Nebraska Project WILD


A Mid-Winters Nature Challenge January 25, 2017

Happy New Year from Nebraska Project WILD!  How has everyone been feeling?  Have the winter blues gotten ahold of you?  Is cabin fever making you twitchy?   Well folks, even though our days are slowly filling with more light we still have eight weeks till the first day of spring.

I’m not gonna lie.  Neither I nor my children have been getting outside and reaping the benefits nature has to offer as much as I know is necessary for the emotional stability of my family.  I am an outdoor educator for crying out loud.  I know better and I wholly and completely subscribe to the theory, and mounting supportive research, that spending time in nature has a profound positive effect on emotional health.  As we all know emotional health is a key ingredient to happiness and contentment, therefore I pay close attention to the emotional health of myself and those I love.

Ah, but the allure of technological illumination can be a sneaky temptress.  Although my family does go entire days without staring at a screen, compared to the average American who spends about 9 hours a day, we tend to indulge during the cold months.  Between work and school, I have been finding the precious hours I have with my kids slowly eaten up by screen time.  I can see the tell-tale symptoms of what some call, direct attention fatigue.  What’s that?  Direct attention fatigue you ask?  Well let’s take a moment:

“Directed attention fatigue (DAF) is a neurological symptom which occurs when the inhibitory attention system, that part of the brain which allows us to concentrate in the face of distractions, becomes fatigued. Signs of directed attention fatigue include temporarily feeling unusually distractible, impatient, forgetful, or cranky when there is no associated illness. In more severe forms, it can lead to bad judgment, apathy, or accidents, and can contribute to increased stress levels. DAF is caused by concentrating too much in the midst of external or internal distractions. Inhibitory attention chemicals are replenished during sleep, so lack of sleep can increase the likelihood of directed attention fatigue.”

Furthermore, studies have linked television watching to ADHD. Researchers at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle determined, ”…that each hour of TV watched per day by preschoolers increases by 10 percent the likelihood that they will develop concentration problems and other symptoms of attention-deficit disorders (ADDs) by age 7.”   Although our understanding of the links between overuse of screen time and ADD/ADHD symptoms is not entirely clear having any of the associated symptoms does not sound like a recipe for family bliss.

The point is, I can feel it.  I can see these symptoms creeping up on me during these dark winter months and I can see them in my children as well.  If I don’t get my act together I could be in for a full-blown winter meltdown before it’s all over which may not be the best example to set for my kids.  Not to mention I have a fully fledged, in the midst of all things hormonal, teenager.  Aren’t they prone to meltdowns every other day? Since I share their time with their father, I will also have to employ some time management skills as well.

I am searching for a prescription for that which ails me.  So I have enlisted the help of Richard Louv. In his book “Last Child in the Woods” he coined the phrase Nature Deficit Disorder or, to add another acronym, NDD.  Nature Deficit Disorder describes, “…the human costs of our detachment from the natural world which symptoms include, diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.”   His most recent book “Vitamin N: 500 Ways to Enrich the Health and Happiness of Your Family and Community and Combat Nature Deficit Disorder” stirred up a host of Vitamin N nature challenges amongst outdoor families across the country. Louv has described the ailment and prescribed an antidote.


Time Outdoors is Time Well Spent



Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do: Risk Assessment August 15, 2016

The words ‘risk’ and ‘children’ rarely seem to fit comfortably in the same sentence.  Well-meaning parents, myself included, do all we can to protect the most innocent from what we perceive as risk.  We bandage every scrape.  We make them aware of every potential danger they can’t possibly see. We careful, careful, careful, careful them to death.  We remove every possible hazard within a two-mile radius. We shelter our children from all risk.   What happens then, when those children inevitably go out into the world and have not developed the skills to asses and evaluate risk?  Are we doing an entire generation of children a disservice?

I would like to stake a claim…to be faced with risky situations allows for the development of risk assessment.  Huh? What’s this risk assessment thing you’re talking about lady? Don’t worry it’s very simple.

  1. “Hey risk, there you are.”
  2. “Hmmm, what’s at stake here, what are the dangers and what are the consequences?”
  3. “Do I want to avoid this risk, or can I figure out an appropriate way to take this risk?”

