A new offering at the Wildcat Hills Nature Center has special meaning to the person who implemented it. It is a new checkout program for sensory backpacks.

Amanda Filipi, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission outdoor education specialist who is based at the center, said she learned of sensory backpacks after her nephew was diagnosed on the autism spectrum.

“I read about the sensory backpacks popping up in several different places across the nation, like museums and zoos,” she said. “I figure, why not our nature center?”

While leading hundreds of children on field trips and programs each year, Filipi sometimes encounters children who might benefit from such an offering. She compiled the materials for the backpacks and made them available for checkout free of charge at the center’s front desk earlier this month.

The backpack’s contents are designed to both stimulate the senses and serve as a calming kit for youth who face anxiety during field trips and other busy events at the center. They include sunglasses, noise dampening earmuffs, books and a variety of sensory toys. The backpacks complement a number of quiet spaces that have been designated in the building.

“I want to make sure all of our visitors feel welcome at our center or our programs, including my nephew,” she said.

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