Families with little ones starting to get cabin fever might consider checking out two Dakota County nature centers for after-dinner entertainment.
Lebanon Hills in Eagan and Dodge Nature Center in West St. Paul both feature monthly family nights, with environmental education and recreational and cultural activities.
Family Fridays at Lebanon Hills
Lebanon Hills Regional Park invites families out to its cozy visitor center on the first Friday of each month for Forever Wild Family Fridays.
In March, the park partners with the Dakota County Libraries to present the Katha Dance Theater. The event, titled "Dance, Music, Myth and Legends," allows visitors to "learn about the storytellers of ancient India, who also used dance to tell their tales," said Outdoor Education Coordinator Autumn Hubbell.
On April 5, they will present "This Land," a performance of Woody Guthrie songs by performer/guitarist Charlie Maguire. As the weather starts to warm, they will have nature-themed bingo (May 3), karaoke around the campfire (June 7) and a geocaching "treasure hunt." Sept. 6 features Northwoods Animal Tales with storyteller Kevin Strauss.
"They're interactive," Hubbell said of the family nights. "Kids get to sing, dance."
The hour-long programs begin at 7 p.m., and from 8 to 8:30, visitors enjoy toasting marshmallows over the bonfire and making s'mores. "If it's snowing, that doesn't stop anyone," Hubbell said.
"It's a fun way to get people out in the evening," she said. "It's really focused on the family. If there's babies involved, that's great. Grandparents come out. Families come early and go for a hike or spend time on the sledding hill."
She said they started the series because they wanted to get people out to enjoy the park in the evenings and because they "wanted to provide an affordable option for family entertainment for our community. It is a free night out for the whole family."
"Nature After Dinner" at Dodge Nature Center
The Dodge Nature Center's "Nature After Dinner" program starts in March and runs through October. Each month, one weeknight features a family program on a different topic — insects, pond creatures, deer and the moon, for example. Kids can do related hands-on activities and explore the center's prairies, ponds and woodlands.
The series, which started in 2010, is "truly a parent-child program," said Mick Garrett, naturalist and day camp coordinator. "I think they really like that they can interact with their kids. I don't want the parents just sitting in the back.
"After the program is done, I encourage them to go for a walk," he said. "We've run across deer, turkeys and muskrats by the pond."
On March 14, at "Maple Syrup Time," families can learn about making sugar and syrup. April 11 features "Cold-Blooded Adventure" and focuses on reptiles and amphibians, and on May 9, the focus will be on "Chickens, Chickens, Everywhere."
"Most likely we'll have lots of cute little chicks then," said Garrett.
There are summer programs on raptors (June 13) and wild berries (July 11), and in August they have planned a program on butterflies. "That's when the prairie's in bloom, so you're catching a lot of butterflies," Garrett said.
The evening events, for kids ages 3 to 8, start at 6:30 and run for an hour. Cost is $5 per child; parents get in free.
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.