In Her Natural State

. March 5, 2013.

Why not try an experiment this weekend? Hide the remote control at the bottom of the laundry basket. Stow your kids’ computer in the attic.
After the screaming stops, you might come to relish a new experience — family time together in the Great Outdoors. It’s a plan heartily endorsed by Kirsten Levinsohn, director of the Leslie Science and Nature Center in Ann Arbor.

At the center, families can explore 50 acres of fi elds, waterways, prairies and woods. Flowers, trees, and grasslands aren’t the only things they’ll

Encounters with hawks, owls, snakes, turtles and other creatures will rivet youngsters’ attention.

“We provide environmental educational programs for children, families and adults,” said Levinsohn, an Ann Arbor resident, wife, and mother of two grown children. “One of the cool things about coming here is that we have 15 birds of prey in outdoor enclosures. We have a special program where people can get a close-up look of how we feed them, train them and handle them.”

 At the center, families head out for winter night walks, build rockets and hot air balloons and enjoy cooking around the campfire. Kids can sign up for birthday parties, with youngsters heading out into the woods, compasses in hand, searching out a hidden treasure chest, guided by clues and riddles.

Another adventure takes boys and girls to the forest floor to check out the centipedes and rolly pollies.

The youngest naturalists can learn about their own senses as well as wild things’ experiences of the world. An outdoorhearing station at the center sports a kid-friendly apparatus that looks like deer ears little ones can use to experience a prey animal’s amplifi ed hearing.

“We have predator-prey games,” said Levinsohn. “One kid is the fox, one is the rabbit. It becomes very real for them.” Getting out into the wild is important, especially when fi ghting “Nature Deficit Disorder.”

“It’s a concern many of us who have nature centers are worried about it,” said Levinsohn.

Levinsohn understands only too well the lure electronic entertainment carries for boys and girls – including her own children when they were young. “We have found that kids are having fewer and fewer nature connections because their lives are organized around computers and scheduled school activities,” she said. “We help kids do what they would do naturally.”

Levinsohn and her family built up their love of the outdoors by getting outside and kayaking, cross-country skiingand hiking.  “My kids have picked that up,” she said.

Expertise isn’t required.

 “For parents, don’t worry that you don’t know how to identify trees,” she said. “It’s just being out there marveling at the bark that’s cool.”

If you want to meet Levinsohn, you’ll have to hurry. She’s spending her final month in her post.

The center is planning an open house to celebrate her 20-plus years on the job (she has been at LSNC since 1986) in February. The event, Monday, February 8 from 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. is free to the public. Light hors d’oeuvres and hot chocolate will be served.

The center is located at 1831 Traver Rd., in Ann Arbor, not far from downtown. Check out their web page at

“They say every child needs one person to introduce them to the naturalworld,” said Levinsohn. “It’s ready to be  woken up in kids.”