After sharing her favorite Family Friendly Wineries with us, Elena McAlpine is back for another guest post to share her experience on a NatureBridge family hike with her two year old daughter in the Marin Headlands to teach children about “Animals Families of the Headlands” and learn about the unique characteristics of animals who call the Headlands home .
NatureBridge Family Hike
“As an avid hiker, sharing the great outdoors with my child is something I am passionate about. To get outside with my 2 1/2 year old daughter, Mia, I signed up for the nature walk "Animal Families of the Headlands" with NatureBridge. NatureBridge is located at Fort Cronkite in Golden Gate National Park and is dedicated to "Connecting Youth with the Natural World". Their programs aim to get families "unplugged" and outside enjoying nature together.
Excitement for our big adventure quickly turned into fear of taking our 2 year old out in public. Parents of toddlers know that every time this particular animal is taken out of their natural habitat, their reaction is as unknown as it is deadly. After convincing her that a princess dress, ski hat and mommy’s high heels were not a reasonable outfit for a hike, we were on our way. We had a wonderful drive out to the beautiful Marin Headlands and arrived without incident. To make things even better, soon after our arrival we saw our first animal! A friendly raccoon was crawling around in the bushes of the Nature Bridge campus. We ran over and Mia squealed as the animal played a game of peek-a-boo with us. This was going to be good, I thought!
Next we went into the Nature Lab where a guide put a huge turtle shell on Mia's back. Mia's eyes lit up and I could tell that for just a moment, she thought she had been magically turned into a giant sea turtle. As a parent, there is nothing better than seeing your child's imagination run wild. The lab also provided a great platform for the kids to see all the animals of the Marin Headlands up close. They were stuffed of course, which was good since my kid's first reaction to an animal is to poke them in the eye or pull their tail. The kids really enjoyed seeing coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, fox, voles, snakes and raccoons first hand. After playing in the lab, we ate a local, organic lunch cooked by the on-campus chefs while Aaron Rich, director of NatureBridge’s Golden Gate campus spoke to us about the company and then we got ready for our hike.
We met our guide and began our hike by playing a game called, "Are you my mother?” In the game, we all had shakers that made a slightly different sound. Each shaker had a match in the group. The goal was to find the other shaker that sounded just like ours. This taught the kids how mothers can recognize their young in the wild. Each baby animal makes a unique sound and that is how the mother knows which one is hers (not unlike humans!). This was a great icebreaker among the families and a fun way to learn about how animals communicate.
Once the hike began it was clear the older kids were able to keep up a much faster pace than my 2 1/2 year old. Anyone with a toddler knows getting them to go anywhere is like herding cats. Aside from the fact that they cannot travel in a straight line, they also resist traveling in the same direction as their parents. So shortly after hitting the trail, we let the group go ahead on what looked like a beautiful and relatively easy 2 mile hike along the Headlands.
Using the magnifying glass in the goody bag provided by NatureBridge, Mia and I spent the next hour looking at everything from bugs to rocks to blades of grass. We sat in the dirt trail, under the sun with the “Blue Angels” flying overhead (Fleet Week was taking place in San Francisco). My daughter found magic and delight in every object we came across.
At one point she looked at the ocean and shouted, "Look mama, the ocean is sparkling!” Her excitement over our natural surroundings was contagious and we were both lost in the moment. I have to admit I have a hard time getting lost in the moment anymore. It seems technology is jumping out of our pockets and purses and hijacking every special moment we have, for better or for worse. A quick check of my email or sending a text message has interrupted time with my family more than I can remember.
We played on the trail until the fog rolled in. Our afternoon outside was unforgettable. The programs provided by NatureBridge for preschoolers up to high school age are a great way to get your kids playing outside, and parents too, if you remember to check your phone at the start. Nature Bridge helped us get "unplugged" just as they promised and we loved every minute of it. Not only did Nature Bridge connect Mia with nature, it connected a mother to her daughter."
If you would like to know further information regarding NatureBridge check out their Website
Also NatureBridge offers useful resources for enjoying the outdoors with children including “Tips for Sharing nature with Children”, “North Bay Family Friendly Outdoor Destinations” and “Books for Parents and Children”:Useful Resources
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