Connecting Children to Nature

by Inside the Outdoors Foundation
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Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Connecting Children to Nature
Kids Learning Outdoors
Kids Learning Outdoors

Students can soak up the sunshine during outdoor activities this July with the return of summer camp at Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Beach. The 2022 Summer Day Camp program, hosted by Inside the Outdoors, is back in-person for little ones to explore nature while strengthening their science skills through new hobbies and crafts. 

Led by Inside the Outdoors program’s naturalists, the environmental education camp encourages children to foster their creativity and curiosity as they participate in games and experiments. Children ages 6 to 11 can be registered as campers for the weeklong day camp of their choice. For kids 12 to 17 years old, opportunities will be available for leadership roles through the camp sessions. 

The program offers four weeklong day camp options from July 5 through July 29 with activities tailored to different themes. The first theme, “Campology,” will feature tie-dye crafts, camp songs, games, and projects. The second week will allow students to meet animals and learn about the history of hunting and gathering through the theme “Adventures in the Wild.” During week three, “No Place Like Space” will teach campers through experiments and crafts as they explore the mysteries of the galaxy. 

The final week, themed “Camp Castaway,” will challenge campers in teams to compete with songs, skits, and games to test their outdoor skills. In addition, children from all weeklong camps will write daily nature journal prompts and go home with one of their crafts. 

Each day of camp will last from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for the first week, which begins on Tuesday. Campers who want to prolong their stay until 4 p.m can be signed up for the Extended Camp experience for an additional fee. Each week, kids will have the opportunity to learn songs, perform skits, play games, interact with live animals, make friends, and more. 

Parents can learn more about the program and register at  https://ocde.us/ito/Pages/SummerCamp.aspx.

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Understanding the natural world.
Understanding the natural world.

I used to begin work each day by walking down a short trail to my office at Rancho Soñado. On the way down the hill, I’d pass fields of wildflowers where I encountered rabbits, deer, lizards, songbirds, an occasional snake, and even a tarantula. As I’d settle in my office for the day, I’d wait for chatter and laughter from the students who were spending a day on a field trip to a wilderness area they had no idea even existed when they boarded the school bus that morning. For more than 14 years, I felt incredibly lucky to have my office at Rancho Soñado, affectionately known as just “Rancho,” which served as the headquarters and a student field trip site for the Orange County Department of Education’s (OCDE) Inside the Outdoors (ITO) environmental education program.  

When the pandemic shut down on-campus learning in March of 2020, the trails at Rancho were no longer filled with the sounds of students. I missed the exclamations of awe from students who seldom, if ever, had been outside of their neighborhoods. I looked at the empty picnic tables and waited, as the world waited, for life to become normal again. I was certain students would return to the site soon, and until they could we would do our best to bring Rancho to them. ITO’s dedicated team of environmental educators worked tirelessly to launch live-streamed field trips so students could still visit and experience the wonder of Rancho.  

Everything changed on December 3, 2020. Rancho sits in the foothills of the Cleveland National Forest, and the site’s hilly landscapes were overtaken by the wind-driven Bond Fire that carved a destructive path through Silverado Canyon. In a year filled with loss, we lost even more that day. I still cry when I think about it. ITO staff, our OCDE colleagues, and the community we serve were deeply impacted by the fire. Our team’s story follows.

The Bond Fire was Different 

Though Rancho and the surrounding canyons had burned before, most notably in 2007 when the fire burned up to the back doors, the Bond Fire was different. Holly Steele, the administrator of ITO , recounts: “Driven by our local Santa Ana winds, the Bond Fire overtook Rancho Soñado very quickly. Thankfully, our caretaker and her family were safely evacuated. Though the animal evacuation team was deployed and en route to the site, everyone was forced to turn back for their own safety. As a result, we tragically lost nearly all of our beloved program animals who were housed on-site. The fire completely destroyed the program’s main administrative office and the entire caretaker residence. Teaching stations that provided support for our trails were also lost. I would estimate that about 95% of the approximately 110 acres of Rancho Soñado were completely burned.”

“Because the program had already planned for potential power outages — due to planned power safety public shutoffs —  the staff had already been prepared to teach remotely using previously recorded video footage,” Steele added. “A handful of programs were rescheduled because of a need to revise program content. Using even previously recorded video footage of our program animals that had been lost was, understandably, sensitive and emotionally charged for team members. There was a need to replace this with new footage and to, especially, reconsider the virtual field trip that focused on Rancho Soñado itself. The team took the first week of January following the winter holidays to focus deeply on these revisions. The teaching team was adamant that they wanted to work towards processing their grief through service to our students.” 

