SATW Traveling Teddy: mascot back in Lena

The school year is over for Beth Zingler’s two dozen kindergartners at Lena Elementary School (Oconto County), and the teacher always selects a lovely place for her final class field trip.

It was easy to appreciate and painless to learn while exploring Green Bay Botanical Garden on a sunny spring morning. Not all lessons were planned, thanks to the spontaneous appearance of a frog and geese.

Beth kept her class moving, but at a leisurely pace, with enough time for them to smell mint and lilacs, climb into garden shelters and gazebos, touch leaves of Lamb’s ear and study a fountain’s spurts of water.

These things would make many gardens worth a visit, but the Children’s Garden in Green Bay adds a playground to the botanical lessons. Dragon Fly and Frog bridges are cute and fun. Sitting benches are child-sized.

Kids make their way through a mini-maze of hedges to get up to the treehouse, but the journey is worth it because then you can see far – and slide right back to ground level.

Every few yards, Beth would point out something unusual and new. Or she’d ask her students to stop and draw something that they had seen. The route eventually winded over to a pond and forested path before returning to the botanical garden entrance and gift shop.

It costs $2 per person, student and chaperone, to go the self-guide route. With four weeks of notice, garden staff or volunteers can lead a 90-minute class tour for $3.50 per person. The tours go on, rain or shine, and topics can be specific (biodiversity), interactive (garden upkeep) or generic.

Story hours and garden activities for families tend to land on Mondays and Wednesdays in summer. On the Green Bay garden’s 47 acres are several specialty gardens (roses to perennials) and unusual architecture (Scandinavian summerhouse to English cottage and Grecian gazebo).

People picnic for Concerts in the Garden, 6-7:30 p.m. on Thursdays, July 19 to Aug. 16. Free garden admission is Sept. 8, in celebration of the attraction’s 12th anniversary.

For more: www.gbbg.org, 920-490-9457. Green Bay Botanical Garden is at 2600 Larsen Road, Green Bay.

When it was time for lunch, Beth took her class to a nearby public park that had an excellent variety of playground equipment, easy to watch from the picnic area.

Another good option, especially for a smaller group or family, would have been the city-operated and historic Bay Beach Amusement Park, where gentle rides on ladybugs and little racecars cost only a quarter. It’s 50 cents for a spin on the Ferris wheel or merry-go-round, but that’s as expensive as it gets.

For more: www.ci-green-bay.wi.us, 920-448-3365. Bay Beach Amusement Park is at 1313 Bay Beach Road, about 8 miles east of the botanical garden.

My meeting with Beth’s class was both a goodbye and a hello. I left behind Slinky, a stuffed animal (badger) that the class loaned me as a traveling companion for the school year.

While on the road, Slinky and I would send a postcard and e-mail a picture or two of Slinky in new surroundings. The class also would sometimes get a little treat: Stadium Mustard from Cleveland, bookmarks from Santiago, scented soap made in Iowa, book stickers from Disney World.

Beth filled a bulletin board with maps and other information about our travels, using these adventures as teaching opportunities. Slinky came home with a little racing helmet, from Indianapolis, and a stuffed animal rabbit that was given to him along the way.

I’m looking for a new traveling buddy, from a different Wisconsin town, for the 2007-08 school year. If you are a teacher and this interests you, please contact me by July 1. Send a note about why you’d like to participate.

This project is based upon the Society of American Travel Writers’ Traveling Teddy Bear program. The stuffed animal is an ambassador, spreading goodwill while helping his owners better understand the world, one small part at a time.

Beth Zingler and I met during the first “Here at Home” statewide field trip for Wisconsin teachers of local culture. The excursion was organized by Debbie Kmetz and the UW’s Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures.

Now it’s about time for a couple of dozen more teachers to get better acquainted with the state. Instructors in grades kindergarten through high school this month will spend eight days touring and learning more about Wisconsin, heading as far north as Ashland and staying at places as diverse as St. Bede Monastery, near Eau Claire.

“Resources and content for teaching exist all around us – in the local environment and landscapes, in family stories, in local music and artistic expressions, in community history and contemporary social issues,” event organizers say, at www.csumc.wisc.edu.

The teachers will learn about Wisconsin’s diversity of cultures and geography by visiting urban and remote locations.