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!