MDC’s Cape Nature Center program takes the guesswork out of exploring nature with tots

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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. -- It can be difficult to know the best methods to introduce little ones to nature. Should he play with that rock? What if she eats dirt? How much do they understand at two and under anyway? There’s a program at the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center that takes the worry out of the “should and should nots” of exploring nature with a tot. The Tadpoles class, led by naturalist Michelle Randecker, is designed with this age group in mind.

Parents can bring their newborn to two year olds to monthly Tadpoles events for shared nature experiences with their little ones. In the early stages of development, Randecker said children are learning from direct and repeated experiences provided by parents.  Parents can encourage their children to “Feel the crunchy leaf! Listen! What sound does it make?” which helps young ones begin to pay attention to details in nature, she said.

“Getting out in nature is a free way to share experiences and reinforce learning concepts such as numbers, colors, changes, and tactile, auditory and also kinesthetic growth,” Randecker said.

Randecker will lead the group in a program about coyotes on Saturday, April 30. “Yip, Yip, Hooray” will focus in on coyote pups that are born this time of year. Little ones will hear about coyote homes, food and communication through a short puppet skit. They’ll hear coyote sounds, sing a song, and do activities.

The Tadpoles program will teach about camping on Saturday, May 28. These littlest nature lovers will practice camping, explore common camping supplies and listen to some camping stories to help them warm up to the idea of camping out in nature.

Both programs require registration, which begins at the beginning of the month of the scheduled program. Call the Cape Nature Center at (573)290-5218 to register.

Randecker said for those who can’t make it to these events, simply taking toddlers along for short hikes, looking for bugs on trees or planting flowers in a flower bed all count as shared nature experiences that will open up a whole new world for even the youngest tot.

“One of the keys to success with little ones in nature is to follow their interests, so being in nature is all about learning through fun exploration,” Randecker said. “If your child is interested in rocks and not flowers today, that’s great! They may like flowers next week.”

For a full list of nature events at the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center go online to