Yarib Dheming, ITO outreach manager, was at the site just hours before the fire started. He reflects, “The evening of the fire we were hosting a virtual professional development opportunity with teachers, and the topic of wildfires came up. It definitely made me think of how much more education is needed around current environmental issues we are facing, including the increase of wildfires in California. It’s important for students to understand how wildfires affect our communities and open spaces here in Orange County and discuss what possible solutions can be implemented. I believe OCDE’s thinking is the same in wanting that education to be relevant while also supporting academic standards.”

Rancho Soñado is home to scenic revitalized life following the impact of the Bond Fire in 2020.


Resiliency: Rebuilding Inside the Outdoors 

ITO’s staff has an ongoing relationship with Rancho Soñado that has provided a metaphor for resilience. 

Imagine you’re a coast live oak. When the Santiago Fire came through Rancho in 2007 you lucked out. You looked at burned charred ground and within days of the fire, there was green. You saw things happen that never would have happened had it not been for the fire. A death camas grows under your branches and you’re surrounded by hills full of fire poppies. You know that biologists hadn’t seen a death camas for 60 years in Orange County. Then there were all these seedlings, and it was an indication of a healthy ecosystem. You survived with some scars but you stood tall when the wildlife returned. Once again, you saw the rabbits, deer, lizards, songbirds, snakes, and tarantulas.

The 2020 fire was more intense so the resilience is harder to find — but it is there. The land will slowly recover. Anyone visiting the site likely will catch a glimpse of the two deer who have wandered the hills for a couple of years. Fields of fire-followers are back and when I can return I’m sure I will once again see the rabbits, deer, lizards, songbirds, snakes, and tarantulas.

ITO is resilient as well. The grief over the loss of the animal ambassadors remains but we look forward with hope. That comes in the form of two new team members, snakes Sam and Santos, who were ready for the 2021–22 school year.  

ITO also is surrounded by a community of support that transforms loss into new opportunities for students. The most innovative partnerships pop up. A partnership with OCDE’s Tobacco Use Prevention Education (TUPE) team will allow students to explore the environmental impact of tobacco usage. A decades-long partnership with the Anaheim Elementary School District has never been stronger. Every student in the district experienced a virtual environmental education field trip last year and will again this year. A group of sixth-graders got to experience virtual science camp when they thought that opportunity was gone. And so right in the middle of loss that could’ve left us with nothing, it feels like there’s everything. Things that we never imagined were possible are possible because we’ve had to get outside of the box and be creative.

Wildfires and Climate Change: There’s more work to be done 

Steele shared that this has been the hardest experience of her administrative career and shared her own perspective on the imperative for environmental literacy.

“While there are natural cycles for fires within chaparral ecosystems, the frequency and severity of fires are clearly abnormal,” she said. The increasing frequency of fires, primarily attributable to climate change, such as these is obviously a concerning phenomenon. As a science educator, this environmental work has long been important to me, and it is also incredibly personal now. Helping to ensure that our next generation understands the beautiful and sometimes difficult relationship between human society and our natural world is critical. We will certainly continue to champion this work as an ITO team, primarily through our work with an intentional focus on our California  Environmental Principles and Concepts.”  

Wildfires and the devastation they cause are only part of the story. As destructive fires burn throughout the Western United States, there are floods and other extreme weather events impacting communities globally. These events are overwhelming and can make all of us feel helpless.  

So, how might we help the next generation develop a sense of agency and belief in their own resilience in the face of adversity? It starts with education that leads to environmental literacy. According to a 2019 EdSource article by Sydney Johnson, California students have asked for climate change to be included in the core curriculum. Let’s answer their request with a resounding, “yes.” Field experiences grounded in academic standards and connected to classroom lessons build the foundation for informed decision-making. As students understand what is happening in their communities, they can understand both the local and global impact of climate change. 

Note: Article written by Lori Kiesser and published as part of Ten Strands Environmental Literacy, Featured Authors series. 

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Upper Newport Bay Becomes a Classroom
Upper Newport Bay Becomes a Classroom

Can you remember a time when you rushed to a window to see a rainbow?  How about walking outside after a spring rain shower just so you can smell the newness in the air?  These experiences generate a sense of “awe” that connects you to a world bigger than yourself.  What if engaging experiences in nature could be connected to classroom lessons? Could that same sense of “awe” be replicated as students are learning?

We believe the answer is yes.  Inside the Outdoors’ unique approach creates a bridge between in-class learning and experiences in nature.   We call this the “in-between” space, meaning that we are situated in-between traditional outdoor learning experiences and traditional K-12 classroom experiences. 

