Beach Energy and Nature Center. NewsdayTV's Elisa DiStefano reports.  Credit: Randee Daddona

Visit a “mad scientist's lab” or go on a bat safari. For young minds, these opportunities make Long Island a summer school without walls. Many programs are free, offer an antidote to any pre-September brain drain and a salve to parents’ pocketbooks. The best thing? No pop quizzes.

Hatchery manager Matt Layton gives a tour to Islip town employees...

Hatchery manager Matt Layton gives a tour to Islip town employees and residents Mary Pape and Camille Wilson and Madeline Sharrock on July 26 at the Shellfish Culture Facility in East Islip. Credit: Danielle Silverman


333 Bayview Ave., East Islip

Islip Town took an old bathhouse 38 years ago and turned it into an oyster and clam hatchery.

In tours that started this summer, visitors can stick their hands into what looks like sand, but each particle is a baby shellfish, called a seed. They’ll see 24-hour algae drips feeding the hatchlings before they’re moved to outside tubs, dining on water piped in from the Great South Bay. Later, these “ecosystems engineers” live in the bay to grow to harvesting size for restaurants while clearing pollutants from the waters.

Facility manager Matt Layton says the biggest kick for kids has been the tanks glowing green, orange and other colors due to lights that help algae grow: “It looks like a mad scientist’s lab.”

In a cool result, wild scallops were spotted in the bay this year, a return that’s evidence of cleaner waters, town officials say.

Cost: Free

When: Noon every Wednesday but tours limited to five people. Book spots in advance. Larger groups should contact the hatchery.

More info: 631-595-3680

Brooklyn resident Damynye Bundick, 9, of Brooklyn scoops water at Valley...

Brooklyn resident

Damynye Bundick, 9, of Brooklyn scoops water at Valley Stream State Park in Valley Stream on July 22. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.


Bats are not creepy creatures. Horseshoe crabs’ blood have been invaluable in detecting tainted medicine. The skies are for watching meteor showers.

The state parks system offers a range of educational experiences for all ages.

Stream science at the Valley Stream State Park explores the vibrant world under water. Watch insects that can walk on water, starting 10 a.m. Aug. 19.

On the wilder side, go on bat safari 7:30 p.m. Aug. 26 at Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown to learn about these nighttime pollinators or catch and release baby horseshoe crabs 1:30 p.m. Aug. 27 at Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park.

For a tamer time, bring a lawn chair to hear a lecture about meteor showers, then watch for them, starting 8 p.m. Aug. 12 at Connetquot River State Park Preserve in Oakdale. Exercise the next day by hiking a trail to spot nature’s seasonal changes, starting 10 a.m. at Sunken Meadow State Park and ending at Nissequogue River State Park in Kings Park.

Dragonflies, moon myths, reptile habitats and a study of life on salt marshes are among other parks events this year.

Cost: Free, but some programs require registration. Parking is $8.

More info: parks.ny.gov

Sienna Cunsolo of Wantagh plays with a toy fire hydrant at...

Sienna Cunsolo of Wantagh plays with a toy fire hydrant at the Nassau County Firefighters Museum in Uniondale in 2022. Credit: Linda Rosier


1 Charles Lindbergh Blvd, Uniondale

Kids can find out what three elements feed a fire while getting the chance to sit behind the wheel of a rig and tug on heavy hoses.

“We like to say they have fun and learn something,” says Alana Petrocelli, museum executive director.

On display are fire vehicles and apparatus dating back to 1834, and all of them were used by Nassau fire departments. In a further nod to authenticity, staff members answering visitors’ questions are volunteer or retired firefighters.

Cool tryout: Adults can put on fire-resistant coats and helmets — they’re all heavy — while children can try lighter versions made just for them.

Cost: $7, free under age 2

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and holidays falling on Monday

More info: 516-572-4177, ncfiremuseum.org


West End 2, 150 Bay Pkwy., Wantagh

Touch Long Island rocks and pick up tiny crabs from a touch pool.

The center explores how environment and energy are affected by the interactions between humans, animals and natural energy, such as ocean waves. “We really try to show how these things are very connected,” says Mia Ramirez, one of the center’s environmental educators. “You can’t separate them when you talk about them.”

The key example is Jones Beach, which was a “mere fragment” until Robert Moses dumped 40 million cubic yards of sand there, starting in 1927. Map overlays illustrate how the boundaries changed over the decades.

In what may be an eye opener, one gallery showcases how animals helped humans improve products. Cool power boost: The ability of moths’ eyes to absorb light led to solar panels that take in more sunlight, leading to more energy.

With its serene vibe and garden, the property itself is an example of environmental stewardship, from producing all its energy to being built on supports and breakaway walls that mitigate flooding.

Audio tours in Spanish or Mandarin and videos in American Sign Language are available at the center.

Cost: Free

When: 9 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. daily, guided tours 12-3 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays

More info: 516-809-8222, jonesbeachenc.org


334 Main St., Cold Spring Harbor

Otzi, or the Iceman, and his mysterious end illustrate how much DNA can reveal, even though he was found more than 5,000 years after death, as a mummy on the Alps by the Austrian-Italian border. A cool catch: Otzi had Lyme disease, an illness first identified in Connecticut in 1975.

In other exhibits at the center, part of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a touch screen map of the human genome highlights ancestry spots and an explainer on evolution covers how we got our eyes.

Cost: Free

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays

More info: 516-774-3848, dnalc.cshl.edu

Newsday LogoCovering LI news as it happensDigital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months