In late June, the Powder Valley Nature Conservation Center outside St. Louis sponsored a weekend of activities following their screening of Mother Nature’s Child. We were excited to learn that, when the manager of the center originally previewed the film, she and her staff made significant changes in their policies regarding children’s explorations on and off their trails. We hope her response will inspire a new spirit of adventure for nature centers everywhere. Here is what she has to say:
“I’ve been managing a nature center for almost 15 years. There are many things we’ve changed since viewing Mother Nature’s Child and they are making a difference. After a public screening of the film at the nature center, I was approached by a man who said he had stopped bringing his grandson to visit the center after a negative experience with rule enforcement. He said he’s noticed a huge difference recently and was so happy to be able to start having fun and engaging visits again.
Over the years, “enforcing the rules” had become just that, and there were people leaving with a negative experience. We changed our approach and began using positive reinforcement and redirection of behaviors. Watching the film inspired us to change the way we approach nature interpretation and public interaction.
We are now using the film to educate staff and volunteers; it shows examples of interacting with children differently. The film is a fantastic resource, especially for our volunteers, to show them how important this is and why. Now a child who picks up a stick isn’t told to put it down because he might get hurt. If a child brings in a snake or turtle she’s picked up, she is greeted with enthusiasm and gently educated about the animal itself and why it is important to return it to its original habitat. If children pick up leaves or rocks, they are encouraged to study them, not told to put them back. If they touch things they shouldn’t, rather than being corrected and left with a negative (and sometimes even scary) experience, they are redirected in a positive and fun manner to things they can safely touch. Running, climbing, stepping off the trail, and playing in the creek are no longer discouraged.
Our interpretive staff are using ideas from Mother Nature’s Child to change the ways they do programs. Unstructured play and risk-taking are key values we are incorporating into our programs. We are excited to have this resource for ideas and motivation for change. I’ve been asked whether I’m concerned about the consequences of changing operations this way. In fact, I’m much more concerned about the consequences if we don’t. Thank you for such an eye opening and inspiring film!”
– Tamie Yegge, Nature Center Manager