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Refuge, DDWS and Sanibel Sea School turn to tech to stay connected to public

By Staff | Mar 31, 2020

With most programs and activities canceled or suspended due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, some island entities are tapping into modern technology to engage, entertain and educate the public.

Recently, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge debuted programs for stay-at-home families and individuals designed at keeping them in touch with nature and engaged in calming educational activities during the virus outbreak.

The #DingAtHome digital engagement involves virtual experiences – for all ages – that can be accessed via the DDWS site at dingdarlingsociety.org/articles/ding-at-home and on social media.

Along the same line, the Sanibel Sea School’s education team has launched remote education opportunities for stay-at-home families. Called Nature Near You, the engagement includes hands-on experiential education that can be accessed remotely and is designed for backyards anywhere.

Available via its Website at www.sanibelseaschool.org/nature-near-you, Nature Near You aims to encourage backyard exploration and discovery with fun nature-based activities to do at home.

PHOTO PROVIDED The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge debuted programs online and on social media for stay-at-home families and individuals.


In initiating the digital engagement, refuge officials pointed to the COVID-19 situation.

“Learning about nature is always important for kids and adults alike,” Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland said in a statement. “During this challenging climate of social distancing and self-isolation, it becomes crucial that we nourish our souls with the beauty and wonder of wildlife and its habitat.”

People can follow the refuge’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/dingdarlingrefuge, which will feature daily themed activity videos. Posted at 10 a.m. Monday through Friday, the schedule is:

– Movement Monday: Wildlife-themed yoga and other exercises

PHOTO PROVIDED The educators at the Sanibel Sea School are offering activities appropriate for social distancing like nature journaling.

– Tales on Tuesday: Nature story reading

– Wildlife Wednesday: Learn fun facts about a specific animal

– Trail Thursday: Outdoor scavenger hunt

– Fun-Time Friday: Craft demonstrations and at-home experiments

In addition, DDWS will post on its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/dingdarling a 30-second video each day in the afternoon highlighting the refuge’s wildlife and serene beauty for people.

Visitors to the Website can download nature-themed activity books and craft ideas. It also archives links from the refuge’s activity videos and the 2020 “Ding” Darling Lecture Series broadcasts.

“Education is not something we can let slide just because our Visitor & Education Center is closed and our programs sidelined for visitor safety,” Westland said. “We look forward to connecting with our peeps and connecting them with nature through the miracle of electronics.”


Officials at the Sanibel Sea School reported that their goal is to engage youths with nature learning while they are away from school, while also helping to lighten the burden for homeschooling parents.

“We have always been a close-to-the-ground institution, that looks for super simple ways to help both kids and adults better understand the complexities of nature,” Director of Education Dr. Bruce Neill said in a statement, adding that the staff is running on its creativity and passion for nature and youths.

“They want to find ways to help our community and still remain sheltered at home,” he said. “We are all immersed in nature; sometimes we overlook what is at the backdoor – this is our chance to help us all stop and take a look at the awe that surrounds us.”

Nature Near You includes weekly activities and lessons that are emailed to subscribers on Monday, Wednesday and Friday with a large range of topics. To sign up or check them out, visit the Website online.

“Our goal is to help parents that are working from home with science-based content that can keep kids engaged and also to encourage kids to get out into nature,” Education Manager Shannon Stainken said in a statement. “The educators are excited to use social media, like Facebook Live and Instagram stories, to do Creature Features and interactive lessons.”

Operations Manager Nicole Finnicum encouraged the community to spread the word.

“We are hoping that parents will share this with their friends and family members, so that we can have a broad reach,” she said in a statement, adding that it is great to see the Sanibel Sea School’s team come together and “work hard to fill a need within our community during a time of crisis.”