Visiting Great Bend’s Brit Spaugh Zoo may be good for your health – physical and mental.
Danielle Ricklefs, who joined the staff last December as the zoo’s education coordinator, spoke at a recent Great Bend Noon Kiwanis meeting, where she described a condition, known as Nature Deficit Disorder. Although not officially recognized in medical manuals for mental disorders, the condition was described in the 2005 book “Last Child in the Woods,” by Richard Louv. He notes that many people – especially children – aren’t spending enough time outdoors, and suggests this leads to a wide range of behavioral problems.
“We’re one generation away from losing any connection to nature,” Ricklefs warned. “Kids don’t know nature.”
The zoo pulls young people away from the video screen and back to nature, in much the same way that “Kids Ag Day,” sponsored by the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce, reconnects them to agriculture by letting them spend a day on a farm. A generation ago, most children were exposed to farms, and woods, through family outings. In the 21st Century, such connections cannot be taken for granted.
Visiting the zoo is an easy way to come in contact with nature and get some fresh air. Ricklefs’ job is to also make it a fun, educational experience. The zoo now offers educational programs and live animal shows tailored for children from preschool through grade 12.
Programs may include live animals, crafts, video or lectures. The zoo can offer guided tours or travel to program sites.
Ricklefs comes to Great Bend from The Museum of World Treasures in Wichita, where she was education director. Before that, she worked as a zookeeper at Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, and as an education specialist at the Topeka Zoo. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in anthropology from Washburn University, and went on to earn her master’s in biological anthropology, specializing in orangutan biology.
Having a zoo educator is something that was needed for Brit Spaugh Zoo to earn accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Zoo Director Scott Gregory noted. “Danielle’s background in education and anthropology makes her the perfect candidate for this job, plus she has relationships with other fellow Kansas zoo educators,” Gregory said when she was hired. “We are excited to bring such an energetic and motivated individual on board to help drive the message of conservation through education.”
Ricklefs said her first goal is to spread the word about environmental and conservation programs. She plans to create relationships with the schools and help enhance curriculum with hands-on programs that meet Kansas education standards.
Brit Spaugh Zoo offers dual programming with the Kansas Wetlands Education Center, she noted.
For more information about the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo or the zoo educator,visit www.greatbendzoo.com. Ricklefs can be contacted at 620-793-4226.