by Ellen Bashor, Education Director, Prescott’s Community Nature Center
“What’s all this about!?” a park-goer asks with surprise as a line of over 60 parents, caregivers and children parade down a trail with scavenger hunts and colorfully crafted cardboard binoculars in hand.
“It’s Nature Niños!” Park Ranger Jhiara Henderson says as she hands over a brochure and sticker with a family of quails hopping across it.
Nature Niños Prescott is a citywide collaboration weaving together education, events, infrastructure and collective advocacy to enrich the lives of children through free, bilingual, accessible and outdoor play for families with children ages 0 to 8.
The first seeds of Nature Niños were planted in late 2020 with representatives of the City’s Recreation Services Department and Community Nature Center, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Agency-Yavapai, and Yavapai County Community Health Services.
Recent research has shown that spending time outdoors is not just an activity; it’s a necessity. It plays a vital role in fostering healthy whole-child development.
One barrier parents and caregivers face when providing outdoor time is not knowing where to go and whether or not those places are going to have the amenities they need for young children.
This was the first barrier the Nature Niños team addressed. With the help of AmeriCorps members, the team compiled a list of the 12 most family-friendly trails in Prescott. This list, available on the City’s Nature Niños website, describes directions and amenities at each trail.
This resource was the first of several, always in Spanish and English, reflecting Nature Niños’ commitment to accessibility in all forms.
It was time to tackle the next barrier: What do you do when you get to these trails?
Nature Niños decided to use an educational model that’s not only effective, but brings fun, joy and valuable outdoor tools to both children and caregivers along the way: Guided nature play events at each trailhead each month.
But who would lead these events, and what should happen at each one? It was time to involve the experts. The team reached out to professionals from naturalists to early educators to professors to park rangers to child development experts to community leaders and others. The Nature Niños coalition began to grow.
Currently, Nature Niños events are led by staff from City Parks, County Health and Cooperative Extension, the Arizona Children’s Association, the Natural History Institute, GEM Environmental, Educational Expeditions, and volunteers from the community.
Nature Niños also receives monthly communication and outreach assistance from other agencies and organizations. The amount of collaboration and organizations that have joined to support the cause is incredible, and events are now averaging over 100 children and caregivers each month.
So what’s next? The Nature Niños team is excited to share the news!
As of 2022, Nature Niños Prescott formally partnered with the National Wildlife Federation’s Early Childhood Health Outdoors (ECHO) program. With the help of ECHO architectural and design experts, plans are to install nature play areas at parks and along trails, improving early childhood play opportunities across the city.
In 2023, Nature Niños plans to partner with a municipal development program called Cities Connecting Children to Nature (CCCN) and find more ways to leverage infrastructure and policy changes to increase access of families and young children to healthy outdoor time and nature play.