Curious minds at play

Sixteen children ages 0-5 joined BLM Alaska Campbell Creek Science Center’s Interpretive Park Ranger Daniella Barraza and Education Technician Brad Fidel for TOTs – or Time Outside Together. TOTs, which is free and open to the public, offers hands-on guided activities to help our littlest ones connect with nature. For 90 minutes, there was no crying, no complaining, and no boredom – just curious minds at play.  

Two small children look through a magnifying glass on a nature trail outside.
A favorite activity during the September TOTs program for many of the toddlers involved closeup exploration of fungi during their nature hike. BLM photo, D. Coble

TOTs meets once a month during spring, fall, and winter seasons and twice a month during summer. The spots fill up quickly so caregivers should register as soon as programming is available.  

“One of the reasons TOTs is so popular is that it provides a structured and safe space for toddlers to connect to the natural world,” said Barraza. “An added benefit is it also provides learning opportunities for caregivers on how to guide their toddler through nature-based play on national public lands.” 

A caregiver and two small children enjoy curious explorations of a soggy mushroom.
A caregiver and two small children enjoy curious explorations of a soggy mushroom. BLM photo, D. Coble

 Themes typically include Creek Explorers, insects, growing plants, bears, trees, textures in nature, dinosaurs, forest animals, preparing for winter, and more.  

This week’s theme was seasonal changes. Barraza led the group in a sing-along to “What’s Your Favorite Color” while Fidel strummed along on the guitar. It wasn’t long before tots and caregivers alike were singing along to the colorful tune. Next, was story time. Fidel gathered his audience and read, “One Leaf, Two Leaves Count With me” by John Miklos, Jr. 

A man is on bended knee in the green grass playing a guitar while a woman with outstretched arms kneels in the same green grass singing
BLM Alaska Campbell Creek Science Center’s Education Technician Brad Fidel (left) and Interpretive Park Ranger Daniella Barraza (right) lead the TOTs participants in a sing-along. BLM photo, D. Coble

The song and the book helped the children prepare for their nature walk down Squirrel Maze Trail. The goal – gather autumn objects in a spectrum of colors. The tots chose from an assortment of binoculars, brightly colored buckets, magnifying glasses and more to help them find and explore their discoveries. 

There was a bit of excitement when a slight breeze blew through the trees, “Look! Falling leaves!” erupted simultaneously from many participants as the children scurried across the path to collect the fallen treasures. Others stopped to investigate the plentiful varieties of moss, lichen, and mushrooms. Some chose to put their findings in a bucket, while others decided to leave them rest where they were, and others still wanted only to collect magnifying glasses.  

A small toddler girl wearing all pink holds a blue plastic toy magnifying glass up to her eyes. Her other hand holds a green plastic magnifying glass.
A TOTs participant checks out the adequacy of the magnifying glasses prior to the nature hike. BLM photo, D. Coble

 At the end of the nature hike, some toddlers made leaf necklaces, others ran in the lush, green, open field for a classic game of chase, and a few made their way to the various arts and crafts areas. 

A small girl wearing a bright yellow rain coat helps her mom string leaves on a blue cord.
A parent and child string together collected autumn leaves to make a leaf necklace during September’s TOTs program. BLM photo, D. Coble

That’s the beauty of TOTs. It’s time outside together learning about nature and the environment that surrounds us. Though the activities are guided, they are always an individual experience filled with limitless discoveries. These experiences are not only enriching to the young people who participate. They also help build bridges between BLM Alaska and our neighbors across the state, creating the community engagement and connections we need to better manage Alaska’s national public lands. And just maybe, one of these young people will grow up to be a public land manager. 

The Campbell Creek Science Center engages all learners in outdoor experiences that increase appreciation, connection, and stewardship of Alaska’s public lands and natural resources. If you’d like additional information on CCSC’s TOTs and other public programming, please visit the Campbell Creek Science Center activity calendar or call (907) 267-1258. 


<Deborah Coble>, <Acting CCSC Manager>

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