by Mindy Schwartz, Outreach Coordinator
This past fall, I decided to launch a new version of our popular Little Naturalists classes. After recently having my first child last year, I knew there was a whole demographic of OC residents we weren’t necessarily reaching with our programming – new parents. I attended several ‘mommy & me’ style classes when I was newly post-partum, and I really valued not only getting out of the house with my little one, but also getting to meet other parents of babies that were about the same age as my baby. So I thought to myself, “Why can’t we offer our own version of a ‘mommy & me’ class at the ENC? The only thing better than just getting out of the house when you’re a new parent is getting outdoors.” And the outdoors is something we do really well here.
That’s how the concept of Tiny Naturalists was born. My vision, however, was that this class be not just for new moms but for new dads as well. I was so disheartened by the lack of ‘daddy & me’ classes out there. When my husband was on paternity leave, he was so eager to have the same kind of new dad bonding experiences that I had been having, and sadly there aren’t many organized opportunities for that here in Orange County. So to all you expectant fathers or new dads out there – keep us in mind for your upcoming paid family leave! We’re offering this Tiny Naturalist series again in the spring.
Each week we hike out to a different habitat along our trails, set up a big blanket, and relax with our babies in the shade of the forest canopy. Parents get to know one another while the babies experience ‘tummy time’ and free play outdoors, and each session ends with story time and a song. We are now in the midst of the 2nd Tiny Naturalist series (each series is 6 weeks long), and I’ve learned a lot in the process. For people like me, who grew up climbing trees and catching fireflies, remembering to take my child outside is like second nature and already habit. But for many other people, cultivating an appreciation for nature is a skill that takes practice and effort. Looking at the faces of the babies and parents who have been coming to Tiny Naturalists reminds me that cementing that love of nature starts now, before our kids are even old enough to walk. I see the wonder in the babies’ eyes as they stare up at the treetops in our Redwood Forest, and I also see the relief in the parents’ faces for actually getting to be outside someplace beautiful for a change.
Hopefully our Tiny Naturalists program is one tiny way that we can inspire our community members to embed nature into their families’ lives.