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Kids enjoy Sands Point Preserve during 'Screen Free Week' in Port Washington

Brigid Loughlin, 2, and her sister, Ciara, 5,

Brigid Loughlin, 2, and her sister, Ciara, 5, of Port Washington, plant sunflower seeds at the Sands Point Preserve as part of a "Screen Free Week" event. (May 2, 2013) Credit: Tara Conry

Pushing her baby in a stroller, Marybeth Loughlin, 35, of Port Washington, watched her two older children scamper around the outdoor classroom Thursday at Sands Point Preserve.

The sisters -- Ciara, 5, and Brigid, 2 -- painted with rainwater, participated in a scavenger hunt and planted sunflower seeds as part of a program for “Screen Free Week,” a national campaign to encourage kids to unplug from their electronic devices and explore the world around them.

Loughlin said it can be a struggle to get one of her kids to put down her tech gadgets.

“We just moved from the city, too, so having all this open space is new to us and very exciting,” she said.

Adrienne Saur and her daughters, Erika, 10, and Alexa,7, have become frequent visitors to the preserve since becoming members about a month ago. Although her children do use computers for educational purposes, she said they prefer to explore nature.

“I like the trails … and I like worms,” said Erika, opening her hand to reveal a cluster of about 10 earthworms.

When the families were finished with the outdoor activities, they enjoyed a live animal demonstration inside one of the castle-like buildings of the former Guggenheim Estate.
Volunteers for Wildlife, which operates an animal hospital for wild animals in Locust Valley, brought an opossum, an American oystercatcher, an Eastern box turtle, a red-tailed hawk and a small falcon. Each of the animals was found on Long Island, some injured by dogs or humans.

Millie, the 3-year-old opossum, for instance, was found inside the pouch of her mother, who died when she was hit by a car.

Other animals like Taylor, the hawk, and Buster, the small falcon, were taken out of the wild by people who wanted to keep them as pets. Now, they’re too domesticated to be released.

“Buster’s a very healthy bird, but he doesn’t understand that he’s a bird,” said Lauren Schulz, education coordinator for Volunteers for Wildlife. “He thinks he’s a human.”

Loughlin is planning on signing up her older daughter for an upcoming program at the preserve about insects, so she can learn about the positive things bugs do for the environment.

“I don't want them to just go over and stomp on them,” she said. “Just to have a place for exploring and so many wide open spaces is great. It's much easier to unplug for us now.”

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