Have you ever watched a children’s movie in which the writers have inserted something funny that only adults would get? I doubt they do this for the benefit of the 2-year-old with a 40-year-old’s sense of humor; they do it because they know that you, as the parent, are captive and have probably seen the same cartoon movie eight times that day so why not make it interesting for you, too? We can do the same on refuges! Some adults may not have experience with refuges but if we advertise children’s programs, parents too will come and they too will learn. It is a great way to build community engagement, gain support, deliver your message and get the whole family speaking on behalf of the refuge system! That, my friends, is strategic communication.
Me Gusta La Flora y Fauna
I was babysitting my 18-month-old niece the other day and she had recently discovered the marvels of the iPad. She comes from an English and Spanish-speaking home so her iPad programs were also bilingual. She pointed at the characters and widened her eyes in amazement at the stories being told. All of a sudden I realized I was also engaged and I was beefing up on long-unpracticed Spanish-language skills. It made me want to go home and practice some more! This got me thinking. If we want people to come out to the refuge, hear our message and become eager to learn and do more, why not start with the one thing that they love most, their kids?
The Kids are the Key
At Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge we hold an annual event called the Grassland Fair (pictured to the left and below). On a typical winter day if we get 40 visitors, it has been busy. The Grassland Fair every November brings nearly 400! The fair features land management agency booths, local artisans, expert presentations on local wildlife, local food vendors and of course music. This event location is the perfect venue for bringing the community together to hear about the refuge, our opportunities, our challenges and the ways they can get involved. The kids are the eager key to unlocking these opportunities.
The Sneak Attack
In recent years, we have increased the number of children’s activities. We have archery lessons presented by our law enforcement officers, who can also speak to parents about refuge regulations. Our fire district has a fire truck where kids can honk the horn and spray water while the fire fighters talk to parents about the benefits of prescribed burns. We have wildlife-themed arts and crafts in which the kids can spend some time exploring their imaginations while the parents explore the land management agency booths and speak to staff members about refuge updates. We have an art contest where winners from each grade category are awarded a pair of binoculars and a later-scheduled wildlife presentation in their classrooms. Each child goes home with a goodie bag full of material about the refuge that they can share with their parents. The kids have a blast, the parents learn something new, and a seed is planted for the refuge system for how parents, too, might get involved.
Lives get busy and it is hard to make an hour trip into the middle of “nowhere” to take a chance on what a wildlife refuge has to offer. Events get people out and events featuring children’s activities get the whole family out! If you have a message to share, if you want to build community rapport, if you want the support of your community during a future controversial event, get the kids to the refuge. You will have the benefit of reaching youth and the added value of reaching a new audience of adults.
Plus, by getting out on the refuge, parents might thank you for only having enough time to watch that cartoon movie four times that day.