The Tennessee Aquarium recently hosted author, blogger and naturalist David Mizejewski – the voice of the National Wildlife Federation – in Chattanooga to promote the benefits of outdoor play and environment-based activities such as the aquarium’s Spring Break Keeper Kids program.Tennessee Aquarium Spring Break Keeper Kids program runs March 10 through April 8, 2012.
Keeper Kids, a behind-the-scenes adventure for kids ages 6 and older, offers opportunities to explore the inner-workings of the aquarium with staff members.
Held exclusively during spring break - March 10 through April 8 - kids can choose two of the 19 different activities being offered each day, including: feeding river otters and trout; making enrichment toys for parrots; exploring a fish laboratory; adventures with sharks and sea turtles; meeting husbandry staff; and behind-the-scenes with reptiles and amphibians.
Each Keeper Kid experience lasts 15 to 20 minutes and the program is free with aquarium admission.
“When kids have hands-on experiences, it makes an impression and helps them grow up into adults who have more of a context as to why protecting wildlife and habitat are so important,” says Mizejewski, the author of Attracting Birds, Butterflies and Other Backyard Wildlife and former host and co-producer of Animal Planet’s Backyard Habitat.
“If you ask anyone that works with animals or in conservation about what sparked that interest, almost always they will tell stories about direct experiences in nature from childhood and a parent or mentor who led the way and modeled that interest in the outdoors,” he says.
For Mizejewski, who spends his professional life encouraging families to spend time outdoors through the National Wildlife Federation’s “Be Out There” campaign and other programs, the cause for nature is personal. He spent much of his childhood playing outside and laments that children today are missing out on all the fun–and the benefits.
Research shows kids ages 8 to 18 spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes using entertainment media in a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). Additionally, children’s lives are often overly organized as well-intentioned parents tote them to and from school, after-school activities, sports, dance classes, clubs and social events–leaving no time for unstructured outdoor play and exploration.
“Kids are lacking that time to just be kids–to explore, play with their friends, make up their own rules, and manage themselves,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s up to parents to change this, to make outdoor time a priority in their children’s lives. Otherwise, we are robbing this generation of the opportunity to know nature.”
According to Mizejewski, making outdoor play time a part of each day is simpler than most parents believe–and the benefits are well worth the simple effort. Children who spend time outdoors are more likely to maintain healthy weight, have reduced stress levels, and develop teamwork and problem-solving skills more quickly than children who have less exposure to nature. More and more, research shows that environment-based education and time spent outdoors also boosts critical thinking and raises test scores.
The National Wildlife Federation, the largest grassroots conservation organizations in the country with over 4 million supporters and 47 state affiliates, is considered to be a voice of conservation for diverse constituencies. In 2011, the Tennessee Aquarium partnered with the National Wildlife Federation to create the Ranger Rick’s Backyard Safari, an experiential exhibit area in the River Journey building that features live animal presentations daily from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
“The missions of the National Wildlife Federation and the Tennessee Aquarium mesh so well,” says Thom Benson, Tennessee Aquarium and IMAX Theater Communications Manager. “Research shows that families use aquariums as not only a way to spend time as a family, but as a way to learn about nature together. We want to provide those experiences for families, those powerful moments when people connect with animals in a meaningful way, which is our goal with the Keeper Kids program.”
“When I was a kid, I would have loved a behind-the-scenes experience like the Keeper Kids program offers,” says Mizejewski, who blogs about wildlife for Wildlife Promise. “This could be a life-changing experience, something that influences the rest of a child’s life and choices. It’s also good for nature because you only protect what you love, and you only love what you know.”
Visit the Tennessee Aquarium’s Spring Break Keeper Kids program website to learn more or to register.