Sonoma County parks and preserves set aside a day for kids

Eleven parks, nature preserves and interpretive centers in Sonoma County welcomed kids with activities just for them during the annual Day of the Child/Dia del Niño on Sunday.|

It was storytime, but Jayden and Koby Prine were not interested in sitting still to hear “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” The Occidental brothers had a more immediate mission. They were after a live lizard hiding within the sun-warmed deck boards at the Environmental Discovery Center in Spring Lake Park.

“Here he is,” Jayden, 6, triumphantly told his 5-year-old brother, who then managed to wedge his fingers into a crack to capture the critter. Koby tried to find a nice grassy spot to release the lizard, but the tiny reptile instead scampered up his arm and proceeded to hitch a ride around on his shoulder.

It was a classic moment, where kids meet nature up close in real time and not on a screen. And it was the kind of discovery that organizers of Day of the Child/Dia del Niño were hoping to foster at the Sunday event, aimed at engaging kids and their families with the outdoors on a perfect spring afternoon. Eleven different parks and preserves throughout Sonoma County participated, partnering with different educational and civic organizations to create activities that were both educational and fun.

At the Laguna Environmental Center there was bird watching, weaving with plant fibers and a bicycle-powered blender for making smoothies. At the River Heritage Center in Petaluma, Friends of the Petaluma River got families out on the water in canoes, kayaks and paddle boards. Petaluma Bounty Farm held a farm scavenger hunt, while the Vallejo Home in Sonoma guided kids in traditional handicrafts such as candle-making, spinning, churning butter and leather tooling. The consortium is a group of 19 agencies and environmental organizations that works together to foster what they call “environmental literacy” at a time when many kids are spending far less time playing outside than previous generations.

“It’s getting families excited about being out in nature, said Theresa Giacomino, outreach manager of the Sonoma County Children’s Museum, which partnered with Sonoma County Regional Parks to provide an afternoon of outdoor exploration at Spring Lake park. “We’re hoping to create a foundation for lifelong learning and a love of lifelong learning.”

Kristina Stanton, who works at the Discovery Center at Spring Lake, added, “Every time a child can get outside, everything is magical, and they can realize that all that magic is right here and accessible to everybody.”

At the lake, kids could make bubbles, handle an oak gall and learn how it is a host for wasps. They could pick out free books given out by the Sonoma County Library, make animal masks, stroke a starfish in the tide pool tank, and find out about the mysteries of bees from the Sonoma County Beekeepers Association.

Kathy Phipps, a retired kindergarten teacher who now works part time as an outreach education assistant at the children’s museum, helped kids make their own little catapults out of spoons to launch soil balls filled with wildflower seeds.

The little hands-on exercise in planting, botany and engineering is far more effective and memorable than reading about science in a book, she said. “That’s too passive. This way we get to sneak in some real learning,” she grinned, “while the kids think they’re just playing.”

Meg McConahey

Features, The Press Democrat

Like most everyone, I love a good feature story that takes me somewhere I’ve never been or tells me something I don’t know. Where can I take you? Who in Sonoma County would you like to know better? I cover the people, places and ideas that make up Sonoma County, with general features, people profiles and home and garden, interior design and architecture stories. Hit me up with your tips, ideas and burning questions.


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