Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Classroom Open Hours teaches children and parents

Classroom Open Hours includes access to our nature museum.
Photo by Sheon Wilson
By Sheon Wilson
Publications Coordinator

A 2-foot-long wasp’s nest, beaver and coyote skulls, brilliant feathers from an Amazonian parrot—it’s not every day that a child encounters such unusual study tools.

But at Duke Gardens’ weekly Classroom Open Hours, homeschool children and parents can gather for unique hands-on scientific adventures in an exciting learning laboratory.

The open-ended sessions—which run from 1 to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays through Nov. 28 and then resume from Jan. 16 to Feb. 27—give parents and children access to nature-related lesson plans, curriculum aids, microscopes, science-themed books, and a wide variety of unusual specimens and artifacts they probably don’t have at home.

“The classroom hours allow us to nurture learning and discovery in a manner that would otherwise be abstract,” says Cheznee Johnson, whose son, Harrison, attended nearly every session last year.

“Harrison has such a curiosity and interest in the world around him and how things work,” she says. “Every Tuesday he gets to see and experiment with all sorts of new and different things in the classroom.”

The sessions are unstructured so children and adults are free to explore the curiosities and find what piques their interest.

“We see it as a great way for families who can’t devote a room to all the things we have collected to have access to our resources, plus our teaching experience,” says Kati Henderson, a staff assistant in children’s education at Duke Gardens.

It's not every day you see a paper wasp nest up close.
Photo by Sheon Wilson
“Some parents have really enjoyed the experiments we do and have said, ‘Thank you for setting this up, because I wouldn’t have done this at home since it’s way too messy.’ ”

Parents struggling to create a lesson or activity for particular topics can ask the session leader for advice.

“We’ve made lesson plans for almost every discipline in our Garden programs,” Henderson says.

To prepare for a recent session, Henderson set up five tables. To appeal to preschooloers, she had materials for touching on one table, including a tub of sand and water.

Parents and children have many options to choose from
in Classroom Open Hours. Photo by Kati Henderson.
Another table had science magazines and old Duke Gardens calendars for making collages, along with an activity suggestion: Cut out a picture of an animal, create a habitat for it using more pictures and then collage them together. Nearby were boxes of cut branches for stacking and building structures. A fourth had a variety of leaves with drawing and dissecting materials for a hands-on nature study. And the table for parents had resources galore.

For students on school break, Classroom Open Hours can slow the brain-drain by infusing fun self-directed studies into their days off. It’s also popular for people seeking activities for visiting children.

“It gives the adults a bit of a break,” Henderson says. “They don’t have to choose the activity, gather the materials or plan the lesson. Because it’s drop-in, you can come when you want.”
Children love exploring our learning
lab. Photo by K. Henderson.


DATES: Tuesdays through Nov. 28, and Jan. 16-Feb. 27

TIME: 1-3 p.m. Drop in anytime.

FEE: $3 per child per session; $40 per child or $120 per family for all sessions.

MORE INFORMATION: See our website to learn more about this and other programs for children and families, and to begin the registration process or ask questions. You may also call or email us directly at 919-668-1707 or

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