When you step into Sonoma Petaluma Parks interpretive specialist Kathy Wolcott’s outdoor classroom, you better leave your cellphone behind. Wolcott wants her young charges to cut their tech ties, if only for the short time they’re with her.
She prefaces her classes and tours: “I don’t need you to record anything, I just need you to listen, and I need you to observe.”
It’s good advice for people seeking careers in the natural world, and Wolcott is delivering it early to a group of kids who are all ears as she runs the Junior Rangers program for Sonoma and Petaluma County Parks. This year, Wolcott and her colleagues decided to change the format and setting to one more accessible from the city center, to draw more young children into the program.
In years past, the Junior Rangers would meet at a local historical site for a two-hour program where initiates would take an oath and receive a pin. Attendance was dwindling, Wolcott said, so the program was re-imagined as an interactive farmers market exhibit where kids listen and learn and hopefully get inspired to one day consider life as a real park ranger.
Now, Wolcott hosts a bi-weekly Junior Rangers program at the Tuesday night market in Sonoma. Parents with children age 7 and above, and 5 and 6-year-olds with an accompanying parent, can stop by the table to make crafts, check out local artifacts and taxidermy animals and fur pelts, and learn about regional natural history and biology.
Since they switched venues, Wolcott says numbers have increased from 4 or 5 kids to almost 30.
Wolcott runs the Junior Rangers program for Sonoma Petaluma Parks, a nonprofit group supporting educational and historic activities at Sonoma State Park, including hte Mission San Francisco Solano, the Soldier’s Barracks, the Vallejo Home and the Petaluma Adobe. She’s done it since 2015, when she decided against full retirement in favor of working with children. A former second grade teacher in Germany and Monterey, and first grade teacher in Japan, Wolcott has taught children most of her life.
“I’m hoping to teach them appreciation for the people who lived here in the past, for the artifacts and for the historical buildings that we have here,” Wolcott said.
On July 24, kids stopped by the parks’ table to weave their own baskets in the tradition of the native Miwok tribe.
Sonoma Petaluma Parks will hold two more Junior Rangers sessions this summer on August 7 and 21. Children can stop by the Sonoma Petaluma Parks table at the Tuesday night market in Sonoma Plaza from 5 to 8 p.m.
More information available at http://www.sonomaparks.org.