My kids are collectors. We have jars of rocks, shelves of shells, and smatterings of other finds in boxes, bags, and buckets. We can’t walk from the car to the door without one of them picking up something he can’t live without from the ground. If our washing machine could talk, it would have endless tales to tell of treasures forgotten in pockets and found in its depths. I’ve finally found a way to channel my boys’ gathering skills into a hobby we can all enjoy! My curious kids have an opportunity to learn and earn at The Austin Nature & Science Center’s Trade Counter.
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Located inside the Naturalist Workshop, the Trade Counter offers kids and their families the chance to exchange items they’ve found in nature for items in the trade collection. Kids may bring in their objects and share what they know about them with the Trade Counter volunteer. The volunteers we’ve encountered on our visits–Mr. Charles and Mr. David–seemed genuinely interested in what my boys had to say. They asked thought-provoking questions and offered additional information, devoting a really generous amount of time to each child. Both men were unbelievably knowledgeable about all sorts of natural wonders. The Naturalist Workshop is also full of reference materials that they brought out for a few teachable moments.
Kids earn points at the Trade Counter not just for the objects they bring in, but also for what they know about each one. The more details they can provide (What is it? Where did you find it? What surprised you about it? Have you ever seen anything else like it?), the more points they’ll receive. The volunteers make notes about each kid’s collection in a journal and points are tallied at the end of the session. An extra 20 points are added if the kiddo can correctly identify the Mystery Object of the month on the counter! Then, kids can use their points to “buy” something new from the Naturalist Workshop’s trade collection.
The trade collection is a shopper’s paradise for nature-loving kids. There are bins, shelves, and cabinets full of treasures–rocks, fossils, shells, bones, bugs, and even jewelry. My youngest likes to trade his old rocks and shells for new rocks and shells. My oldest is a saver who’s holding out for a boar skull that costs 600 points. The Trade Counter volunteers will create a record for you child if he or she chooses to accumulate points over time rather than spend them right away. At the end of each visit, they’ll add points to your child’s card (which stays at the Naturalist Workshop) so he or she can save up for big-ticket items.
Do you have children who love nature but aren’t so keen on picking up everything they see? Or kids who are drawn to icky things you don’t want them to keep? The Trade Counter accepts research reports, journal entries, sketches, etc, in lieu of actual objects to trade. Photographs are accepted, too, which is really handy in the case of prohibited items like live animals. My boys have gotten really excited talking about pictures they’ve taken of cool animals they’ve seen. I appreciate that the Trade Counter makes it easy for children to participate in ways that are uniquely interesting or fun for them!
What to know before you go
- Because the volunteers give their undivided attention to each child, there can be a wait for the Trade Counter. The Naturalist Workshop is full of interesting items for kids to explore while waiting their turn–field guides, specimens, microscopes, magnifying glasses, and the like. Don’t miss the plexiglass beehive just inside the door of the Visitors’ Pavilion. It’s amazing!!
- There’s a maximum of five items per child per trade.
- The following items are prohibited: anything collected on land where natural items are protected by law (like state and federal parks); arrowheads or other cultural artifacts; animal skins, pelts, or mounts; birds or bird parts (including feathers, eggs, and nests); live or killed animals; whole plants. Remember that photographs and sketches of these items are acceptable.
- The Austin Nature & Science Center and the Trade Counter at the Naturalist Workshop are always FREE!
Wednesday – Friday from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.