Join #KidsToParks Day and Discover Mother Nature’s Biodiversity

Has your child ever wanted to sit in the middle of the trail and inspect bugs, or count how many bright yellow flowers line the neighborhood pond? Well, the National Park Trust, in association with National Geographic Kids wants to give them a chance to channel their inner naturalist.

This Saturday, May 21, 2016 marks the 6th annual Kids to Parks Day, encouraging families all across the U.S. to get outside into the great outdoors to play, protect and preserve our wonderful natural landscape. Organized by the National Park Trust and supported by a large group of regional and local groups and organizations, Kids to Parks Day is just one way to instill in our children an active lifestyle full of exploration and discovery.


For the past decade, leading up to the National Park Service’s Centennial Celebration, the NPS and National Geographic have been leading BioBlitz community events at a different national park each year. And the biggest BioBlitz blitz is happening now, with over 250 scheduled for 2016, culminating in a cornerstone nationwide event to celebrate Kids To Parks Day.

If you’ve never participated in a BioBlitz, you have a lot to look forward to this Saturday, May 21st, because in Southern California there are four biodiversity festivals to choose from. Join scientists, students, teachers and your community as we work together to identify, count, and log the local diversity of our natural places, animals, plants, fungi and other organisms.

Want to join a BioBlitz? Here’s what you need to know:

Joshua Tree National Park
Ethno-botanical BioBlitz
May 21, 2016 from 9am – 4pm
Joshua Tree National Park Oasis Visitor Center
74485 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms, CA

Channel Islands National Park
BioBlitz and Biodiversity Festival
May 21, 2016 from 9am – 4pm
Channel Islands National Park visitor center in the Ventura Harbor
1901 Spinnaker Drive Ventura, CA 93001

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Biodiversity and Science Festival
May 21, 2016 from 10am – 4pm
Paramount Ranch
2903 Cornell Road, Agoura Hills, CA, 91301

Cabrillo National Monument
Biodiversity Festival
May 21, 2016 rom 9am – 8pm
Cabrillo National Monument
1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr., San Diego, Ca. 92025

Don’t live in Southern California? Check out National Geographic’s BioBlitz events map to join forces in your own community!

[Family Volunteering Series Pt. 4] It Takes a Village To Make a Difference

For our family, Thanksgiving, and pretty much every holiday, is always about valuing the love that we have for each other and showing our appreciation for that love. It’s so easy to fall into that trap of taking things for granted and I believe there’s no better way to remind ourselves of how blessed we are than to put ourselves in the position to serve others who are in need.  

Volunteering is so much more than handing out or picking up things, it’s about making that human connection to another person or to Mother Nature. It’s about getting family together, radiating a positive and nurturing energy and taking the time to emphasize the importance of loving acts.

Planting Native Plants with Tree People

Since Thanksgiving is just around the corner, I thought it would be inspiring to me, and hopefully to you, to spotlight a few other families who value how beautiful family volunteering can be. Do you have a favorite family volunteering tradition? Share it with us and let’s inspire each other!

Melissa from Keeping up with the Rheinlander’s

Holidays are a special time for families! However not all families can or are unable to give their children what they want/need during the holidays! That is where my family and friends like to help! During the Holidays we all get together and pitch in money to “adopt” a family every year! To ensure that at least one family in our area has a wonderful Christmas/Holiday!! I think it is a bright spot in our Holiday tradition and makes everyone feel as if they made a difference. 

As a family we donate to places, events, charities throughout the year (especially our local children’s shelter). I always involve my daughter (who is now 4) because I want to teach her to give, that we share what we have with others.  I want to teach her to be a generous and loving person. 

Having worked with at-risk youth and children in Foster care I feel that I “know more” than the average person and a responsibility to GIVE. If I am able to impact the life of one child and teach my own child a valuable lesson in the process then I am doing something right! I challenge you to find a charity or local family in need and give back! You can do it alone or gather family and friends to help make someone else’s Holiday special for them!! 

Jennifer from The Good Long Road

Our family holiday volunteer tradition began when our oldest son was barely 2 and our youngest son was not quite 4 months old. 

My husband and I nurture family volunteerism by example — showing our boys the importance of doing what we can to help others, particularly in the ways that make the most sense for us. My husband shot photos and video footage of the event (he and I are independent filmmakers). This was a talent he could give to the organizers — quality photos they could use to promote the event and get more people involved in the future. It helps the boys understand the importance of their job, as a job that a little one can do varies quite a bit from an adult. Still, children can give back. They can also learn a great deal from seeing parents give back and having parents prioritize giving to others, both time and donations.

