South Florida Museum in Bradenton opens door for free admission Friday as part of 'Summer Learning Day'

BRADENTON -- Posing for photos in front of a massive jaw of sharp teeth, sisters Kaya, 7, and Julian, 4, first hugged and smiled sweetly, then pretended like they were in danger of being eaten.

Babysitter Chelsea Klabik, 21, snapped photos of the two as they enjoyed a free trip to the South Florida Museum as part of "Summer Learning Day," led by the National Summer Learning Association. In less than half an hour Friday morning, more than 100 children and parents had stopped by the museum in downtown Bradenton for the free visit.

Kaya and Julian, who will start second grade and pre-

kindergarten at St. Joseph's Catholic School in Bradenton, were most excited for one specific event Friday.

"Snooty," Kaya said, referring to the museum's resident manatee.

Klabik heard about the event from the girls' mother.

"It's a good opportunity to come to the museum and not spend money," she said.

More than 400 children and parents made reservations online to stop by Friday, said Dannie Sherrill, community engagement manager at the museum. She expected more than that to stop by after the school district sent out an automated call Thursday.

Waiting by the museum's mastodon near the front entrance, Judy Rademan and her two children, 8-year-old Erika and 5-year-old Ethan, were waiting for friends to come by before heading out to explore.

"It's important that they're learning all year round," said Rademan, who lives in Parrish. "We figured it was free and other friends were coming."

In addition to free admission Friday, children were given the opportunity to earn more free visits by reading over the summer. Each student was given an adventure booklet, which featured different games and puzzles that aligned with the museum exhibits. The center of the booklet encourages students to document at home reading on a calendar. Each five-hour reading block earns the child a free trip to the museum this summer.

Instead of holding special events or children-oriented activities Friday, officials opened up the museum as it normally is, said Samantha Sprague, curator of education at the museum.

Staff members and interns wore stickers, encouraging students and families to ask questions, but mostly the families were allowed to roam free and take in the exhibits.

"For us, it's a really great opportunity to show that learning is in every corner of your life, and it's a family event," she said. "Learning starts with the family."

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.