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Mother nature a great teacher

Local outdoor opportunities for the entire family

Posted: October 13, 2008 9:23 p.m.
Updated: December 15, 2008 5:00 a.m.

From water activities at Castaic Lake to hiking at Vazquez Rocks Natural Area, the Santa Clarita Valley offers a variety of outdoor opportunities for both children and parents.

 

When it comes to teaching kids about nature, parents can turn a park into a classroom, a park ranger into a teacher and hiking into homework.

By exposing kids to nature as early as possible, children can appreciate the natural world and learn about the environment first hand.

Why nature?
"Teaching them to appreciate nature is really the main focus," said Frank Hoffman, recreations services supervisor and education director at Placerita Canyon Nature Center.

"We want to make sure that we can do everything we can do to get kids into the environment," Hoffman said.

Understanding the environment means kids will understand the importance of recycling and saving energy, he said.

And hiking is a great way to exercise.

"The U.S. is fighting obesity more than any other country in the world," said Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel, president of the Community Hiking Club.

Instead of jogging on a treadmill or riding an indoor bike, Erskine-Hellrigel said families can have fun exercising together by hiking.

Getting outside as soon as possible will reduce what she calls "nature deficit disorder," which is a "complete detachment from anything natural or wild," she said.

The sooner kids are exposed to the natural world, the sooner they will show an interest in helping the environment when they are older, she said.

A different lesson
Interacting with Mother Nature gives kids a different appreciation for the earth and how to treat it with respect as they continue to grow.

Kids can feel the wind on their face, see a hawk flying in the sky and smell the sages of the outdoors, Hoffman said.

"I totally incorporate all the senses when I lead my hikes," he said. "I engage all of their senses from sight and smell to touch."

The experience is also engaging for parents.

"While I think I'm talking to children, I get parents with open ears," he said.

In many instances, Hoffman said parents who visited Placerita Nature Center when they were kids bring their own families.

"I see a lot of grandparents here bringing children," he said.

How to meet nature
The Santa Clarita Valley is home to acres of open space and parks, which serve as perfect locations for families to learn about nature together.

At the Placerita Canyon Nature Center, parents and kids can take part in weekly family hikes, Hoffman said.

Other activities include a weekly animal presentation, beginning birder lessons and a junior ranger program.

Next month, Placerita will bring back its camp fire program where families can learn about nature while sipping hot chocolate and eating snacks.

As junior rangers, kids can learn about everything involving the environment, Hoffman said.

The experience can also teach children how to interact with dangerous animals and plants, Hoffman said.
But with dozens of county and city parks, families have many options of where they want to learn about nature, ranging from Castaic Lake to Vasquez Rocks Natural Area.

Even visiting the farm animals at William S. Hart Park and Museum can introduce kids to undomesticated animals.

"There's a myriad of opportunities," he said.

Erskine-Hellrigel teaches an eco class and hosts hikes for kids frequently.

"They really need to bond with nature," she said.

However Erskine-Hellrigel reminds parents that they need to keep track of their kids when they go hiking.
Other ways include writing an eco journal about what kids spot in the natural world, she said.

No matter what program families participate in, it comes down to just being outside.

"This is better than watching TV," Hoffman said. "This is real life."

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