With many school kids enjoying days off Oct. 18-19 -- MEA weekend -- some local institutions are stepping up to offer fall break programming and day camps.
"It's an opportunity to reach out to parents with kids at home with a whole lot of time and energy," ," said Russ Cogar, manager of adult services at the Dakota County libraries.
At Dodge Nature Center in West St. Paul, the popular "Autumn on the Farm" day camp brings out kids in grades K-4 to join naturalists on the center's working farm. Kids can see the unique farm animals -- a Simmental cow, San Clemente Island goats, Spanish chickens -- wandering the grounds and assist with farm chores such as gathering eggs, watering the animals, feeding hay to the larger animals and putting animals out in the pasture.
"A lot of the children don't have the experience of being on a farm, that connection between what they eat and where it comes from," said Diane Klinefelter, the center's director of environmental education.
"We're only three miles from downtown St. Paul, so we do serve a fairly urban population," said naturalist Pam Welisevich.
Welisevich said the campers usually build campfires, work on craft projects made with natural materials and make snacks with something from the farm's harvest. In the past, kids have picked apples and pressed cider or made apple turnovers.
"I'm sure they'll be taking some hikes and watching animals get ready for winter," said Welisevich, adding that kids often see whitetail deer, wild turkeys, hawks or foxes this time of year.
The center also added a new "stone age technology" camp this year for kids in grades 5-8.
During the workshop, Welisevich said, kids will learn to look around the woods and use natural materials to make a hatchet, rope and other rock tools. They will also practice starting a fire by cracking two rocks together, then cook food over the fire.
She said kids can also practice using an ancient spear thrower, called an atlatl, and compete in spear-throwing competitions.
Fall break also means double the regular programming for the Dakota County libraries.
Some events at the Westcott Library in Eagan include a "Zip It Up" workshop with the Textile Center on Oct. 18, where teens can make a zippered carrying case, and a "Holiday Gift Craft-O-Rama" on Oct. 19, where teens can make handmade cards, button pins and bubble magnets.
On the afternoon of Oct. 19 at the Robert Trail Library in Rosemount, kids ages 6 to 12 can do a comedy improv workshop with SteppingStone Theatre.
The South St. Paul Public library hosts a fall festival with crafts, games and apple cider on Oct. 18 for younger kids and a workshop for teens on making edible art on Oct. 19.
Over the two days, various libraries hold a variety of other activities, including a library scavenger hunt, extra story times, a puppet show, book bingo, and several art and craft workshops.
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.