Kids at Home: The Digital Arboretum Offers Plenty of Ways for Youngsters to Keep Learning about Nature throughout the Pandemic

Published on Oct 1, 2020

The Digital Arboretum looks at Monarch butterflies.

The Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Gardens has a long and proud record of providing plenty of educational and interactive programs for kids eager to learn about the natural world. So since in-person classes were temporarily suspended due to the Covid-19 lockdown, the Arboretum has beefed up online engagement through its Digital Arboretum program.

Offering a mix of at-home nature projects, virtual tours of the gardens and digital books available from its library, the Digital Arboretum provides hours of fun learning right at your fingertips. According to Brooke Applegate, the Arboretum’s youth education manager, digital programs have been a great way to maintain a strong connection with local children beyond school-group settings.

“We hope to provide children with joyful, dynamic opportunities to engage with nature and explore the intersection of nature, science and art in a hands-on way during a time when access to formal programs and crowded natural spaces is limited,” says Applegate. “We believe that when children experience joy in connection to nature, learning about nature happens naturally.

“Additionally, At Home Nature Adventures aim to stimulate social-emotional learning by challenging children to contemplate such things as empathy toward animals and commonalities between humans and plants,” she continues. “Many are crafted in a way that gives children an opportunity to explore some of the stress, fear and other discomfort they may be feeling in the wake of the coronavirus, as is evidenced by activities like ‘Wish Trees.’”

Wish trees, common in many cultures, are festooned with strips of papers and ribbons expressing one’s hopes and dreams. Making them is just one of many at-home adventures on the site, which provides instructions on creating expressive paper strips and attaching them to trees and bushes in the children’s yards. Other at-home adventures include bug hunts, flower dissections and a search for ladybug cities. Kids are also encouraged to conduct field investigations of outdoor life by finishing these sentences: “I think, I wonder, this reminds me of.”

A virtual tour explores a garden of dandelions and Rezha Macedonian peppers.

Other videos show kids how to create nature-inspired art, flower crowns and more. These online projects are designed with parents in mind, with the goal of helping them engage their children with fun, educational activities to do together at home. Finally, At Home Nature Adventures are also guided by the current Next Generation Science Standards, with a goal of introducing them to children in an organic, natural way.

Virtual tours of the Arboretum look at three “gardens for all seasons,” growing snake beans and white bitter melons, dandelions and peppers and squash and okra. Other videos focus on three types of butterflies: Monarch and Gulf Fritillary butterflies and Western Giant Swallowtails.

The Arboretum’s e-library has 6,040 e-books available to members, as are printed materials for curbside pick-up. Membership annual fees cost $50 for students and teachers, $55 for seniors, $60 for adults and $85 at the family/grandparent level, which includes admission for two adults and their children or grandchildren under 18.

The Arboretum, at 301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia, is open daily. A limited number of timed tickets is available and must be purchased online.
Of course, everyone looks forward to the time when the Arboretum can reopen fully, but in the interim, Applegate wanted parents to know that there are limited onsite events available even now.

“Currently, we are hosting an onsite after-school camp with two different cohorts of 12 children,” Applegate says. “This model follows our summer camp model which was approved by the County of Los Angeles. We are hoping to resume our very popular Parent & Me program–Acorns & Oaks–in November with mandated Covid-19 restrictions in place, as well as a family yoga program. For the foreseeable future, child and family programs will be conducted only in small, socially distanced groups until the State of California approves the gathering of larger groups.”

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