ENCINITAS — Despite the numerous opportunities to explore the natural resources in and around the city, many people spend their time in the hustle and bustle of work, school and indoor activities. One group is aiming to change families’ perceptions of nature as being separate from daily life.
Yasmin Shaddox, an Encinitas resident, launched Encinitas Explorers, a family nature club that takes children out to nearby natural area on a weekly basis at the beginning of this year. “We are a part of a larger organization called Family Adventures in Nature that is a San Diego-wide group,” she said. “I am also involved in the San
Diego Children and Nature Collaborative, which is a local movement, inspired by author of ‘Last Child in the Woods’ Richard Louv’s Children and Nature Network.”
The goal of the group is to make nature accessible, fun and a part of everyday life. “We want to put nature back on families’ calendars,” Shaddox said. “The average child spends 40 to 65 hours per week plugged into some sort of electronic device, from TV and video games to computers,” Shaddox said. “We have overscheduled kids, not that it’s inherently wrong to have scheduled activities, but when do we just have time to play?” she asked.
With her 2-year-old in tow, Shaddox joins from three to 15 other families of all types to get out and enjoy nature and create a relationship with the natural world. Her previous work as an outdoor and environmental educator prepared Shaddox for the opportunity to lead others in exploring the intricacies of the local eco-systems.
“I’ve so enjoyed our mornings with Encinitas Explorers,” said Monet Holschlag, one of the participants. “Yasmin’s experience as an educator comes out in our hikes, as she seems to find so many teachable moments.”
Shaddox’s experience as an elementary and middle school science teacher has also come in handy. “She finds gentle ways of showing us how to be respectful to the environment we are exploring, and also ways to stay safe from bugs, reptiles and poisonous plants,” Holschlag said.
Although most participants are families with pre-school/ aged children, Shaddox said she would like to diversify the group and reach older children and their families. The group meets on Fridays with an occasional weekend outing for a service project or special event.
“Part of what we are doing is giving presentations around San Diego about the importance and value of connecting children to nature,” she said. “Think ‘outside the park day’ is a time when a child’s imagination can wander in the natural spaces rather than the play structures,” Shaddox said. “There is more to being outside than playing on the swing set.”
Indeed, the group explores local lagoons, beaches and trails. “There is nature everywhere — it doesn’t have to be a national park,” Shaddox said. “We’ve explored the tide pools at Swami’s Beach in Cardiff and we witnessed an injured seal be rescued by a lifeguard,” Holschlag said. “San Elijo Lagoon was another favorite, for there we learned about lemonade berries and enjoyed viewing millions of spring flowers.”
“Children have a natural, almost insatiable, curiosity and being outdoors gives them an opportunity to use all of their senses to learn about their environment,” said Holschlag, whose son is 3 years old. “There is so much for children to learn about plants, wildlife, and our place in the ecosystem. It is especially important in modern times where most of our jobs or household chores and education take place indoors, and all of the technology that we use is used indoors.”
Shaddox is part of a panel that will present a workshop addressing the importance of interacting with nature at REI in Encinitas on Sept. 23. “Leaning how to make the outdoors fun, by sharing that the local trails are kid-friendly, even pet-friendly, and that it doesn’t have to be tough or last all day is what we want to help people achieve,” said J.C. Wollman, a manager at REI. “Nature is a great way to heighten your life experience and to learn how to interact better with people.”
For more information, visit www.familiesinnature-encinitas.eventbrite.com/.