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Island organizations offer programs to keep kids busy all summer long

By Staff | May 31, 2017

Learn more about Sanibel’s rich ecosystem during “Ding’s” free guided Indigo Trail hike. PHOTO PROVIDED

With school officially out last Friday, many organizations on the island are offering an array of activities for both kids and adults. From hiking to being immersed in the ocean, visitors and locals alike have plenty of options to keep their kids entertained throughout the summer.

J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge

J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge offers free summer programs for the whole family from June 7 through Aug. 5. Summer programming is made possible by the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society – Friends of the Refuge.

* Reading at the Refuge, every Wednesday at 10 a.m.: Attendees of each 45-minute reading-and-crafts session learn about a refuge animal and make a take-home craft related to it. Meet in the Visitor & Education Center Classroom.

* Indigo Trail Hike, every Thursday at 10 a.m.: Join refuge naturalists as they lead a one-hour tour to the Wildlife Education Board to identify and discuss the ecosystem’s plants, mammals, birds, and reptiles – fun for adults and children alike. Bring water, sunscreen, and bug spray. Meet at the flagpole in front of the Visitor & Education Center.

* Family Beach Walk, every Friday at 9 a.m.: The one-hour program convenes at Gulfside Park to explore the refuge’s gulf-front Perry Tract. City parking fees apply. Bring water, sunscreen, and bug spray.

* Wildlife Wonders, every Saturday at 11 a.m.: Refuge education staff lead this indoor program about the mysteries of manatees, alligators, crocodiles, and birds in the Visitor & Education Center auditorium.

For more information on the refuge summer programs, call (239) 472-1100 ext. 237 or visit dingdarlingsociety.org/articles/free-refuge-programs.

Other activities at “Ding” include:

Wildlife Drive: Open every day except Fridays. Drive, hike or bike the 4-mile long paved road. Vehicles are $5, pedestrians and bicyclists are $1. Common sightings on Wildlife Drive include sandpipers, blue herons, roseate spoonbills and egrets. For hours, go to fws.gov/refuge/jn_ding_darling.

Bailey Tract: Bike or walk the 100-acre parcel located off of Tarpon Bay Road. Bailey Tract is open sunrise to sunset, admission is free.

Trails: Come explore Indigo Trail, the Wildlife Education Boardwalk, Shellmound Trail and Wulfert Keys Trail which can be accessed via Wildlife Drive. For a shorter hike, try Indigo Trail. Pricing is the same as Wildlife Drive. For hours, go to fws.gov/refuge/jn_ding_darling.

Kayaking, canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding: Rent a kayak, canoe or stand-up paddleboard and explore Commodore Creek at Tarpon Bay Explorers. Guided tours are available as well. For information, call (239) 472-8900.

Sanibel Sea School

The Sanibel Sea School which teaches both adults and children about marine ecosystems, will offer programs for everyone in the family this summer. Programs run from May 29 through August 11.

* Discover Paddling

Cost: $70 per person

Southwest Florida is a paddler’s paradise! Learn the basics of stand up paddling, then join Sanibel Sea School’s ACA-certified SUP instructor and marine educator on a trip through magnificent mangrove forests and into our beloved bay. As we paddle, you will learn about mangrove ecology and the creatures that call our region home. Private programs and rentals are also available. Must be 18 or older to paddle alone, 13 or older with a parent or guardian.

* Half and Full-Day Adventures for Kids

Offered daily at Sanibel Sea School’s Flagship Campus, Sundial Resort, and South Seas Island Resort. See sanibelseaschool.org for full schedule.

Cost: $55 per student per half-day

Every day is a field trip at Sanibel Sea School. Get your feet wet with us as we explore and learn about Sanibel’s unique marine habitats – topics include seahorses, manatees, crabs and much more. For children ages 6-13.

* Guided Birdwatching

Wednesdays, 9 to 10:30 a.m. at Sundial

Cost: $15 per person, $5 optional binocular rental

A walk to discover the amazing birds that call Sundial Resort’s beachfront property home. We will discuss basic bird biology and behaviors, and learn how to identify the birds we encounter. All ages are welcome, participants under 16 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

* Shell Walks

Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Sundial

Cost: $20 per person

Sanibel is a shelling paradise, with hundreds of species waiting to be discovered. Join us for a beach walk to learn basic bivalve and gastropod biology, find out why so many shells wash up on our beaches, and where to look for a few of the most coveted shells. All ages are welcome, participants under 16 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

* Private Ocean Experiences for Families and Groups

Sanibel Sea School is happy to arrange the perfect land or boat-based outing for your group. Call (239) 472-8585 for more information.

In addition to their daily program offerings, the Sanibel Sea School will offer a variety of summer camps for participants ages 4-18 at three locations in Sanibel and Fort Myers. With a different ocean theme each week, non-residential Sanibel Skills Camps focus on biology and waterman skills in a fun, outdoor setting. The organization also runs a counselor-in-training leadership program for teens, and is planning expeditions to canoe the Caloosahatchee River and study coral reefs in Belize and the Florida Keys for older campers, as well as a Science Fair Camp, which will give students an opportunity to get a head start on their marine-biology research projects before the school year. Cost varies. For more information, visit sanibelseaschool.org/

The Bailey Matthews-National Shell Museum

Summer is one of the best times to enjoy the plethora of activities that the islands have to offer. Many organizations on the island design special programs for residents to keep residents busy all season long. At the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, guests can beat the heat by listening to a live tank talk at the museum, participate in their daily shell arts and crafts class or they can take part in a guided beach walk on Sanibel or Fort Myers.

Sanibel beach walks: On Saturdays at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, guests can take part on a marine biologist led beach walk which takes place at the Island Inn, 3111 West Gulf Drive daily at 9 a.m. The beach walk is $10 for adults and $7 for children (ages 5- 17). The beach walk includes half-off admission to the shell museum. Advanced booking is required. For more information, call (239) 395-2233 or go to shellmuseum.org/programs-events/beach-walks.

Bunche Beach walks: Learn about mollusks, conchs, whelks, mud snails and other critters during the museum’s guided walks which are led by marine biologist Stefanie Wolf and Dr. Jose H. Leal, science director and curator of the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. The beach walk is $12 for non-member adults and $7 for non-member children (ages 5-17). For museum members, the cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children (ages 5-17). Parking is $2 per hour. The beach walk last approximately one hour and includes half-off museum admission. Advanced booking is required. For more information, call (239) 395-2233 or go to shellmuseum.org/programs-events/beach-walks.

* Wednesday, June 7, at 7 p.m. (Dr. Jose H. Leal)

* Sunday, June 11, at 7 a.m. (Stefanie Wolf, M.S.)

* Thursday, June 22, at 7 a.m. (Stefanie Wolf, M.S.)

* Thursday, July 6, at 7 p.m. (Dr. Jose H. Leal)

* Sunday, July 9, at 7 a.m. (Stefanie Wolf, M.S.)

* Sunday, July 23, at 7 a.m. (Stefanie Wolf, M.S.)

* Thursday, August 10, at 7 a.m. (Stefanie Wolf, M.S.)

* Wednesday, August 23, at 7 a.m. (Stefanie Wolf, M.S.)

* Beach walk tickets are non-refundable.

* Daily offerings

Live tank talks at the Shell Museum take place every hour on the hour from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tank talks are included with paid museum admission. No registration is required.

Let your imagination soar at the museum’s family shell arts and crafts session which is offered everyday from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. No registration is required.