ITO’s “In-Between” includes: 

  • Engagement through Exploration: ITO programs are designed to promote student engagement through exploration, either through direct hands-on activities or comparable virtual ones as appropriate.  Students conduct hands-on experiments to collect data that helps them understand phenomena and solve problems. This encourages students to provide evidence to support explanations or design solutions to real world problems.  This active student engagement through exploration further promotes student curiosity, awe, enthusiasm, and excitement of the natural world.
  • Standards-Driven, Phenomena-Centered: Careful selection of instructionally valuable, locally-relevant, and interesting phenomena help expose students to new experiences and generate a sense of awe and excitement for students.  ITO programs nurture a natural curiosity. For science-centered programs, the Performance Expectations, in conjunction with individual dimensions and Engineering as appropriate, are the primary drivers of the program. The dimensions include the Science and Engineering Practices, the Crosscutting Concepts, and the Disciplinary Core Ideas at the appropriate grade level for the program. In addition, student-centered, phenomena based sense-making are valued as features of the program.  For history-social science programs, the current California standards and the History-Social Science framework should be the main drivers of programs.  All programs include purposeful connections to the Environmental Principles & Concepts, where appropriate and in connection with a standard, in order to develop environmental literacy.  
  • Promoting Sensemaking: ITO programs are designed to engage students in age-appropriate sensemaking strategies including observing, wondering, asking questions, discussing, listening, making connections, explaining their thinking, or agreeing/disagreeing with one another.  These strategies, structures, and activities are specifically designed to support students in the process of constructing and revising the understanding of the program’s relevant phenomena and standards.  Staff listen to students and provide meaningful feedback to student ideas and discussions.
  • Safety: ITO programs provide students with a cognitively, emotionally, socially, and physically safe place to learn.  When students feel safe, they are able to ask questions, participate in activities, and try new things without being apprehensive.
  • Expert Facilitation: ITO programs are facilitated by expert practitioners who use facilitator moves such as encouraging students, providing guidance, and moving around the physical or virtual space in order to use proximity appropriately.  Additionally, staff promote both collective and independent thinking through intentional utilization of grouping strategies based on the size of the group, group make-up, etc.

As we shared in previous reports 2020 & 2021 have been especially challenging for us, too. In the midst of a pandemic and the loss of our environmental education site to a wildfire, we remain focused on strengthening our position in the “in-between” space as it leads to stronger student outcomes. We hope that you’ll join us in our work to connect students to nature. 

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ITO Field Trip - Zero Waste Lunch
ITO Field Trip - Zero Waste Lunch

Inside the Outdoors extends Earth Day into May with #ProjectZeroWasteLunch challenge

Inside the Outdoors (ITO) has been a leader in hands-on science and social science programs and a partner in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education since 1974. The mission of Inside the Outdoors is to empower students, teachers, parents and the community to explore natural areas and expand their knowledge, understanding and stewardship of the environment. Inside the Outdoors Foundation was established in 1994 to provide financial, educational, and advisory support to the Inside the Outdoors science study programs. 

While every day is Earth Day for Inside the Outdoors environmental science programs, April 22 is set aside each year as a reminder to take better care of our planet. But this year, Inside the Outdoors is partnering up with OC Waste & Recycling to launch a special zero waste challenge during the month of May.

Designated #ProjectZeroWasteLunch, the challenge is calling on elementary, middle and high school students to showcase how they can reduce waste during lunch time by using one or all of the ‘5 R’s — Refuse, Reuse, Rot, Repurpose, Recycle.

How to participate:

During the week of May 10-14, Inside the Outdoors staff will post short, educational videos with easy tips to reduce waste on the ITO Instagram page and YouTube channel. Students can watch these videos for inspiration and then submit their own photos, art or videos depicting how they are reducing their own lunch waste.

Submissions will be accepted via the following ways:

  1. Follow @insidetheoutdoors on Instagram, upload photos and use the hashtag #ProjectZeroWasteLunch
  2. Fill out a short survey at: https://ocde.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_8BvE7tORRcZgq0e
  3. Email photos or art to: insidetheoutdoors@ocde.us

The challenge is open to all K-12 students in Orange County, CA and participation can take place at home or on campus.

“Whether at home, hybrid or in-person, students can show us how they are reducing waste at lunch by using one or even all of the 5 R’s with some inspiration from us. Change comes through practice, so we thought we’d have some fun with a challenge that lasts beyond Earth Day.”

  • Yarib Dheming, Outreach Manager, Inside the Outdoors.

Project Zero Waste is an award-winning partnership between OC Waste & Recycling and Inside the Outdoors that began in 2009 to engage students in service-learning about solid waste. More recently, the focus has shifted to exploring waste diversion strategies to reduce items, from food waste to mattresses, ending up in our local landfills.

