A few times each month, I schedule some outdoor time through naturalist-led classes and programs. My son loves these classes, and, the best part, they take the pressure off of me for a couple hours. To be honest, I can’t answer all of the questions my son asks me while we’re out wandering in nature. I’m pretty good identifying the signs of land-based animals, but, to be honest, I don’t know much about plants or trees. I haven’t learned yet how to tell one flower from another, other than the California golden poppy. Birds are confusing to me, too.
I’m OK with not knowing the answers. I experience the wonder and joy with each discovery, without feeling the need to have answers to everything. We can always pick up a book at the library on the topic or search the internet for answers. It’s beneficial, though, for kids to sometimes receive immediate answers to their questions. A naturalist-led class offers my boy time with a specialist, one who can answer the hundreds of questions he has that I sometimes struggle with.
A good teacher is one who is patient with the kids and takes the time to look at each little thing the children want to show him/her. A naturalist is a roll model for children, allowing them to spend time with an adult who loves and cares deeply about nature. Naturalists are great at exploring the wonders of nature with children. Kids need mentors
Nature classes attract parents and caregivers who share the love of nature, people who hope to pass along this love to their children. The kids in these classes tend to be those who are comfortable running and playing in the outdoors. I enjoy this time surrounded by others who share my nature-love, and it gives me pleasure to watch my son running through the woods with other little ones.
After a class, it is typical for the parents and kids to have a picnic lunch and let the kids run around. This is actually my favorite part. My son is free to run around with other kids who share his comfort in nature. They don’t utilize human-made toys during this time. They don’t play adult-created games. The parents have time to relax and chat, while the kids run free (within reason), playing with sticks and rocks, creating imaginary worlds, or simply playing chase or hide-and-seek.
I’ve found classes through our local regional parks, state and national parks, wildlife rescue centers, museums, and parks and recreation districts. Some are better than others, but I haven’t attended one yet that wasn’t informative and fun. Most are reasonably priced. If interested in finding a class, I recommend starting with one that fits with the interests of your child. What is your child into? Animals? Rocks? Trees? Hiking? Water? Farming? Arts and crafts? Stories? Encourage enjoyment in nature programs by beginning with their interests.
Here is a list of organizations in the San Francisco area that offer great outdoor programs (no special order):
- East Bay Regional Parks, throughout Alameda and Contra Costa Counties
- Lindsay Wildlife Museum, Walnut Creek
- Sulphur Creek Nature Center, Hayward
- Sienna Ranch, Lafayette
- Livermore Area Recreation & Park District , Livermore
- Bay Area Discovery Museum, Sausalito
- Chabot Space Center, Oakland
- Lawrence Hall of Science, Berkeley
- City of Walnut Creek – Borges Ranch, Walnut Creek
- CuriOdyssey, San Mateo
- Guadalupe River Park Conservancy, San Jose
- The Presidio Trust – Crissy Field , San Francisco
- Randall Museum, San Francisco
- Slide Ranch, Marin Headlands
- Hidden Villa Farm and Wilderness Preserve, Los Altos
If I’ve left out an organization in the San Francisco Bay Area that offers outdoor nature programs, please let me know, and I’ll update the list!