By Lindsey Flannery
Business Development and Marketing Coordinator, Indian Creek Nature Center
Dirt, or soil, is the lifeblood of all things green, and it’s also the world’s best classroom for kids. This is the motivation for Cedar Rapids, Iowa based Indian Creek Nature Center’s new “Get Dirty” mantra, which provides a succinct way to encourage children and families to connect to nature. By promoting “Get Dirty” in everything from its online presence to direct mailings to program themes, ICNC encourages children and families alike to engage in activities that get them moving and eating healthfully. Multiple ICNC programs and events specifically incorporate the goals of the Let’s Move initiative, all while providing a fun way for participants to “Get Dirty” and experience the wonders of nature.
This summer, children participating in ICNC’s Creek Camps are not only eating healthy snacks, they are learning about where those snacks come from by getting their hands dirty in the onsite gardens. Thanks to a partnership with Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area, ICNC employs a biology intern focused specifically on this initiative. Under the guidance of the intern and camp teachers, children help tend the gardens, observe them as they grow, and utilize them as living laboratories for hands-on learning about food and pollinators.
In the Pizza Garden children will help plant, water, weed and harvest the tomatoes, onions, peppers, basil and other herbs that will eventually make it to their lunch plates. As a culminating experience they make healthy pizzas with the veggies they pick, and fire their pizzas in the Nature Center’s new onsite clay pizza oven. In the Butterfly Hoop House pollinator garden they get to see the lifecycle of a monarch butterfly, from tiny white eggs on milkweed through caterpillar, pupae, and emerging butterfly, to learn about the importance of pollinators in the food cycle.
To challenge the whole family to be physically active, in 2014 ICNC added the Sweet Trail Run to its annual Honey Fest celebration. The trail run encourages families to get moving together as they run or walk a dynamic course, winding through woods and prairies and along Indian Creek. Afterward, they can visit Honey Fest’s educational stations and tour the Nature Center’s apiary to learn how bees make honey, from nectar all the way to the bottled raw honey available for sale in the Center’s Creekside Shop. ICNC also offers one of Iowa’s leading beekeeping series each year; those students participate in Honey Fest and help involve event attendees, including many children, in the process of harvesting honey.
Ultimately, ICNC knows that children who develop a passion for nature are more likely to protect and advocate for the world’s valuable natural resources throughout their lives. Providing hands-on, interactive experiences that incorporate physical activity and healthy eating help people get excited about what they are learning. This, in turn, builds the foundation for a lifelong love of nature – and as an extension, an active and healthy life. The goals of the Let’s Move initiative are simple: eat healthfully, get active, and take action – all things that make the program a natural fit for nature centers.