Tucked quaintly into the woods at Leeds Pond Preserve, the Science Museum of Long Island (SMLI) has been fostering wonder and excitement for science for more than five decades. SMLI stimulates and nurtures youngsters’ natural interest in exploring and experimenting in the fields of life, earth and physical science through fun, hands-on learning.
Founded in 1962 and chartered by the New York State Board of Regents in 1963, the SMLI was conceived by a group of women from Sands Point, Great Neck and Port Washington who knew the importance of forming a science learning center for young minds. In the first three years, the group held supplemental science classes wherever they could find a temporary space, in storefronts and eventually, in a Glen Cove estate. The museum had even operated on the Sands Point Preserve for a while, but has been at Leeds Pond Preserve since the early 1970s.
The museum sees more than 10,000 children each year, nursery through high school, including home-schooled students, through the on-campus and off-campus programming.
Recently, we had a chance to chat with SMLI’s chief administrator Cara Sheridan O’Donnell, who shared some of the newest and most popular programming at the museum, including Slime, Goo and Ooze, Volcanos, Forensics, Physics of Toys, Animals, STARLAB and STEM club.
“New this year for fourth-grade and up is the STEM club, which focuses on videogame development, CAD software and 3-D printing,” says O’Donnell. “The club also explores robotics and robot building.”
Another trend across the nation are Minecraft clubs. SMLI recognized the importance of this computer game and how it related to science learning—O’Donnell admits it’s been growing exponentially.
“Minecraft teaches survival skills, team building, thinking outside the box and problem-solving,” says O’Donnell. “The kids have to decide whether it is more efficient to join forces or work individually and of course the game aspect makes it fun, which is our whole mission, is to make science fun.” With the popularity of this program, SMLI will soon host a new overnight Minecraft marathon for the game enthusiasts.
As spring emerges, SMLI has already started its Maple Sugaring program, where kids can discover the world of making maple syrup by tapping and collecting sap from sugar maples on the preserve.
“Kids are going to love this program. They learn things like how much sap is needed to make table syrup and about the grades of maple syrup,” says O’Donnell.
The programming workshops are typically scheduled for children during school vacations and on weekdays.
“We are one of the least expensive camps around still because we don’t want to turn anyone away, especially kids who love science,” says O’Donnell.
SMLI also offers their science expeditions, Earth PULSE (People Understanding and Learning Science through Exploration), which have included expeditions to Easter Island, Argentina, the Amazon rain forest, Egypt, Costa Rica, the Badlands of South Dakota and most recently a trip of 20 people to Cuba.
The expeditions bring together scientific experts like Jim Fowler, Sylvia Earle, Thor Hyerdahl, John Loret and James Watson, with those who have a desire to learn and explore the world of science.
SMLI is extremely Boy and Girl Scout-friendly, with dozens of Scouts visiting the preserve and museum each year to learn more about science and to earn specific Scouting badges and awards.
Presently, five Boy Scouts are working on their Eagle Scout projects, either to benefit the preserve or the museum. One local Boy Scout recently completed his Eagle Scout project, which resulted in the renovation of one of the museum rooms—this will eventually become an anthropology lab.
In addition to the cooperatives with Scouts, SMLI also benefits from regular college internships programs, most recently by college students from Adelphi University, Hofstra University, Molloy College and SUNY Geneseo.
Community Support And The Property
The museum relies heavily on donations which are used to defray expenses associated with the care of the live animals, to purchase new computer software and materials for the 3-D printers and computer labs. Donations also subsidize the cost associated with bringing supplemental science lessons to children in a local long-term care facility and also for the ground maintenance and the grounds and structures on the 36-acre Leeds Pond Preserve.
“We need the community to appreciate that we are here; we need more community support,” says O’Donnell. “Service and monetary donations are necessary so we can have things like new shingles, repairs to the building, etc.”
Although Nassau County owns the 36-acre Leeds Pond Preserve, SMLI is a separate corporation, a nonprofit organization and is responsible, not only for the staffing, programming and interior of the building, but also the exterior of the building and supplemental property maintenance.
“You see a historical place like the Inisfada (Mansion) torn down to build to build McMansions and it’s upsetting,” says O’Donnell. “Although this is a preserve and it’s unlikely that would happen here, the building needs to be maintained. We need people to appreciate the fact that we are here and to donate.”
The county-owned property is a natural treasure with short trails that are great for walkers, joggers, bird watchers and fishermen. There are five trails and several access points on the property. And although SMLI is not your typical museum where you can just drop in and stroll around for the in-house exhibits, there’s plenty to do on the preserve. The preserve offers many opportunities to explore a variety of ecosystems including a forest, a salt marsh, a brackish pond, a freshwater stream and a beachfront estuary.
In addition to O’Donnell, Daniel Steiger, Owen Correnti and Caitlin Orellana make up the museum’s four full-time staff. There are also several per diem teachers in addition to all of the interns and volunteers that rotate through each year.
SMLI’s Board of Trustees includes: Sean C. Martens, president; Eugene Petracca, Jr., vice president; Linda Green, secretary; Marilyn Stefans, treasurer; Maria Brown, Marilyn Chapoteau, Steve Farenga, EdD, Carlo Manganillo, Corinne Michels, PhD, Harold Michels, PhD, Daniel Ness, PhD, Tom O’Malley and Margie Suga.
The Science Museum of Long Island, located at 1526 Plandome Rd. is open on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and weekends based on scheduled events. The preserve property is open from dawn to dusk. Visitor parking is free.
Call 516-627-9400 or check out SMLI’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/sciencemuseumli or visit their website www.smli.org to learn more about the programming and events happening throughout the year.