Environmental institutions around Sonoma County will throw open the gates to the outdoors on Saturday, April 30, inviting the public — especially families — to get outside and learn about nature at 13 different sites open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
And it’s free.
A kind of countywide open house, the Day of the Child, or Día del Niño, is an opportunity for residents to learn about the abundant and varied organizations around the area that promote environmental stewardship, education and awareness.
But it’s mostly a chance for kids and their parents to experience some of the amazing natural wonders that define the region — from its majestic trees and wildflowers to the birds, insects, mammals and marine species that make it such a lively and fascinating place to be.
“It really brings a focus to getting kids outdoors, because we have such great opportunities out here in our county,” said coordinator Sandi Funke. “I think sometimes parents don’t know where to go and what’s available.”
A variety of interactive, hands-on activities are planned, including nature hikes, bird-watching, tide-pooling, crafting, a petting zoo, bug-catching, canoeing and building bird houses. Pack a lunch and make a day of it, stopping at several different sites.
Drop-in venues include several that typically would not be open to the public but which often host students or other special groups. Westminster Woods, a private camp and conference center in Occidental, also is among those participating and will provide access to fun features like a zip line and huge cargo net, as well as hosting a scavenger hunt and creek hikes.
Only one — the Sonoma Land Trust’s Glen Oaks Ranch in Kenwood — requires advanced reservations.
“I’d like to go to all of them,” said Funke, who will be stationed at Pepperwood Preserve in north Santa Rosa and, thus, unable to tour the sites. “I’m a little jealous.”
The event is the brainchild of the 9-year-old Sonoma Environmental Education Collaborative, a networking group of several dozen environmental education entities and individuals, including schools, that work together to seek new ways to improve what they call “environmental literacy” among the region’s children at a time when the lures of technology and computer screens are so powerful.
The movement also recognizes the many health, psychological and developmental benefits of spending time outdoors, said Funke, education director at Pepperwood Preserve and chairwoman of the collaborative.
Funke referenced findings released by the American Association of Pediatrics that kids spend an average seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones and other devices.
“We have a critical need to connect kids with the outdoors because we live in an amazing place,” Funke said. “...We need to connect with the next generation.”
The group took its inspiration from child-centered traditions practiced in numerous countries but known in Mexico as Día del Niño, a holiday celebrated April 30 each year.
The local event honors the desire to consider children’s needs and values, as well as to embrace diversity and cultural relevance.
But it’s primarily a way to offer kids and families a glimpse of all nature has to offer, said David Berman, an environmental educator with the Sonoma County Water Agency.