Grocery Carts and Mighty Oaks – The Connection

Discovery Program at Dos Picos County Park.
March 4, 2013 | 1:29pm

We do it all the time – hit the grocery store to stock up for the week or just pick up milk and bread. Now a trip to Ralph’s grocery stores could help County Parks teach more kids about nature.

Customers who register their Ralph’s rewards cards with County Parks will see a portion of what they spend go toward outdoor environmental education programs. It doesn’t cost you anything and the rewards go toward school field trips to one of three regional County parks.

“Reading about nature is nothing compared to actually experiencing the great outdoors, that’s why the Discovery Program in the Park is so popular with thousands of kids every year,” said County Parks and Recreation Director Brian Albright. “We’re hoping the rewards card will allow us to offer more field trips to more students at more parks.”

The nature classrooms are currently offered at Lindo Lake and Louis Stelzer County Parks in Lakeside and Dos Picos County Park in Ramona. They’re designed to give kids a hand-on experience. That means they may get to touch a Rosy Boa in the arms of a Park Ranger and they’ll learn not to touch that poison oak!  Or they’ll see what California Flattop Buckwheat looks like growing in the wild and how Native Americans used it in the past for stomach aches. 

Each park has its own customized list of topics for kids ranging from five to 12 years old. Kindergarteners can learn about birds while older students can explore subjects like Native American history, plants, trees, insects, geology and aquatic ecology. 

“Some kids don’t really see nature where they live,” said Park Ranger Christine Dillon-Crawley. “They’ll be out here and suddenly shout out, look a squirrel!”

Dillon-Crawley works out of Louis Stelzer Park in Lakeside. She says in the spring, field trips are a daily occurrence there and she hopes that one day the Discovery Program will expand to all the County parks.  

Any school district within the county can take advantage of the program. Some teachers like it so well they bring their classrooms year after year. Like a book, teachers can check out a Discovery Kit full of classroom materials to use before and after the field trips. In some cases, teachers are trained to be trail guides of sorts for their classes. Other times, County Park Rangers will visit the schools for show-and-tell presentations prior to the field trips.

 Dillon-Crawley says some city kids see nature only in the trees growing in giant concrete planters outside their homes.

“I like the concept of bringing kids back to parks; in the cities we live in they don’t really have these opportunities. They come out and learn while they’re here, why oak trees are so amazing and how they contribute to the environment…,” said Dillon Crawley. “Kids get excited when I show them furs and they have real animal encounters.”

Children think the outdoor classes are “super cool.” Teachers like them because they’re a fun way to learn about nature and science plus the curriculum meets California Science Framework standards.

If you’re interested in sending more school children on nature field trips, you can register for the Ralph’s rewards card online. The card takes effect 72 hours after you register and will pay Parks on a quarterly basis based on monthly qualifying purchases per household.  

To learn more about the field trips and how to get your school involved, visit Discovery Program Classroom in the Park or call (619) 561-0580.