Facebook @itofoundation

Twitter @itofoundation

Instagram @insidetheoutdoors and #insidetheoutdoors

YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/user/ITOFoundation

ITO Field Trip - Zero Waste Lunch
ITO Field Trip - Zero Waste Lunch
Anaheim HS students sharing the 5 R's
Anaheim HS students sharing the 5 R's
Anaheim HS students sharing the 5 R's
Anaheim HS students sharing the 5 R's
Golden View Elementary students
Golden View Elementary students
Golden View Elementary students
Golden View Elementary students
Mission Viejo HS studnet recycling program
Mission Viejo HS studnet recycling program
Mission Viejo HS studnet recycling program
Mission Viejo HS studnet recycling program
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Rancho Sonado Pond (before fire)
Rancho Sonado Pond (before fire)

Nestled against the Santa Ana Mountains, Rancho Soñado served as the headquarters of Inside the Outdoors environmental education programs and the Foundation for nearly 15 years.  Since 2006, more than 100,000 students have visited the site.

On December 3, 2020, the picturesque landscape of Rancho Soñado was overtaken by the wind-driven Bond Fire that carved a destructive path through Silverado Canyon in California.  No staff members were injured, although two of the three structures on the grounds were lost to the fast-moving wildfire, including the on-site residence occupied by the program’s Operations Manager and her family, who had to evacuate suddenly in the middle of the night.  The Bond Fire arrived with a speed and intensity that made it impossible for the evacuation team to approach.  Sadly, all but four of the Animal Ambassadors for the program, housed on the property, did not survive the blaze.

“We can rebuild the buildings and nature will recover, but we will never get over losing Animal Ambassadors of our ITO family to the Bond Fire.  While I still don’t have the words to describe the loss, what I can describe is how the resilient and amazing team came together to focus on the students we serve. We resumed programs on December 7 because the ITO staff expressed that students have lost so much this year and they just cannot lose anything else.”

-           Lori Kiesser, ITO Coordinator, Partnerships and Education

 

Nurturing a natural curiosity

Covering approximately 110 acres in the Santa Ana Mountains, Rancho Soñado has hosted thousands of field trips and Summer Day Camp kids, giving students of all backgrounds a chance to explore unspoiled local ecosystems and engage in hands-on learning.

The Rancho Soñado property was granted to the Orange County Board of Education in 2003 through the Trust for Public Land, with the intent that the site be preserved and used for outdoor education. The Inside the Outdoors program was established in 1974 to empower students, teachers, parents and the community to explore natural areas and expand their knowledge, understanding, and stewardship of the environment, while Inside the Outdoors Foundation, established in 1994, provides financial, educational and advisory support.

Rancho Soñado became ITO’s official home in December 2006, and over the years it has bused in more than 100,000 student visitors to interact with its living laboratory. Animals housed at the site have included snakes, turtles, lizards, parrots, doves, a kestrel, an owl, rats, guinea pigs, chinchillas, rabbits and insects.

Four Animal Ambassadors that were inside a field office were safely recovered after the fire, including two young gopher snakes and two toads.

There is currently no timeline for rebuilding structures or rehabbing the site, but the intention is to rebuild Rancho Soñado to its glory while supporting student programs virtually and at other sites throughout the county in the meantime.

 

Update

As we start the new year, we have a lot to be thankful for. We knew we always had your support, but with this tragedy our community came together to show kindness and generosity for the Inside the Outdoors program and our caretaker’s family.

Here are a few illustrations:

• Our caretaker’s twin girls got special attention for their birthday less than a week after the fire when School Resource Officer Siegel nominated them to receive assistance from the Cops Care program.

• Community partners came to the rescue by donating funds and offering volunteer help.

• Animal lovers and zookeepers from our community reached out in response to the loss of our program animals and offered to help us continue our programs during this school year.

 • Families touched by our programs donated -- and even their children contributed their own money to our rebuilding.

• Staff, board members, former staff, teachers, principals, administrators, and local businesses have all sent heartfelt messages and donated. Those connected now and in the past! We are humbled and we thank you. It’s not lost on us that these donations are coming in during difficult times for everyone.

We want you to know that:

• Our Operations Manager and property caretaker and her family settled into a new home just in time for the holidays.

• We’re proud to say that students are still being served through Virtual Field Trips and Traveling Scientist programs.

Nature's Classroom (before fire)
Nature's Classroom (before fire)
Trails of Rancho Sonado (before fire)
Trails of Rancho Sonado (before fire)
Wetland Assessment Station (before fire)
Wetland Assessment Station (before fire)
Regrowth - nature's recovery (post fire)
Regrowth - nature's recovery (post fire)
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Organization Information

Inside the Outdoors Foundation

Location: Silverado, Ca - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @itofoundation@yahoo.com
Project Leader:
Lori Kiesser
Program Development Manager
Costa Mesa, California United States
$13,830 raised of $50,000 goal
 
181 donations
$36,170 to go
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