Penny Jessop works with Jaxon McQuillan, 7, of Poland on a tank tread that he was making at the Lewiston Public Library recently.
LEWISTON — Penny Jessop retired from teaching last year, but she’s never really stopped.
Now she just gets to focus on the fun stuff.
At the Lewiston Public Library this week, Jessop hosted her monthly nature group, part of the libary’s slate of free after-school programs, where a handful of kids spent the hour attempting to make toys out of an assortment of recycled material.
Jessop volunteered to start the program near the end of last year, and staff welcomed the opportunity to have an experienced teacher leading a new project.
Running the second Wednesday of each month, the hourlong nature group focuses on science, but keeps the mood light and free of too much structure.
Jessop said she quickly realized the program would not mirror the science classes she used to teach for more than 20 years at School Administrative District 11 in West Gardiner. The kids attending from 4 to 5 p.m. have already been in school all day. They just want something fun to do, and Jessop is happy to help.
When the program kicked off in the fall of 2016, she said she started with things she used to do — spiders and bats and fun things that can get kids “grossed out.” She said interest was slow, but with each month, the program has gathered steam.
On other days, the club has made animal tracks, and looked at pelts and skulls. They’ve also had a forensic investigation day with clues hidden throughout the third-floor children’s wing. The case? A teddy bear was missing.
Another week, the group dissolved owl pellets — blocks of undigested fur and other material that the animal coughs up. In one of the pellets were two mouse skulls. Up next month is frogs.
“They were fascinated,” she said, adding that it encouraged other kids to come in.
Since retiring, she’s also volunteered for the Lewiston-Auburn BookReach program, reading every week to preschool children.
David Moorhead, children’s librarian at the Lewiston Public Library, said Jessop is the ideal volunteer, and the fact that she approached them made it even sweeter.
“It’s amazing because it’s like a volunteer fallen from heaven,” he said. “She’s a good all-around volunteer.”
Moorhead said it’s “second nature” for Jessop because of her teaching experience.
As more kids made their way into the room, some alongside parents, they began pawing through scattered materials. Jessop explained to the group the idea behind Wednesday’s program. In honor of Earth Day, she wanted kids to try their hand at making a form of “galimoto,” an African toy vehicle, out of the recycled material.
She helped Jaxon McQuillan, 7, of Poland get to work on a tank. He taped four spent plastic Scotch tape rolls onto a piece of duct tape, and voila — a tank tread. Jessop’s eyes lit up when he told her his idea.
McQuillan said he was making the tank in honor of his mother, who was in the military.
Other kids weren’t quite as ambitious, but with Jessop’s help, they made wallets, bracelets and other creations to take home. Materials around the room included aluminum cans, empty food containers, boxes, CDs and other items.
Making a wallet out of cardboard was effortless for Jessop. She said she used to make them for her classrooms to teach “the value of money.”
Moorhead said the library is a popular place after school because it’s a safe place for kids. But he said retaining kids means coming up with fun things to do to “keep it interesting.”
The library hosts ArtVan each Monday, a mobile art program led by an art therapist, and there’s a cooking club twice a month. He’s hoping Jessop’s nature group continues on.
For Jessop, she doesn’t really consider herself retired. If anything, the nature group has energized her spirit for working with kids.
“You don’t remember the tests so much,” she said about looking back on school, “but you do remember the fun stuff.”