Friday, December 2, 2011

Dinosaur Train Gets Into Nature!

When I was initially invited to get involved with PBS KIDS Dinosaur Train a few years ago, I was very skeptical about working on a TV series that might further addict children to screens. After all, my focus as a science communicator is all about getting kids outside. However, following some negotiations with the Jim Henson Company (which produces the show), it was agreed that I would add an enthusiastic tag line at the close of every episode (the final version being the brainchild of my wife Toni): “Remember, get outside, get into nature, and make your own discoveries!”

At the time I had no idea if a television program could induce kids to turn off the TV and head outdoors. However, based on the hundreds of comments I’ve received from parents, I’m now convinced. I regularly hear about boys like Tommy who are always heading outdoors to dig for fossils (makes me wonder about the holes in the backyard . . .), and girls like Mary who have become avid birdwatchers (that is, dinosaur observers!). A nationwide Dinosaur Train geocaching program was added, which has also been very successful at getting kids to explore their local areas.

By the time we began production on Season 2 of Dinosaur Train, the Henson Company and PBS KIDS were equally excited about the idea of getting kids outside. Indeed it was decided that nature connection would become one of the show’s primary themes. As a result, the animated kid characters, led by Buddy the T. rex and Tiny Pteranodon, have formed their own nature club (the “Nature Trackers”) and now spend much of their time making natural history collections and firsthand observations about their surroundings.

Some kids at the beach being filmed making nature art.

Along with cool new dinosaurs, featured topics for connecting kids to nature now include plants, insects, stars, rocks, and nature art. In the interstitial portion of each episode, which I have the pleasure of hosting, we’re encouraging kids more than ever to explore local nature. In Season 1, all of the interstitials were shot on green screen in a Hollywood studio—hardly the ideal setting for encouraging nature exploration. But for Season 2, we’re featuring shoot locations out in nature (e.g., redwood forests, beautiful beaches, and tidepools burgeoning with animals), as well as in museums, often showing real children connecting to real nature!

Check out some of the new episodes and songs here, including a very cute tune called “Get Into Nature.” The award-winning website will soon be bolstered with all kinds of activities to help parents connect their kids to the natural world. Dinosaur Train has even partnered with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to help foster an entire generation of kid birdwatchers! Currently, the show is viewed in more than 9 million households a month, and appears to be gaining steam! So stay tuned and get onboard!

The Dinosaur Train Film Crew!
(The show's creator, Craig Bartlett, is second from the left in the back row.)

9 comments:

  1. Dinosaur Train is probably the most original idea in the field of children's television programs. Even here in Italy it has been broadcast on national television. I was not aware of it until a morning which, incidentally ... and at the end, when the paleontologist arrived and I recognied him, I exclaimed: "Wow, but that's Scott Sampson!" I hope that the second series follow the way of the first, and arrives here in Italy

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  2. Hey Scott,

    I've been geocaching with my kids (both 7) for awhile now and it is a great outdoor family event that brings us to some amazing places that we would normally miss out on. Awesome to see Dinosaur Train promoting this activity.

    -Bill

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  3. Scott: a well-deserved recognition! Talked to a bunch of 4th graders about dinosaurs last Friday; the thing that universally got the most interest is when I said that I knew Dr. Scott! :-)

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  4. Scott - what a great focus that has become. I will find a way to include a similar encouragement to get outside and explore with presentations I give. It's a movement, indeed.

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  5. Thank you all very much for your kind comments. At this point, it feels like the Train has taken on a life of its own, and I'm just holdin' on for dear life!

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  6. Hi Scott Sampson,

    My name is Ben Chasteen and I am the Science/Technology editor at Before It's News, a people-powered news site serving over 4 million people a month. We publish over 4,000 user-generated posts each day at BeforeItsNews.com.

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    Before It's News
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    Mill Valley, CA 94941
    ben(AT)beforeitsnews(DOT)com
    www.beforeitsnews.com

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  7. I found your blog via Twitter and was interested in it before I I realized that you are DR. SCOTT! My boys love Dinosaur Train, and I love the show too. I don't worry too much about their screen time (though sometimes it is more than I wish) because I make sure they get outside A LOT, and their day is filled with plenty of other activities too. And I think watching educational shows like Dinosaur Train has fostered their creativity and desire to learn. My boys love to go outside to hunt for "snakes" and "dinosaurs." Thanks for being such a good role model.

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  8. My six year old loves Dinosaur train! She knows all the dinosaur species and their featured on the show by heart. In fact, in the last couple of days she is giving me suggestion which episodes of dinosaur train to use of explain origin of birds for my Reptiles and Bird class. This is a upper division class with all seniors and couple of grad students and I showed them an episode of dinosaur train with Confuciusornis in the class yesterday! Thanks for doing such a great job! Now she wants to be a paleontologist like Dr. Scott!

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