leafGuidelines for Parents

Going to the hills or beaches to discover what’s out there, sharing adventures, reveling in the pleasure of being out in nature – these are far more important than knowing the names of things. What kids need to learn is a sense of the beautiful, to be excited by new discoveries, to yearn for a view of what is just around the corner. Once they have experienced these things, and the imagination has been inflamed, the quest for knowledge will come.
Raymond Ford, Jr. Santa Barbara Day Hikes

Today’s overscheduled kids are increasingly "plugged in" to electronic devices and media and unplugged from the fundamental and formative experience of nature in their own neighborhood.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, refers to this nature-child disconnect as "nature deficit disorder." One of the primary symptoms is the replacement of the green space by the screen space as the occupier of children's free time. Indeed, a Kaiser Family Foundation study found that the average American child spends 44 hours per week (more than 6 hours a day!) staring at some kind of electronic screen. Studies have linked excessive television viewing to obesity, violence, and even lower intelligence in kids. Children, on average, spend only 30 minutes per week in unstructured outdoor play. Now, a growing wave of research indicates that children who spend time outdoors are healthier, smarter, and happier than their indoor counterparts.

Children who regularly spend unstructured time outside

Play more creatively
Have lower stress levels
Have more active imaginations
Become fitter and leaner
Develop stronger immune systems
Experience fewer symptoms of ADD and ADHD
Have greater respect for themselves, for others, and for the environment

Ideas to get you and your children outdoors

Have you unplugged your child today? Make a commitment to get your children outdoors once a day to reconnect with the natural world. The National Wildlife Federation recommends that parents give their kids a "Green Hour" every day, (http://greenhour.org ) a time for unstructured play and interaction with the natural world. This can take place in a garden, a backyard, the park down the street, or any place that provides safe and accessible green spaces where children can learn and play.

Dig in the dirt

Create an area in your yard where the kids can dig in the dirt. Add water and tins for mud pies for young children. What can a little dirt hurt? For older kids, make a digging kit with a trowel, a field guide to critters, and a hand lens for close-up observation.

Colored birds nests

In the spring when birds are singing and building nests, hang 6 – 10” pieces of red or other brightly colored yarn on shrubs around your house. Birds will use the yarn as part of their nests. The nests are much easier to spot with the flashes of red yarn.

Attract wildlife to your backyard

Minimize the use of pesticides and fertilizers in the yard for the safety of children and other wildlife.

Put up a hummingbird feeder

To make nectar, use 2 cups of water and ½ cup sugar. Heat until the sugar is dissolved. Store extra “nectar” in refrigerator. There is no need to add red coloring. More sugar is not a good thing. Keep the feeder clean.

Attract toads to your backyard

Toads are fascinating creatures to watch. To attract them to your backyard, leave some leaf litter under your trees and shrubs. Planting native grasses and wildflowers will attract the insects the toad needs to eat. A manicured lawn is not that attractive to toads or other wildlife.

Create a toad house

Dig a 4 to 6 inch hole in the ground under shrubs. Partially cover the opening with a flat stone or board. Or use an 8 inch terra cotta flower pot. Knock a hole in the side to allow the toad to get in and out. Drill small holes in a “u” shape near the rim about 3 to 4” wide. Knock the U out of the flower pot. Upend the pot in a shaded and moist garden site. If there is no water feature nearby, place a saucer of water near the Toad House. It is important to keep the area moist.

Out and beyond

Invite your children’s friends to go with you. Create your own playgroup for outdoor exploration.

Bird watching for beginners

Put a tarp or blanket on the ground under a tree, either in your yard or in a park and lie down. Look up. Be very patient and watch for bird activity. You don’t have to know the name of the bird to observe its behavior. What is it doing? Is it perching or feeding? How big is it compared to y our hand?

Discovery walk

Take an easy walk along the creek at Stevens Park. The trail begins at the upper end of the park where grass gives way to a wide, dirt path. Encourage the kids to go ahead and discover things to share with you. Give them enough space to feel adventurous.
Directions: From 101, take Los Positas toward the mountains for 1.5 miles. (At State Street, Los Positas becomes San Roque Road.) Turn left on Calle Fresno, then right on Canon Drive to reach the park entrance.

Go to the beach

Take kids to the beach as often as possible. Arroyo Burro and Goleta Beach are good family locations. Take a good book and a beach chair and let the kids play. A shovel and a bucket should be enough equipment. Fly kites at Shoreline Park in late afternoon.

Check out the schedule for low tide in the newspaper or on line. Take the kids and explore the tide pools. Watch the shore birds carefully to see what they are eating. Those tiny crabs are fun to dig up.

The stars at night

Have a twilight picnic and watch the stars come out. Take warm clothes and a blanket. Lie on the blanket and watch the stars. If it twinkles, it’s a star. If it glows steadily, it’s a planet. Make your wishes on a star!

Picnic at Rocky Nook Park

Explore the creek looking for Pacific Chorus Frogs and tadpoles. Release what you catch. Frogs will not give you warts! This park is 19 acres of fun. There are BBQ grills, picnic tables, hiking trails, and restrooms. 610 Mission Canyon Rd, the entrance to this park is on your right just past the historic Santa Barbara Mission on Mission Canyon Road. If you see the entrance to the Natural History Museum on your left, you've gone one bend too far. Hours: 8:00 am to sunset, free day use for general activities.

Go rock climbing

Take a trip to Lizard’s Mouth, a large amphitheater-shaped rock formation nestled high in the Santa Ynez Mountains. This is an easy walk with wonderful boulders to scamper across. From 154, turn left on West Camino Cielo Road. Drive approximately 4 miles up the mountain and look for the trail off to the left. If you reach the Gun Club, you’ve missed it. The trail is only a few hundred yards in length.