Taking risks may have a bad rap but risk taking doesn’t have to equate with recklessness.  We all took risks when learning how to walk. We take risks when applying for jobs, when choosing who to love, when trying a new topping on our pizza or reading a book from an author we’ve not read before. Taking risks is a leap into the unknown where we continually gather information and data on our successes and failures based on our goals.

Childhood is the time when risk assessment begins its development and within that time-frame, play is where children do most of their learning.  Outdoor play specifically provides those risky challenges that nurture healthy judgement of success. I’m talking about the kind of play that can fill a parent with anxiety and make them prone to redirecting play to something ‘safer’.  Tree climbing, poking at the campfire, playing by or (oh my word) in water, jumping from high places, running through tall grass all pose relative risk.  It is within this play when children are challenged and learn to assess potential negatives or dangers , cuz mom, you aren’t always gonna be there to point those things out.

Tree climbing, for example, can test a child’s strengths, their limits and provide learning about injury.  Injury doesn’t need to be traumatic brain injury.  Exposure to small injuries such as scrapes from tree bark or jabs from tree branches or even broken arms,  are a collection of experiential learning that can actually lead to the prevention of a fall that could be more serious.  Children will want to climb that tree and someday we may not be there to tell them ‘NO it’s not safe’.  Children engaged in risk during childhood play cultivate their understanding of cause and effect while nurturing their development of risk assessment. Should allow them the space to learn or shelter them?

Ironically, children have a natural curiosity and connection to ‘risky’ outdoor play.  Outdoor play is not a structured, sterilized plastic playground regulated by safety standards.  These types of play spaces do not ‘reflect the developmental needs of children, but rather the goal is to prevent or reduce risk’.   How many of you have seen children playing on a piece of equipment in a way that was not its intended use?  These kiddos are bored and seeking out experiences that create elated emotional states, test their boundaries and challenge their minds and bodies.

When a child climbs to the very top of a dirt mound with every intention of jumping, the outcome is uncertain. Childhood experiences with uncertainty create familiarity with the associated emotions, potentially anxiety and fear.  If one is to face uncertainty then one is prepared to be wrong and learn from that experience.  It takes persistence and courage to learn from our mistakes and try again until we achieve the desired outcomes in spite of our fears.

As that same child is deciding if this jump is gonna hurt, or maybe checking out  different places from which to launch that may be more appropriate to meet her goals, that child may also be experiencing fear.  Fear is nothing to fear.  Studies support repeated exposure to ‘fear-inducing’ situations during play, develop within a child, the ability to cope.  One study reported, “…rats deprived of play during critical development periods resulted in excessive fear, inappropriate aggression and exaggerated emotional reactions to stressful situations.”  I would like to point out here; the leading mental disorder among children and adolescents is anxiety. Would it not be wonderful if outdoor play could be part of a remedy to this epidemic?


Fall Fun November 30, 2015

Filed under: Fall,Nature Activities,Uncategorized — projectwild @ 12:27 PM

Fall is a wonderful time of year to get those youngsters outdoors playing in the fresh air and learning about nature!  There are many activities that parents can do with their children, or teachers with their students.  Fall is the time when leaves start to change color and drop from the trees, many animals start their migration south for the winter, and some animals stay around and collect food for winter.


Image source:


There are many activities that children can do outside to learn about nature and wildlife.  Take the kiddos out to collect different types of leaves, help them identify the leaves and what kind of three they came from.  There are many activities you can do with fall leaves: such as experiments on how the leaves change color, leaf collages, leaf rubbings, leaf prints, and even just raking the leaves and jumping in the piles.

leaf rubbing

Image source:

Your children can also learn about the types of animals that are migrating through your area.  In the fall many species of birds make the trip south and you can help children listen and watch for them, and try to identify them.  You can use binoculars; either ones from the store or ones that the children have made (toilet paper tubes, string, tape, and crayons are all you need!) to look for different birds and mammals in your area.

