It’s been an exciting school year out on the trails! As of today, Laguna Canyon Foundation’s education team has hosted 1,404 students on the trails since the school year began in September. If you take some time to explore past blog posts highlighting our South Coast Wilderness Education Program, you can learn more about the themes taught in each grade-specific trail adventure.
This year, our team agrees, has been exceptionally stimulating on the trails not just for our students but for us, the field instructors. Thanks to the heavy winter rains, our trails quite literally blossomed with so many new teaching opportunities. From wildflower scavenger hunts to watching the miraculous Painted Lady Migration, our wilderness provides so much to inspire our young explorers, and thus inspire us as educators.
Our education team is often asked many questions about how we do it, why, isn’t it hard?, etc., etc. Well, as much as this program is rewarding for our visiting students, I think our team agrees, it’s just as rewarding for us. We’ve taken some commonly asked questions and had our educators answer. Get to know our field instructors in this fun Q&A.
1. Share one of your favorite moments on the trail this year.
“A favorite moment on the trail of mine was during one of our fourth-grade programs at Willow. I had an especially exuberant group of students that day. As we wound our way through the trails, every turn was filled with awe and excitement. When we came to the riparian crossing on the Laurel Canyon trail, I had my students find a space to themselves to sit and listen. I was astonished by how long they kept silent for. I watched them take in the nature around them, each in their own way.” – Jocelyn Rodriguez
“When a child told me “This is the best day of my WHOLE life!” – Joanne Nolin
“I have many favorite parts of the job, but the best is learning from the other instructors. There is always something I don’t know and there is always something I had never thought to discuss with a program. There are these moments before and after a class when I talk to my fellow instructors and we are constantly coming with new material and methods to the program. I treasure those moments.” – Casey Cunningham
2. What is a lesson you have learned from your students?
“The excitement and glee that students exude when they step off the bus and step into wilderness encourages me to see flowers, insects, and trees with a child’s eye, which I would argue is the best way to experience nature. Time and time again, the students have taught me not to take our precious open spaces for granted.” – Alex Anderson
“Keep your eyes open and don’t miss the small things. Enjoy the moment!” – Joanne Nolin
3. What was a WOW nature moment you had with your students on the trail?
“We saw a horned lizard on Mary’s Trail. A student spotted it first and pointed it out. I was so excited because it is my identity animal this year – and they knew it. Our mutual excitement was contagious. I shared with them that it was my first time seeing a horned lizard and so the students were super proud that they had that moment with the “teacher.” – Paula Olson
“We were so lucky to see the Painted Lady butterfly migration this year. Seeing this migration with my students and seeing the absolute awe in their faces definitely qualified it as a WOW nature moment.” – Chrisha Favors
4. What’s your favorite topic to talk about on the trail? Why?
“I like to talk about adaptations and how everything in nature helps something else survive. This includes talking about why it is important to protect nature. I think it is imperative that everyone appreciates how special and precious the natural environment is and why it needs to be preserved and protected.” – Joanne Nolin
“My favorite topic on the trail is when we stumble upon scat. At first, my students are immediately grossed out. This is usually my cue to slowly crouch down, find a stick, and poke at the scat. “Can you believe an animal was standing right here?”, I ask. I can see the curiosity arise in their eyes. The students then crouch down with me, take a closer look at the contents in the scat (bone, fur, berries?) and try to guess what animal it might be. Which animal might have eaten these things? This is always a wonderful learning moment and a perfect opportunity to learn more about native animals and their characteristics.” – Chrisha Favors
5. Do you have a favorite spot on the trail that seems to always bring you inspiration while teaching?
“I find Barbara’s Lake to be the most inspiring spot on the trail with our students. Now that the lake is filled with water, the kids are filled with awe when they catch their first glimpse of the lake, and it’s amazing to see how much life is drawn to it. This is a peaceful time for us to slow down and listen to nature. Sitting on the ground, we all close our eyes in silence and count on our fingers how many sounds we hear. They are so excited to share their findings – a chirping bird, a buzzing insect, winds whistling through the leaves of a tree. They learn that when we take time to slow down, we notice how nature is everywhere!” – Alex Anderson
6. What keeps you coming back each week to the education program?
“Working with the students in the Laguna Canyon setting is a treat. I’m so grateful for working in the outdoors and being an advocate for the environment. As a woman of color, I find it imperative to show representation in the outdoors, especially to the children in our programs. Most of our students are minorities and do not see representation in outdoor spaces. I am proud to be a component in helping my students create a sense of inclusion in their thoughts of who occupies the outdoors. Our programs are planting seeds for advocates of the outdoors and expanding their reach to those who might not have the chance to experience positive learning experiences in the wilderness.” – Chrisha Favors