Last year, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of our partnership with Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. What started with two educational banding stations in Nebraska’s panhandle has since grown to include year round activities including field trips, citizen science events, conservation festivals, in-school curriculum, nature nights and more. In 2016, we delivered nature-themed experiences to 1 in 3 children in the Nebraska panhandle.
Family Nature Nights are a key ingredient in our Nebraska environmental education and outreach efforts, with two events held in the Nebraska Panhandle this spring. These special events are hosted by a school or an organization and facilitated by a Bird Conservancy of the Rockies educator. They bring together conservation organizations from across the region, hosting nature-themed booths for children and families to explore while learning about local ecosystems. Our first Family Nature Night was held in January with Valley Home School Association at the Monument Bible Church in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Over 110 children and parents came out to learn about the natural world together!
Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, along with partners from US Forest Service, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Agate Fossil Beds National Monument and Riverside Discovery Center attended the event as exhibitors. Attendees experienced hands-on learning opportunities about birds, mammals, bats, reptiles, insects, animal habitats and the Nebraska night sky. Exhibits and displays provided participants with engaging and fun and activities such as finding out their wingspan, seeing reptiles up close, examining skulls and pelts and even petting a chinchilla.
Kids had a great time and shared memorable things they learned by writing in large thought bubbles and posting on an evaluation wall. One student said “I learned chinchillas roll in volcanic ash to get clean,” while another told us “The smallest bat is about the weight of ½ of a hershey’s kiss!” The event turned out to be Valley Home School Association’s largest field trip of the year, and Bird Conservancy of the Rockies’ largest Family Nature Night in Nebraska. Valley Home School Association, a first-time partner in this initiative, enjoyed the experience so much that they are interested in making it an ongoing annual event.
Our second Family Nature Night, held at the Chadron State College Child Development Center, saw over sixty children and families in attendance. Conservation partners such as the US Forest Service, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Agate Fossil Beds National Monument and Upper Niobrara White Natural Resource District ran several booths featuring hands on activities for children and their families. Participants had fun learning about a wide variety of topics including the sun, reptiles, water cycles, bats and—of course—birds! “I loved the birds the most! My wingspan is as big as a Great Horned Owl’s!” remarked one excited student on the evaluation wall.
This was also the first Family Nature Night hosted by the center, which was regarded as a huge success that they plan to repeat next year. Amber Schiltz, the Nebraska Wildlife Education Coordinator, is thrilled to be delivering such successful and needed programs in partnership with local organizations. “It’s great to expand our horizons with this engaging, family-friendly event. We look forward to working with these same groups again next year, and hopefully adding even more schools to the program!” said Schiltz.
A huge THANK YOU goes out to the families and partners that made Family Nature Nights a memorable event for all, with special thanks to the professionals who shared their passion for nature with participants. Because of them, everyone left these events with new knowledge and excitement about their local Nebraska Panhandle ecosystems!
For more information about Family Nature Nights or our other Nebraska educational programs:
On our website: Nebraska Educational Programs
Amber Schiltz, Nebraska Wildlife Education Coordinator at (308) 633-1013 or by e-mail.