Archive » June 21, 2012
Family event comes naturally at SB museum
By Alonzo Orozco, Contributing Writer
While many dads expect to receive a gift such as a necktie from their family on Father’s Day, quite a few benefitted in a way they may have never imagined at Family Nature Day on June 17 at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.
“We really didn’t know if the families used this (Family Nature Day on Father’s Day),” says Elaine Gibson, Nature Education specialist at the museum of the nearly 3-year-old program that brings children and families close to nature every third Sunday of the month.
The ritual takes place in what is referred to as the museum’s “Backyard,” a small area with rocks, trees and plants in the back of the buildings that borders Mission Creek. Even farther away lays a clubhouse where small aquariums and shoe-type boxes house tadpoles, salamanders and various types of beetles, enabling families to handle and interact with the various species. According to Gibson, this is the first summer that the two venues have been open together, as the grounds were acquired by the property earlier in March because of a grant from the Williams-Corbett Foundation.
Small nets usually used to extract goldfish from fish tanks at pet stores, aluminum tins for making mud pies, along with art supplies attached to clipboards are just some of the materials provided to help enhance the experience. It’s not uncommon to see fathers inside the shallow bed of Mission Creek, pointing out areas where their kids might have the best chance of capturing wildlife at creekside.
“There was a little girl who covered her dad in pink scarves, and played the drums and her dad was dancing on the stage,” says Gibson of the carefree attitude that has become contagious during these special Sundays. In addition to the family togetherness and outright fun, the event may have some therapeutic value to children as well.
Citing what author Richard Louve referred to as “nature-deficit disorder” in his book Last Child in the Woods, Gibson emphasizes the importance of youth connecting with nature. “When children play outside in unstructured settings like this, there’s a release that de-stresses. It’s just like when adults go for a long walk on the beach, it feels good,” explains Gibson.
However, Gibson is finding that getting children to reconnect to nature has become a difficult task. “I’ve taken about 18,600 kids outside (in the Backyard), and I can tell you, most of the time for most of those children, I would say 95 percent, it’s “Will it bite, is it poisonous?” says Gibson of the questions youths ask because of their unfamiliarity with the outdoors. There were some exceptions with kids whose schools provide regular camping trips or those who have parents with orchards; but for the most part, they were afraid.
Once outside, a child’s curiosity piques and they discover the wonder of nature almost immediately. During the past couple of years, Gibson recalls several of the young participants tell her that just being there was “the best day of their lives,” and it could be that Family Nature Day is one of the best gifts a father can have: The comfort of seeing his child rediscover nature.