We have gone to the park, to the Children’s museum, taken swim classes, little kickers soccer, but what else can one do with a toddler? Well, something that can help them develop a true love for nature and books, or better yet reading. My little human, Xoaquin, loves his books. He points at them and helps me find animals, plants and other objects. However, Xoaquin is also very active, and so reading quietly and calmly is not something he does well. Thankfully, not only do we live in one of the most beautiful places in California, it is also one where nature is but a drive away. If that was not enough, I have friends who have the coolest jobs like being the Outreach and Diversity Director of Landpaths, whose partial role involves taking families, youth and children to the outdoors.
This summer my friend Omar shared this vision he had about kids as young as Xoaquin, a two-year-old toddler, participating in an outdoor reading program – YoLeo Afuera/iRead Outside, a free program open to the public. Each outing has a theme, for example the first one was iRead on the Ridge and iRead in the Forest both at Healdsburg Ridge, iRead in the Garden at Bayer Farm, iRead in the Redwoods at Grove of Old Trees and iRead by the Creek at Rancho mark West. We missed the opening YoLeo Afuera that involved a read aloud, food and walking through the community garden, but we weren’t about to miss the next one.
The first YoLeo Afuera that we participated in was at Healdsburg Ridge, a somewhat smooth hike that leads to beautiful sights of the town. I was able to get a nice hike in while my little one got to learn about leaves, trees and read. The book they read that day was about leaves and that made it fun. Xoaquin enjoyed picking up leaves from the ground and trying to climb a tree with much older kids. We read, shared lunch with other families, hiked and ended up winning a beautiful blanket. The second outing we were able to make was to the Grove of Old Trees, and let me tell you the trees are old, tall and simply majestic, a truly beautiful sight. The walking loop was short in length and so we made a lot of stops to read the book. We got to read Redwoods by Jason Chin, a bit lengthy for a two-year-old, but the imagery is stunning and there is a lot of use of both nature and scientific words, it is an opportunity to expose the children on the importance of protecting mother earth.
What I enjoyed the most of this outing was that we had an impromptu reading on our own session inside a ring of of big old Redwood trees. First a young boy a read the book of his choice outloud and then we each picked a book to read with our little one. Xoaquin had a blast as he chose books with animals and trees, and he got to point at the trees and animals he knows. He was excited. Another fun part was when the little ones got to go inside a tree, yes the bottom of the tree was like a little teepee, they yelled and it echoed. One of the children was trying to hug the tree, but it was so wide that it was impossible to do so, then Omar shouted out, “Let’s find out how many of us it takes to hug the tree.” We lined up around the tree, we held each others’ hands as we embraced the tree forming a human chain and gave the big ol’ tree a nice hug. It took almost all of us, a group of about 12 little ones and 10 adults to give an all around hug to the tree. Excitedly we continued on our walk and came to an area full of brown and green colored and extremely tall Redwood trees. We took our blankets out, place them on the ground, took out our lunches, began munchin’ away and finished the book under Redwood trees that were just a sight. My little human was tired, but he had so much fun, running, learning and hugging trees.
The end of YoLeo Afuera summer celebration was at Bayer Farm, a community garden. On this last day, there were free books handed out, free ice cream, and a whole lot of community women cooking in an outside type kitchen with food from the garden, fresh zucchini, squash, tomatoes, and corn, and the most delicious part – tortillas hechas a mano, delicious! What was unique about this outing was the poetics of sharing the book, or better yet the story for the day. An older gentlemen wearing a straw hat, very much like the one my abuelo would wear when working in the farm/jardín, stood up and with book in hand began to read loudly the story of the first human created according to Mayan legend, the Popol Vuh. It was a true sight. And more than anything it was wonderful to hear a story that is often not appreciated or shared with our little ones. The afternoon wrapped up with food made from the garden’s veggies and fruits. But the best part was the tortillas hechas a mano by the elder women that came. There they stood by the comal flatting the tortilla dough placing them on the comal waiting for them to rise then making some yummy tacos de mixed veggies or quesadillas. Children ran around the garden filled with color tables and tents, an array of plants and even a large and tall field of corn.
Throughout the garden was another surprise a StoryWalk, a children’s story on large size pages on signposts throughout the Bayer Farm’s community garden that children and their families can read as they wander around the garden. Xoaquin enjoyed walking around the garden and finding different animals in each page and pointing at them when I asked him for a certain animal on the page. This event was a great ending to our summer — an adventure within an adventure.
While Xoaquin is only two years old, teaching to love reading is critical. The YoLeo Afuera/iRead Outside summer program made it easier on me to promote literacy as it combined books and the outdoors. This meant that we did not have to be indoors sitting using our inside voice, but instead we could explore and be loud which was important since two-year-olds are a little impatient. I am forever grateful for this experience. We got to get outdoors, do some light hiking, enjoy the beauty of nature and got a cool blanket and books. What else could I ever want from a literacy program?
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