The Children’s Nature Institute provides children with the opportunity to explore the natural world through hands-on, educational experiences. Using nature as a tool for fostering creativity, curiosity, independence, and growth. They aim to inspire children and provide opportunities to be excited and intrigued by all that the natural world has to offer and teach us.

I arrived at Eaton Canyon Nature Center in the hills above Pasadena where I met the CNI docents that were to be our trail guides. I also met a few other volunteers, I barely had time to integrate with them before one exclaimed, “The children are here!” as he pointed at the approaching bus. All us volunteers were quickly told our duties, my job was to trail the group and echo whatever information our docent said to the children that could not hear or were not paying attention. As well as to ensure the stragglers didn’t wander off into a mountain lion den.

Soon the parking lot was infiltrated by four large yellow school buses with the insanity of 3rd-grade students pouring out of them. After everyone was separated into groups, my group, approximately thirty of the most excited children I had ever encountered went inside the nature center to see the small exhibit of taxidermied animals. There were also a few live reptiles and amphibians along with interactive pieces that most of the hyper-children flocked to enlivened at touching real snake skin, pelts, and scores of acorns. They all but abused the push buttons that triggered the sounds of the animals’ roars, became entranced at the preserved butterflies encased in glass, and unfortunately hadn’t the time to capitalize on a small reading area with books and stuffed animals.

After leaving the exhibit, our miniature army tromped down the paths with our docent leading the way. She educated us about local flora and wildlife. She focused on classifying animals, mammals from reptiles, and how these animals and plants adaptations helped them survive. Our final stop was down at the dry river bed where all the kids were paired up. Everyone was given magnets and instructed how to search the soil for iron flecks. The kids were mesmerized as they began to discern science from magic.

The Children’s Nature Institute certainly needs volunteers to help out on these trail walks, but unlike some volunteer opportunities, this assistant position can be the first step to growing into becoming a lead docent. This is a perfect institution for lovers of nature who want to light up kid’s eyes by describing the process of metamorphosis or show them how to identify mountain lion tracks and how not to follow them into that large, dark hole behind the bushes.


Website: (now closed)
Orientation: No.
Commitment: 2hr. nature hike teaching kids.
Cost: $0

This entry is part of 2011’s Project 365 – Volunteering 12 places in 12 months.