Children’s Nature Institute

February 13, 2010

Mishy smelling sweet fennel on the trail.

On Tuesday, I had the great fortune to be on a volunteer docent training session at the Children’s Nature Institute. They are an organization located in Franklin Canyon in Beverly Hills. They offer nature hikes to children from 1-8 years old. They have an outreach program which serves 10, 000 disadvantaged children yearly in the Los Angeles area. Because of the economic slowdown, they currently have a shortage of docents, docent assistants and chaperones. After one training session, you technically are able to start leading hikes although it is highly recommended to start participating through their various other programs such as Docents Leading Docents, Assistant Docents, and Chaperones before leading a hike by yourself. They are also looking for volunteers in their office. The training session lasted three hours. There will be another training session in a few months.

I have been looking for a volunteer position in which I can include Mishy and since the hikes are outdoors and there have been numerous studies showing the great benefit for children to be outdoors and in nature, I thought this could be a wonderful opportunity for everyone. Docents are able to bring their own children on the hikes as long as the children are amiable to being involved.

Here are some guidelines they have regarding hiking with children:

Stay on the trail since animals can be off the trail and it is best not to disturb a wild animal especially if it is a snake.

Wear long sleeve shirts and pants and close toed shoes to protect yourself from the elements like poison oak or animals like snakes.

When a child asks you a question, answer them back with – “What do you think?” Since they are developing their imagination and creativity, there are no right or wrong answers.

Try to use four of your senses – sight, smell, touch, and hearing – not taste since things can be poisonous and also unfortunately, polluted. To heighten the sense of sight, put your hands around your eyes like binoculors and they will help you focus your perspective. To heighten the sense of smell, wet your nose with water. Smell first without water and then with water. Notice the difference. To heighten the sense of touch, wet your hands with water. Like the sense of smell, touch without wet hands and then with wet hands. When touching, remind the child to touch things like you would be touching a cat’s tail – gently. To heighten the sense of hearing – put your hands on the sides of your ears like seashells or rabbit ears. Hear without them and with them, notice the difference. Also, close your eyes and hear the difference with your eyes open and closed.

Let the children set the pace. There is no destination you have to get to. Enjoy every moment and when a child wants to stop because something interests them, stop and discover.

Get down to your child’s perspective. It is amazing what they see since they are closer to the ground.

Most importantly in terms of safety, do not stick your hands in holes since an animal can be inside the hole and get annoyed.


Children’s Nature Institute

Their other programs include birthday party, private school hikes, and hikes for toddlers.

Mishy listening to birds on the trail.


One Response to “Children’s Nature Institute”

  1. Julie Carpineto Says:

    Thanks MJ!
    Great info. I appreciate the resources.
    Julie and Luc

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