Since our particular family holiday volunteer tradition relates to feeding those in need, this theme often runs throughout the year for us as we try to donate items to our food pantry on a regular basis and engage in other creative ways to raise awareness about hunger and help individuals struggling with food insecurity. 

I love that my kids take joy in helping others. As they get older, I look forward to seeing what volunteer opportunities and giving activities grow out of their own interests and concerns, and we’ll continue to have fun committing lots of random acts of kindness!

Amber from The Mile High Mama 

I’ve always had a problem with Thanksgiving. By its very definition, this holiday should be about giving thanks with those we love but has become an excuse to be over-indulgent stuffing our faces while watching football all day (can you tell I have pretty strong opinions about this? 🙂 So I decided my family’s Thanksgiving would be about service. 

This will be our third year serving Thanksgiving dinner through Volunteers of America to a residential and support program designed to help chronically homeless women. We bring a side dish to share, we make cards for them, we play BINGO together and, most importantly, we are filled with gratitude for all that we have while realizing maybe we’re not so different after all. 

Melissa From Chasqui Mom

My husband and I have been youth leaders for eight years at our local Spanish speaking church, Iglesia Esperanza Viva for Junior High and High School Students.  

Last year in addition to starting a wilderness program, we wanted to teach our youth students the value of giving back to our community.  We coordinated to have 13 students volunteer at the Telegraph Ministry Center’sfood pantry and it was a great opportunity for them to serve their neighbors.

Even though my own children are toddlers, it’s very important to me to teach my children to serve the needs of our community.  As in all our outdoor adventures (we do everything as a family) our own children come along on volunteering activities.   I love working with teenagers whether it’s teaching them  outdoor skills, spiritual lessons or volunteering alongside them in our community.

[Family Volunteering Series Pt. 3] Ballona Wetlands Restoration Project

Only 10% of California’s wetlands still exist today and Ballona is the last remaining coastal salt marsh in Los Angeles County. As we sat on its serene bank listening to the call of endangered terns and the buzzing of native bees, I couldn’t help but feel saddened by its destruction and uplifted by the hands of more than 75,000 volunteers working diligently for more than 35 years to protect and restore its precious ecosystem.

Family Volunteering at Ballona Wetlands
Finding solitude at the Ballona Wetlands

The Friends of Ballona Wetlands has an award-winning volunteer restoration program geared towards hands-on restoration that is perfectly suited for families who are looking to get outdoors and get dirty! Similar to our TreePeople experience, we headed out early on a Saturday morning, lunches packed, sun block applied, ready to roll up our sleeves and dig into some dirt!

Ballona boasts an almost 600 acre protected ecological reserve nestled smack dab in the middle of urban sprawl and is home to about 300 bird species and hundreds of species of plants. Unfortunately, large swathes of its delicate landscape have been overrun by invasive, non-native plants such as the South American Pampa Grass and Australian Ice Plant. 

Family Volunteering at Ballona Wetlands
Removing Australian Ice Plants

A primary focus of the restoration project is removal of these non-native plants and in the last 8 years over eight thousand four hundred cubic yards of invasive plants, trash and debris have been successfully cleared by the caring hands of the LA community. Meanwhile, volunteers work diligently to plant native vegetation back into the wetlands’ rare and expansive network of dunes, highlands and estuaries.

Family Volunteering at Ballona Wetlands
Hiking and Bird-Watching on the Ballona Creek Trail
This program also offers its volunteers a rich and vibrant educational experience complete with docents and printed material to help us to understand the importance of supporting community environmental stewardship within these unique wetlands. 

Family Volunteering at Ballona Wetlands
Using provided educational materials as a guide

V thoroughly enjoyed referring to the diagram of commonly-spotted ducks and birds who nest in the marsh. As we hiked along the ridge we were able to revel in the elegant flight of a red-tailed hawk and discover what distinguishes the Great Blue Heron from a Snowy Egret. What a treat!

The importance of restoring and maintaining Ballona is far-reaching and guaranteed to give back to future generations ten-fold. Preserving our wetlands is vital for Earth and our well-being on so many different levels. They provide a place for migrating birds to rest and refuel as they make their long journey across thousands of miles, from the most southerly point of South America to the northernmost tundra of Alaska. Tantamount to humans, though is the undeniable significance of the wetlands’ ability to filter toxins and heavy metals through its vegetation, in turn sending cleaner water back into Los Angeles’ aquifers and rivers.

Family Volunteering at Ballona Wetlands
Serenity at the Ballona Wetlands

For our family, learning the seriousness of our effects on the environment and taking responsibility for the destruction, caused by us, to our most fragile ecosystems by taking part in amazing programs like these can only help lead us on our quest to understanding the true importance of environmental stewardship. It allows us to give thanks and reminds us what is most valuable in our lives; each other and the natural world that envelops and supports us.