Family Field Trips: A Report

October 4, 2022

In March of this year, the Mendocino Land Trust announced we received a grant from the Community Foundation of Mendocino County to offer naturalist-led field trips to families with young children. We were especially interested in engaging with segments of our community that historically have not received equal access to parks and nature programs. Now that fall is upon us, let’s take a moment to reflect on this summer’s field trips. Our friend from Latino Outdoors, Esme Plascencia, files this report:

“Our Family Field Trips pilot program turned out to be a great experiential learning opportunity for both naturalist leaders and all participants. These programs have engaged 264 children and 154 caregivers in meaningful connection to nature. We began in May with a visit to Low Gap Park in Ukiah, and in June led excursions to Little Lake Valley in Willits and Ten Mile Creek in Laytonville. In July, families joined us for a Beach Day in Mendocino and in August several families joined us at Pelican Bluffs in Point Arena. Bernadette Smith and young people from the Manchester Point Arena Band of Pomo Indians also joined us on that adventure. 

Since we hope families will become more comfortable planning safe and fun outings in nature, we tried to plan each day’s activities with that in mind. For each Family Field Trip, we sent families a packing list so they could make sure to bring appropriate clothing and materials. When we met with families on the day of the trip, we welcomed them by introducing ourselves and introducing them to the place even if they had been there before. Our sites included public parks and beaches, city parks, and private land, so we made sure to familiarize them with the management of the place. At each of the excursions, children were presented with a variety of activities, including arts and crafts and the basic outdoor skills necessary to prepare for and enjoy an outing in nature.

Throughout the summer, magic arose during our field trips. During the Willits Wetland trip, for example, naturalist Esme taught stream ecology to the children and families participating at a stream study site. They joined her on a short hike along a trail that was next to an agricultural field. Everyone got to learn about the property managed by the Resource Conservation District of Mendocino County. Children were filled with joy as they tried to catch critters in the creek with nets borrowed from the Mendocino Woodlands Outdoor School. They created a “bug hotel” using a plastic tub filled with water. All the children were excited about catching insects and releasing them at the end of the stream study. 

We believe it is important to create more programs for families to engage their children in nature observation and nourish positive interactions in the outdoors. During Family Field Trips, families were exposed to new community members and the natural environment in a safe and welcoming space. Historically, there has not been equal access to parks and nature programs for low-income and marginalized members of our community. One of our goals in creating the Family Field Trips was to engage those members of our community who have not received equal access to nature education experiences in the past. In undertaking this pilot project, we have learned a great deal about how best to serve all members of our community.

To meet our accessibility goals, we hosted programs in natural spaces close to towns and on weekends when we thought parents would be more available to participate. However, despite attempting to schedule things thoughtfully, timing may still have been a barrier. Most of our field trips occurred early Saturday morning, a time when some working parents may not have been able to participate. It was somewhat difficult to reach Latinx and Native communities and since we had only one site visit prior to our family field trips to introduce ourselves, we were not able to reach as many families as we’d like. It is important to make sure to foster authentic connections to members of our community, and it takes a lot of careful planning to meet people where they are. For future programs, we hope to emphasize support by offering transportation and varying the times we offer programs, including offering trips after working hours. 

We have one more remaining Family Field Trip, and we plan to partner further with other outdoor educational organizations to better reach the community. We plan to choose a location that is within walking distance from town and to schedule it after working hours.”

Thanks, Esme! And thanks also to the Community Foundation of Mendocino County for the financial support.