Mayor Chris Cerino and a crowd of toddlers welcomed local groundhog, Chestertown Charlie to the Sultana Foundation’s Holt Center on Friday, Jan. 31. The little critter saw his shadow, forecasting six more weeks of winter.
But while Charlie predicted six more weeks of winter, it also means there are six more weeks of free Toddler Time programming this year – good news for parents of young children.
Charlie’s appearance was part of the Sultana Education Foundation’s “Toddler Time” program for 3 to 5-year-olds. The free Friday morning program runs from November to March at the Holt Center, 200 S. Cross St. in Chestertown. Children are introduced to the natural world through stories, games, crafts and other activities in an hour-long session combining fun and education. Now in its third year, the program attracts between 25 and 40 youngsters every Friday, Cerino said.
The Groundhog Day program drew some 30 toddlers, who were entertained with jigsaw puzzles and coloring books while they awaited the start of the festivities. At 10:30, Beth Lenker, the Holt Center education director, called them together to hear her read “Goundhog Gets a Say,” a children’s book telling all about the little marmots and their habits.
Lenker told the group how groundhogs hibernate, the other animals they are related to – squirrels and rodents – and how they dig burrows. The animals are also called “whistle pigs” and “woodchucks” in some parts of the country. Scientists are studying them to see if their ability to hibernate could be adapted to human use for such events as long interplanetary space flights. And she told the legend of how a groundhog can predict the weather depending on whether it sees its shadow on Groundhog Day.
Mayor Cerino then made his entrance, wearing a top hat and long black coat. He told the toddlers that Chestertown Charlie, the local groundhog and weather forecaster, had been heard burrowing under the building and asked them to help him find the animal. He led them to a pair of tables on one side of the room, where they chanted the animal’s name. Sure enough, a furry puppet appeared – except it was Rocky Raccoon, who said he’d been too busy digging in trash to notice Charlie. He was followed by another group of puppets, Woody Woodpecker and his three daughters, who said they’d seen Charlie near a marsh.
Cerino led the children to the second table, draped in a cloth portraying marsh grasses, and this time Charlie made his appearance – joined by his sister Marlie. The two puppets chatted briefly with Cerino, who then turned on a small spotlight – at which point they saw their shadows. “Six more weeks of winter,” said Cerino, and the puppets went back under the table to resume their hibernation.
The program continued with the children breaking up into three smaller groups for other activities. Cerino and the two groundhog puppets stayed to pose for pictures with the toddlers.
Topics for upcoming sessions include web weavers, trees, reptiles, birds and amphibians – many with live animals present to help the youngsters learn about the natural world around them. Anyone with kids in the 3-to-5 age group should make it a point to bring them to Holt Center on a Friday morning to get a taste of what the Sultana Education Foundation is doing for the community. The program is free and no advance registration is required. Just come. But parents or other adult caretaker must stay for the whole hour with the child.
For more information, visit https://sultanaeducation.org/public-programs/.
By Peter Heck
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