Take your summer outside with the Zumbro Valley Audubon Society. Offering three hands-on events specially made for families, programming kicks off in June with Damsels & Dragons.

"We’ll be at Chester Woods. It’s a great spot, as there’s a fair number of dragonflies and damselflies, and a fair amount of diversity — eastern forktail, widow skimmers, eastern pondhawk," said Joel Dunnette, ZVAS president and event organizer. "Damselflies feed by picking insects off vegetation, while dragonflies are aerial predators that you’ll find flying over open water."

In July, families are invited to get into nature at ZVAS’s Bug Out program. Also held at Chester Woods, kids of all ages will learn about the variety of Minnesota bugs and how and where to catch them.

"We’ll talk about and hunt for the big stuff like butterflies, but there’s a lot of little bugs that are fun and interesting, too," said Dunnette. "One year, a kid caught a lacewing. We put it in a condiment cup to hold it and an hour and a half later it had laid eggs. The summer before last, someone caught a butterfly I’d never seen in the county."

Wrapping up the summertime programming is the August event, All About Monarch Butterflies, held at Quarry Hill Nature Center and facilitated in conjunction with MN Master Naturalist volunteers. With more than 200 Minnesota-native butterflies, this ZVAS event will focus on the monarchs of Minnesota and their annual migration to overwinter in Mexico.

"We offer this program in conjunction with the staff at Quarry Hill," said Dunnette. "Kids will get to see butterflies in all their stages — egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, adult. There will be butterfly art. I’ll have a butterfly tent set up. Kids go inside and have butterflies flying around them. And of course, there’s an opportunity to tag and release a monarch before it makes its way south."

All three ZVAS programs are free and open to families with children of all ages. No pre-registration is required. Programs held at Chester Woods do require a pass ($5 per day, $25 for the year).

"With these programs, I’m hoping to spark an interest in nature that goes beyond just watching things. It inspires kids and adults to get involved, get hands on," said Dunnette. "At the beginning of every program, you’ll find some kids who aren’t sure. They will see other kids hunting for bugs, catching them, and they’ll say, ‘I’ll come, but I’ll only watch.’ Then, pretty soon, they are doing. Then it’s, ‘Hey, look what I found!’"

What: Damsels & Dragons (June 23, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., Chester Woods), Bug Out (July 21, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.), All About Monarchs (Aug. 27, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. (younger kids and families), 6:30 p.m. (older kids/adults) Quarry Hill Nature Center)

On the web: www.zumbrovalleyaudubon.org

More from ZVAS

Go to the ZVAS website and click on Education/Links for dozens of kid-friendly bird, bug, and flower materials: Be a Bird Sleuth - Activities for Kids, Owls of Southeast Minnesota Poster.

ZVAS hosts a monthly bird watch. Free and open to all, programs typically take place at Quarry Hill Nature Center. Click on the website’s Calendar for details.