So get those kids outside and excited to learn about nature and wildlife!  Everything you need is out there waiting…


Exploring Nature Close to Home March 26, 2015

Filed under: Nature Activities — projectwild @ 3:02 PM
Tags: ,

Seasonal Changes

Spring has sprung! And that means it is a great time to get out and explore nature. Many people have a mindset that they must go to nature, that nature is a thing that you visit and then leave. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Nature is all around us! As spring progresses, take your kids out often to explore the changes. Notice with the trees start getting their leaves, which types of flowers are starting to bloom, and what kind of birds and insects you are starting to see.

Native Garden

Growing Native

Gardening for Wildlife

Do you like to garden? Get the kids involved with creating a wildlife garden! You and your children can research native plants that would do well in your yard conditions and select your favorite to plant. Have them draw their design ideas, and together create a master plan. By involving them in the process, they will feel more ownership for the garden and this will increase the lasting care and interest of the project.

Planning for your garden

Planning for your garden

The use of native plants is a great way to create a beautiful space while attracting and helping local wildlife. Native plants are adapted to the local conditions; this is ideal because they require less water and are more useful for native wildlife. By adding a bird feeder and/or watering tray to your garden, you can attract even more wildlife! Below are some links to great Nebraska native plant resources.

Nebraska Statewide Arboretum-

Nebraska Native Plant Society-

Finke Gardens & Nursery-

Don’t have room for a full garden? You can plant natives in pots too! See the links below for more details!

Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens-

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center-


Encouraging Observation March 10, 2015

Filed under: Educator Resources,Nature Activities — projectwild @ 3:53 PM

As the season starts to shift from winter to spring, it is a great time to encourage observation and awareness of nature in your children- and yourself! Take note of the new plants peeking out of the mud, the different bird species returning or migrating through the area, and the (hopefully!) the warming temperatures.  Below are a few ideas to help encourage observation.

Nature Scavenger Hunt

A nature scavenger hunt is a fun way to encourage observation in your children. You can find nature scavenger hunt pages to print online, or you can make one yourself. You can include items that are relevant to the season or to a certain subject. Remember to make your scavenger hunt age appropriate, one way is to use pictures for the younger children and words or phrases for the older ones. When coming up with items, think outside the box. Leave some items open ended. For example, instead of a specific item such as a stick or bird, ask them to find something that is a certain color or shape and see what they come up with.


Keep a Phenology Journal

When did the Black-eyed Susan bloom this year? When did the waterfowl migrate through your area? Keeping a phenology journal is a great way to encourage observation and note changes over time. This project can be as simple or detailed as you like.  One easy way to is to make a quick note of these events on you calendar. Or you can keep a more detailed journal noting more information such as date, weather, and notable variations  from the previous seasons. You can even join a phenology citizen science program like Nature’s Notebook ( )and contribute to scientific research!

Play I SPY Nature

Put a nature spin on an old classic. Tell participants they are only allowed to choose items from nature. This is a simple way to observe nature. Best of all this game can be played anywhere you have a view of the outside world; from the classroom window, at the park, or even in your car!

With our busy schedules it can be easy to ignore or take for granted the amazing cycles and changes in nature. Taking a moment to note the small changes in the seasons, the migration of birds, or the growth of a plant helps us stay connected to the natural world around us.



I love Geese! February 19, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — projectwild @ 12:41 PM

Okay so most people think I’m nuts when I say that I actually like Canada Geese.   Yes, I know they are messy and loud, and a little pesty at times, but they are a bird that we see very regularly in Nebraska, and let’s be honest, they are awesome to listen to when there is a whole flock of them. Copy and paste this URL to listen:

Many times when doing birding adventures with people, especially if we are by a pond or lake, you are able to spot some Geese.  And even though Cardinals, and Chickadees are fantastic birds, it is nice to see a large bird be immobile for more than a few seconds.  By the time kids get their binoculars out, and focused, the bird they were trying to look at has vanished.  But Canada Geese actually sit there for awhile!


