Moms, Pops, & Tots
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Campbell Creek Science Center in Anchorage, AK, aims to increase appreciation, connection, and stewardship of Alaska's public lands and natural resources.
We asked Luise Woelflein, the Center's Environmental Education Coordinator, to tell us about a popular early childhood program that was recently expanded with the help of a local preschool teacher.
Tell us how and why you started Moms, Pops, & Tots.
We started Moms, Pops, & Tots in 2010, recognizing the importance of nature exploration and outdoor play for children’s healthy development. We wanted a way to introduce parents to the experience of playing outside with their children. And we wanted to encourage parents and other caregivers to continue to explore the natural world with very young children. After several summers of programming we took a step back to consider how we could do the program in a more sustainable way and ground it more fully in best practices. We launched the reinvigorated Moms, Pops, & Tots program in the summer of 2017 with the goals of connecting very young children to nature; helping caregivers feel more comfortable taking little children outside in all seasons; and helping parents connect with their little ones, nature, and each other.
How is the program structured?
Moms, Pops, & Tots is a monthly, 90-minute program with caregivers free to come and go as the needs of their little ones dictate. Each program has a particular theme and includes six different activities tied to the theme: Gathering, Group Experience, Song, Nature Walk, Learning Stations, and Free Play.
“Gathering” is a 15-minute block of time that accommodates children arriving at different times. Gathering includes lots of hands-on, theme-related objects for little ones to explore. “Group Experience” brings everyone together and introduces the theme for the day. Group experience includes movement activities that everyone does together and ends with everyone singing a “Song” related to the theme. During “Nature Walk” the group visits the nearby woods or creek. Along the way they come across and interact with props and equipment that have been staged ahead of time. At the end of the Nature Walk, children are able to move between a number of self-directed, self-paced “Learning Stations” related to the theme. These stations are hands-on opportunities for little ones to manipulate objects, complete age-appropriate art/craft projects, and further explore the theme. Children also have the opportunity for “Free Play” in the area near the Learning Stations.
What are some of the unique challenges Anchorage, Alaska presents for such a program?
Anchorage is at the confluence of urban and wildland environments. The city is Alaska’s largest urban hub and home to half the state’s population. The city is also home to large wild animals, including moose, black bears, and brown bears that move in and out of urban areas from nearby parks and other public lands. The entire city is considered “bear country” and it is possible to run into moose pretty much anywhere. Mosquitoes can be quite plentiful in some summers. Winter lasts up to six months long and may be snowy, icy, and cold. Winter temperatures may also plunge well below zero, sometimes for days on end.
People often wonder how they can take babies and toddlers outdoors safely throughout the year in this place. We built the program to account for these concerns. Moms, Pops, & Tots is designed to be conducted entirely outdoors. Sometimes we move portions of our programs indoors to account for especially inclement weather. Still, Moms, Pops, & Tots gives parents and other caregivers the opportunity to be outside with their little ones every month of the year and gives them the information, confidence, and connections with other parents to do so again on their own.
How did "Teachers on the Public Lands" help to shape your program?
The Teachers on the Public Lands program is a partnership between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the University of Colorado—Denver. Through the program, teachers work as interns on public lands during their summer breaks. The teachers help the site they’re working at by developing particular programming or curricula that can be used in the future. The teachers also learn more about place-based learning, about the site they’re working at, and about resource management in BLM.
In the summer of 2017, a local preschool teacher, Leah Babcock, worked as a “Teacher on the Public Lands” at the Campbell Creek Science Center. Leah was an outstanding graduate of iTREC (Iditarod Trail to Every Classroom), the place-based, service learning professional development program we do in cooperation with a number of different partners in Alaska. We recruited her specifically to help us think through and develop our Moms, Pops, & Tots program, turning it from a summer months-only to a year-round program. We provided her with resources we had collected, shared what we’d done in the past, and gave her freedom to develop the program. She created the basic structure of the program and fleshed out an entire year’s worth of programs, including selecting a different theme for each month. Since then, we’ve continued to adapt and build upon what she created.
What are some of the networks you tap into to reach parents?
Initially we tapped into Hike it Baby, Anchorage Mat-Su Trekkers (a local Facebook group), and Anchorage Dads Group (the local chapter of City Dads Group) to help us reach parents with program announcements. As our list of interested parents grew, we found that almost as soon as we posted a message about registration being open, the program was full and a waitlist had started! Today we announce the programs directly to parents, on our website and Twitter account, and through BLM-Alaska’s Facebook page. Recently, we have begun partnering with Imagination Library to offer events and advertise Moms, Pops, & Tots at the Science Center for Imagination Library.
To find out more about Moms, Pops, & Tots or other Campbell Creek Science Center programs, contact Luise Woelflein at [email protected]