Program for preschool-age children teaches what harvest season’s all about

Early Child Programs Manager Mary Uminski teaches children the importance of harvest time during November’s Prairie Tykes “Happy Harvest” program.

By Ephraim Rudolph
Ghosts and ghouls came out to play in October. Gingerbread and candy canes swirl through December. During November, the month in-between, the autumn harvest is in full swing. It’s apple, corn and gourd season.

This month, children celebrated the harvest season during Conner Prairie’s “Happy Harvest” edition of Prairie Tykes, a program for preschool-age children ages 2-6. Mary Uminski is the museum’s early child programs manager who plans and teaches the program.

“We’re going to grind corn, string apples and churn some butter,” she said. “We have a game with a turkey and bowling with pins that look like corn. We’ll even do a little weaving activity with paper plates and thread.” There are also harvest-themed snacks, crafts, singing, dancing and storytelling, she said.

Prairie Tykes is an educational program for preschool-age children ages 2-6 at Conner Prairie. Prairie Tots is a similar program but shorter in duration and geared for children age 2.

Uminsky has been facilitating Prairie Tykes for nearly 20 years and has overseen its evolution.

“When it first started, it was called Tuesday for Tots and it was held outside in Prairietown,” she said. “The very first session celebrated Groundhog Day. The program was renamed Prairie Tykes when it was moved mainly indoors and session dates were shifted to Fridays.

Happy Harvest is one of the most popular Prairie Tykes programs; the series of fall and winter programs from September through December are generally the best-attended of the year.

“This is a great time of year for families to spend time together,” Uminski said. “We have Prairie Tykes and Prairie Tots every month of the year, though, and we’d love to see more children and families in January and February.”

Upcoming Prairie Tykes themes in December and January include “Gingerbread Jamboree,” “Let it Snow” and “Gracious Groundhogs.”

Uminski also oversees Prairie Tots, another museum program for children age 2. “It’s a shorter, 45-minute program, whereas Prairie Tykes is an hour-and-a-half program,” she said. “We do an easier craft and tell a simpler story. It’s the Prairie Tykes experience condensed for much younger children.”

Uminski has truly helped raise a generation of children. “They start at age 2 and they keep coming back for four years,” she said. “Some of the little ones who came to the early Prairie Tykes programs are now in college. A few of them have even come back to visit.”

While “Happy Harvest” was the theme for December’s preschool activities, “Gingerbread Jamboree,” featuring the Gingerbread Man himself, is Dec. 8. After that, “Let it Snow” is Jan. 11-12 and “Gracious Groundhogs” runs Jan. 25-26.