As naturalist at George Owens Nature Park in Independence, Melanie Haney gets to help expose young children to the outdoors in an educational way.
That includes the weekly summer program Nature Story Time, held over 12 Thursday mornings. Normally, children generally ages 3 to 8 would hear the stories on outside patio before Haney engages them in an outdoors-related craft or activity.
On this particular Thursday, the chance of rain led to indoor stories and craft creation – in this case a little hummingbird feeder – though children and adults still had a chance to walk the George Owens grounds and notice hummingbirds.
“I love getting the kids outside,” Haney said. “That's the whole thing: Let's get out and explore.”
“Like most people, I really enjoy the reactions we get out of them.”
Kristan Whipple from the Kansas City Public Library system often reads to the children, but Thursday marked one of the times Clare Hollander filled in.
“We all share,” Hollander said about reading children's stories for Nature Story Time and similar programs elsewhere. “Everybody loves it.”
Next is some activity that Haney organizes, such as using a net to catch a butterfly or little goldfish, or creating little feeders to attract a certain bird.
“She's got everything timed,” Nature Center attendant Donald Andes said. “Like, this week there's hummingbirds out; last week they did butterflies.”
Angie Jenkins said she's been bringing her children to Nature Story Time for a few years, and with her youngest in a stroller, she could well be coming back for several more years.
“They like crafts and outdoor activities, like catching fish or looking for beaver homes,” she said
“And tadpoles!” piped in her little son.
“We've missed some this year with summer camps, but it's a summer tradition,” Jenkins said.
Haney said her five years as naturalist have been the best job she's had, in part because she's helping children learn in a fun way, such that they might not even realize they're learning.
“This year, there's not as many crafts,” she said. Instead, it's more “Let's get nets and catch stuff.”
“At this age, they're like sponges with legs,” Haney said. “It's kind of organic, with kids and nature. They're meant for each other.”