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Wildcare, in San Rafael, California, is an organization that does, among other things, walks with children in nature. I took the pictures here between 1994 and 1999, when I was guiding. Mrs. Terwilliger (known fondly as Mrs T) was the original "nature guide", who started it all by taking children for walks many years before. Eventually a non-profit, known as Terwilliger Nature Education, was formed. In 1995 it became part of Wildcare. At the time of these pictures Mrs T was in her 80's (born in 1909) and still doing several trips a week with children and adults. She is so well known locally, that during the two occasions when I was out walking and just visiting with her, several unknown people approached to tell her how they still remember their walks with her many, many years ago, when they were children.
The nature guides are all volunteers; and during these years, there were also two paid full-time staff members who handled all the scheduling, organization, and training of new guides, not to mention also doing classes with children themselves. The program shown here is run in various locations around the San Rafael area, where the guides meet a teacher and her/his class, along with several parents, at a pre-arranged time. The event takes about 2-2 1/2 hours.
Boy says hello to an eagle.
A second grader proudly carries a bird around during "circle time" for the other children to examine.
The girls are looking at a stuffed mouse.
The stuffed animals are all common local native species. They are all animals who met with accidents and are obtained through local people who pick up any freshly-dead animals they encounter on the roads, beaches, and so on.
One of the primary tenets of the program is, as Mrs T always said: "You won't destroy what you love". Nowadays, many people actually fear the outdoors, primarily because it is known to them only through the scare-dominated images of the media. Children seldom get to touch animals, and never get to touch wild ones. That is the main reason for using taxidermied animals. Even though the animals wear out fairly fast from all the loving they get from the children, it is a mainstay of the program. (And non-toxic taximdermy is a big item on the budget.)
We also encourage hands-on during the walks that follow. After circle time, the group is split into smaller groups of a few children plus one parent and one guide. Each group takes a slightly different path around the area, and the children look at plants, animals, insects, and whatever else about nature or the environment is immediately observable.
If it rains, never mind. The guides arrange a rainy-day program, which the children love too.
By the way, Mrs T's well-deserved local renown is due not only to this work but also to her determined endeavors and successes in preventing wildlife habitat from becoming condominiums. She also wrote a book and received several awards. (See the Wildcare site http://www.wildcarebayarea.org/nature_education if you want more info.)