May 21, 2024 The Best Source of News, Culture, Lifestyle for Culver City, Mar Vista, Del Rey, Palms and West Los Angeles

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“These kids are deprived of a childhood,†says Matt Kamin, Executive Director of the Children’s Nature Institute.  “Homeless children, kids with disabilities whose parents are afraid to take them outside, kids from inner-city areas – they all spend their young lives in a world of steel and concrete.  We’re giving them the opportunity to see things they never would.† 

Since 1985, the Beverly Hills-based Children’s Nature Institute has provided innovative, hands-on science programs for more than a quarter of a million children, parents and teachers by introducing them to the wonders of the natural world.  “Children are encouraged to explore and play and in so doing, to soak up knowledge, to see a different side of the world they live in,†says Kamin.  “They will be the future stewards of our world.  It’s important that we teach them that.â€

On June 12, CNI will host a gala honoring Doug Dutton, owner of the erstwhile Dutton’s Brentwood Bookstore; Rafer Johnson, Olympic Gold Medalist and founder of Southern California’s Special Olympics; and CNI Board Member Mel Kay – three distinguished honorees who have had a positive impact on the lives of thousands of children through their outreach work.  The gala, entitled “Nature’s Night,†will take place at Lexus Santa Monica, complete with a silent auction and live auction featuring airline tickets and hotel stays, private jet getaways, jewelry, a private screening and sports memorabilia.

The centerpiece of CNI’s work is its Outreach Discovery Program, which gives at-risk youth the opportunity to experience the natural world – many for the first time in their lives. Through field trips to local parks, beaches and mountains, CNI introduces them to the environment in its natural state, and demonstrates to parents and teachers how to use nature as an educational resource. In 2000, responding to the desperate need for in-class science programs, CNI added the CNI Wonder Mobile, a specially-outfitted van that brings environmental education workshop directly to classrooms and shelters. Back out on the trail, walk leaders engage children through activities, games, songs, and quiet exploration time. Children spray rocks with water to reveal their colors, use magnifying glasses to examine animal tracks, and smell native plants such as “cowboy cologne” (the California sagebrush). As they examine plants and animals in their natural habitats, they practice using new vocabulary in context, shape recognition, grouping, sorting, comparing and contrasting. Said one teacher, “We can teach a kid what an adjective and a noun is, but they don’t know what ‘a snake slithering on the road’ means until they see it.â€

For many of the children CNI serves, the Outreach Discovery Program is the only extracurricular activity in which they will participate all year –

In addition to the Outreach program, CNI offers Family Nature Walks and fee-based Private Walks for children up to 8 years old. During its Nursery Nature Walks, moms and children explore together in an intergenerational learning experience.

The goal is to instill a sense of wonder and respect for nature that underserved children might otherwise never experience.  Disabled children, whose parents might be afraid to let outside, are able to experience the wonders of LA’s mountains and beaches. Experiencing nature firsthand is more than an educational field trip for these children; it is the beginning of an authentic childhood experience.  And it provides those in low-ranking schools education programs to help them become environmentally responsible adults.

For more information about CNI programs and the Nature’s Night Gala, visit www.cni-kids.org or call Matt Kamin at 310-860-9484.

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