Every year, the fun-filled Connecticut Family Festival gets better and better, and this year, it will shine again. On June 8 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Waterfront Park in New London will be the setting for a day of activities celebrating music, art, storytelling, boating, the ocean and the environment.
New London Main Street is partnering with New London Youth Affairs (NLYA), New England Science and Sailing (NESS), Children’s Museum of Southeastern Connecticut and the Public Library of New London to bring a wide variety of activities and educational experiences to the community and visitors.
A great group of sponsors are coming together to bring a wide variety of activities and educational experiences to the community and visitors. Veolia, New London School Readiness-Quality Enhancement, the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce, Chelsea Groton Bank and Atlantic Broadband are supporting this important family event.
This region loves the water, and no one will be disappointed by the fun experiences scheduled for the day. Project Oceanology, and the Thames River Water Taxi will be among the exhibitors, and New England Science and Sailing will once again offer free sailing experiences for children.
Southeastern Connecticut Regional Resources Recovery Authority will have a tent with lots of information on recycling. The Children’s Activities Tent will include things to do and learn from Children’s Museum of SECT, Mitchell College Children’s Learning Center, Mystic Aquarium, New London Youth Affairs (NLYA), and Thames Valley Council for Community Action (TVCCA), Child Works Pre-school and many more!! There will be a meet and greet with Coast Guard Sammy the Sea Otter and Simply Enchanted Little Mermaid and Wayfinder. A Scavenger Hunt is also planned.
No summer festival would be complete without fabulous street food and lots of shopping. Save room for a visit to Supreme Hot Dog, Fresh Cow, Good Vibes Kettle Corn, Chet’s Italian Ice and Nora Cupcake. After you can’t eat another thing, check out the variety of retail vendors.
The festival also includes a wide variety of entertainment with Nathan Hale Arts Magnet Showcase & Lisa Marien, Steve Elci & Friends, Face painting with Skadoodlez, Simply Enchanted, Steve Songs, and very special book readings by two Connecticut children’s authors—Annette Montoya and Leticia Colon de Mejias, both of whom will be available to sign books.
Annette Montoya was a woman with a mission when she decided to write her children’s book, How Nature Makes My Brain Grow.
“Kids spend 90% of their time indoors,” says Montoya. “On their screens. Not going outside. I wrote the book to teach parents that it’s important to get your kids outdoors. Parents don’t realize how important it is, which is funny because when a child is born, parents want the best for that child and try to provide all these little programs that last only a couple of hours. Kids need to be in nature.”
A retired combat veteran, Montoya’s “aha moment” came as she was researching what she’d need to design a children’s garden.
She says, “After I retired, I went back to school at UConn on the GI Bill to study horticulture. I discovered landscape architecture and was hooked. After two internships, I knew I wanted to design children’s gardens and that generated the research into children and nature and science and the brain.”
That research revealed that “the more rich sensory experiences a child has during the critical years from 0-7, the more complex their brain structure,” she says. “So I decided to write my own book and try to integrate the information in simplistic form so people could understand why children should be outside.”
How Nature Makes My Brain Grow is beautifully illustrated and each page is easy to read. The story is set in a childcare center where the children don’t want to go outside. It’s hot. There’s no shade or trees. It’s not a welcoming place. Montoya equates it to the average playground. The story continues with the children taking a field trip into the woods; the children change, become happier and want to change their play space.
“If parents knew what was going on in their children’s brains, they would understand,” says Montoya. “How can you develop a relationship with nature if you don’t know it? That worries me. These kids are our stewards for nature. If they don’t have that experience, that relationship, they aren’t going to love it. And then they won’t protect it, or take care of it, because there’s no reason to do so.”
Connecticut author Leticia Colon de Mejias (leticiaspeaks.com) wrote her book, Pesky Plastic, to honor her son Jonathan for his passionate concern about sea life and the harm that plastics are doing to our oceans. In 2008, Jonathan, Leticia and her family started a group called Green Acre Warriors to address the problem. They worked with a middle school in Windsor to reduce plastic at the school, create a recycling program, and ultimately working on getting the bottle bill passed. “It’s been exciting to see communities coming together and taking a stand on their own,” says Colon.
“I think Pesky Plastic is such a great platform to talk to kids about environmentalism and about making clear, conscious choices about our daily actions,” says Colon. “We need to understand how our choices impact our community and the world around us. The book tells the story of the plastic crisis and is a tool for families, kids, and teachers to directly change their behavior and decrease the negative impact on the environment.”
“Plastic that we put into the water in Connecticut can end up in Hawaii,” says Colon. “For a child, that’s a difficult concept. It’s important that they understand that these things don’t disappear. Plastic is forever.”
Colon’s mother always read to her family and Colon herself loves to read, citing Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, and the Dr. Seuss books as among her favorites.
“Right out of high school I worked at a child care center for children with disabilities, and I found that books were a great way to engage with these kids who have difficulties at home or disorders or mental health issues,” she says.
“If you sit down and read to them with excitement and passion, they really become engaged. I found that rhythm lines and alliteration were great ways to bring youth into the conversation. Even if they can’t read, they can memorize those parts. Stories are something that outlive you. Communities would tell stories and that was the way of keeping their culture, their history, and their belief systems in place.”
Pesky Plastic is written in both English and Spanish, which is another way for people to learn a different language. Colon advocates “building character through story, to help people distill positive qualities and traits in themselves and their families.”
For up to date information on activities at the Connecticut Family Festival, visit facebook.com/Connecticutfamily.