New camp exposes children to natural habitat

CARDIFF-BY-THE-SEA — As many people pass by the coastal lagoons of North County on their way to work, others are captivated by the stunning beauty of the fragile ecosystems.
The San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy is aiming to take advantage of the curiosity of families who view the lagoon as inaccessible through a new program for young children. The organization has developed a day camp for children between the ages of 6 and 10 years old as a way of educating youth about the local ecology.
Tara Fuad, the conservancy’s education director, said the camp is an optimal way to expose children to the wonders that literally lie within reach. “It’s really about getting kids to connect with nature, discover what’s in their backyard,” she said. “You don’t have to go far to experience the natural world.”
The camp coincides with the Encinitas Union School District’s spring break and should enrich the experience of each child and their families. From April 4 through April 8, docents, teachers and nature advocates will lead guided tours of the lagoon.
Carol Rayes, a longtime docent at the conservancy, was involved in the planning of the upcoming camp. “I’m excited to be able to help plan the camp,” she said. “It’s a different avenue to introduce the lagoon and nature to the children.”
The 885-acre reserve boasts a state-of-the-art nature center housing several innovative environmental features and educational displays. With electricity generated by solar panels, cotton insulation made from the fibers of old blue jeans and rubber from recycled tires to waterproof the roof, the opportunity for educating campers about the uses of seemingly throwaway items is also planned.
Campers will have full access to the plethora of resources at the center as well as the lagoon itself. “Nature is fun, being outside is fun,” Rayes exclaimed. “Kids are inside too much, they are plugged in almost eight hours a day to some sort of electronic device.”
The theme of going “unplugged” during the camp is a top priority, Fuad said. “I haven’t found a child who doesn’t love nature,” she said. Rayes agreed. “It helps stimulate their creativity, piques their interest and curiosity about all areas of life,” she said.
Cultivating and maintaining a respect for nature is also an element of the camp. “Once they know the lagoon, they will love it,” Rayes said. “Once they love it they will protect it. We need another generation to carry on and be good stewards.”
“If we can help the children connect the stories of the lagoon to their own lives it will lead to caring for our natural resources and an appreciation of what the natural world is all about,” Fuad said.
“Kids are action oriented, so when they learn that we’ve lost 90 percent of wetlands over the last 200 years they want to do something.”
Campers will learn that coastal wetlands are particularly vulnerable, that they serve as migratory paths for birds and help clean the water, according to Fuad. “Natural areas have become mysteries, so we can teach them how to be in nature safely,” she said.
“My goal is that by the end the kids can be the nature guides for their family,” Fuad said.
For more information, visit www.sanelijo.org/education or call (760) 436-3944.

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