Here are some interesting facts about Canada Geese:

  • Geese love pretty much any habitat that is near water; ponds, streams, airports, open lawns, parks, etc.
  • During the spring and summer months they spend their days foraging on things like grasses, skunk cabbage, eelweed, and sedges.  In winter they rely more on berries, seeds, and agricultural grain.
  • Canada Geese are especially fond of Blueberries.
  • These birds will make their nests in a large cup shape, somewhere high where they can deter predators from eating their eggs, or them.
  • Most of the time these geese will be in large flocks, or family groups, often times being related to part of their flock.
  • Canada Geese usually mate for life and have very low “divorce rates.”
  • Females will lay one clutch per year and have around 2-8 baby chicks.
  • When the hatchlings are born they look very different in color compared to the mother and father.  Chicks are usually a bright to dull yellow color, but as they get older they will lose that and gain the black and white pattern.

If you and your kids and or students would like to get involved by monitoring these birds, and other birds in Nebraska join eBird.  At eBird you can do the following things and become a citizen scientist.

  • Record the birds you see
  • Keep track of your bird lists
  • Explore dynamic maps and graphs
  • Share your sightings and join the eBird community
  • Contribute to science and conservation


Five Under Five February 17, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — projectwild @ 9:10 AM

In today’s life it’s obvious to see that people are busy, not only are people busy, but children are busier and more overscheduled then they have ever been.  So, when we do our workshops it’s a huge concern for us if we are really reaching people for the long haul, or are we just motivating them for 2 or 3 months to do outdoor education and then they shove their Project WILD book in their closet never to be used again?  We may never really know.  Just last week someone was telling me that they found new Project WILD books at a garage sale last year, that pretty much made my heart drop.

So how important exactly is a short nature hike through a prairie? It’s one of the most burning education questions of the decade, and, according to experts, a lack of routine contact with nature may result in stunted academic and developmental growth. This unwanted side-effect of the electronic age is called Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD).  The term was coined by author Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods in order to explain how our societal disconnect with nature is affecting today’s children. Louv says we have entered a new era of suburban sprawl that restricts outdoor play, in conjunction with a plugged-in culture that draws kids indoors.

As environmental educators we know that sometimes children just do not want to go outside.  They would rather sit in the comfort of their room, and watch the latest episode of the newest tv series on Netflix.  But, even if children go out for 20 minutes a day, heck even five minutes a day, that is better than nothing.

Today I am going to share with you 5 outdoor related activities to do in under 5 minutes, while still having a meaningful experience outside.

1) Sprout Your Socks: I know for a fact that my washing machine eats my sock pairs so that there always seems to be a sock missing from my pair.  Well, that extra sock you can never find a match to does not need to be needlessly thrown away. You can use it as a seed collector.  Instead of putting your sock on and then your shoe, try it the other way around with your sock on the outside of your shoe.  Then go for a quick walk outside, and when you come in see what seeds or objects have stuck to it.  Peel your sock off, put it in a plastic bag, spray a little water on it, seal it, and then hang it by a window for some light, in a few days you will have your own little garden.


2) Look Under a Rock: Probably one of the most simple things you can do. This can be a rock, or a log, or even an old piece of junk laying around your house.  Simply turn something over and observe.  You could also ask these questions to start a discussion with your child:

  • What kind of insects do you see?
  • What patterns in the dirt can you find?
  • Are there any slug trails or worm holes?

3) Wildlife Hunt:

Go out to a local park, or your backyard (depending how much time you have) and look through a habitat and see what you find, have a “Five senses scavenger hunt.”

  • What signs of life does your child hear?
  • What does the bark of a tree feel like?
  • What does that blade of grass smell like?
  • What signs of wildlife might be easy to see?

4) Raindrop Plop!

It is common to see a child stick out their tongue to catch a raindrop, but with this science activity, you can catch it and bring it inside! The materials you need include flour, a pie pan, and a rainy day. First, sift some flour into a baking pan or pie pan until it is about one inch thick and covering the pan. Take the floured pan outside and let the rain come down on the pan for about a minute. When the rain hits the pan of flour, a tiny “dough drop” is formed. These “drops” can then be sifted from the flour and examined. You can count the flour drops, compare the differences in size and shape. If you have a food scale around the kitchen, you can even compare the weight of the flour drops!

5) I love Dirt!

Dirt can be one of the most fun, and simple nature activities, because usually you can find dirt anywhere and everywhere.  Let your child explore and GET DIRTY!  Use different tools in the dirt such as buckets, paper towel rolls, Old Flowerpots, cottonballs, etc.