Monday, September 8, 2008

Getting Out There...with Kids

My son started talking around his first birthday. Now, at 17 months, he’s using his vocabulary to get a sticky grip on his world.
“MommyNO!” he bellows.
“MommyLap” he asserts.
“Peeck up,” he chirps.
“Car! Car!” “Truck! Truck!” “Backhoe” “Airplane sky” “Kitty nice”
“Caw-Wee-Bee-bee” (I have no idea.)

Among his most frequent requests are “outside,” “park,” and “me go,” which he says so wistfully you’d think we lock him in his room. But ever since he was born, my husband and I made a commitment to getting him—and ourselves--outdoors. As a newborn he would gaze up from a blanket at the lacey limbs of our Jacaranda tree. We’d picnic in parks. And, at about nine months, we began hiking with him in a Kelty carrier (pictured above). Check this site for some LA County sites you might like to explore, and some tips I hope will help.

Park Play and Nature Walk: Debs Park
Ernest E. Debs Regional Park
4235 Monterrey Road
Los Angeles, CA 90032
Audubon Center at Debs Park
4700 North Griffin Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90031

Most people only know about one, but there are two destinations at Debs Park. For a great place to picnic and stroll with a jogger, visit the section off Monterrey Road. Because of the lawns and smooth paths, this is a good choice for infants and young toddlers. We enjoyed a Labor Day picnic with friends here. There are ample tables, shady trees and lots of grass. After chomping on fried chicken, we took the kids for a stroll. Look for a paved (but closed to vehicles) road to the right of the parking lot. It’s easier with a jogger, but a regular stroller will work, too. Don’t be put off by the steep hill at the beginning: The road levels off soon, and you’ll be rewarded with views of downtown and the San Gabriel Mountains. (We took Mateo’s first Christmas photo here, holding him in the Y of a pine tree. With mountain backdrop, the scene looked surprisingly alpine.) Turn either way at the top; it’s a short loop past a pond. When you return, you might enjoy a cold treat or drink, as an ice cream truck frequents the park.

Don’t miss the Audubon Nature Center at Debs Park. It’s part of the environmental group’s initiative to help city kids discover nature. Just check that it’s open, even if you only want to hike the trails. We showed up one Sunday with a whole bunch of kid junk and a picnic, only to find the area closed and gated.

When we did make it in, we discovered we could have left many of our accoutrements at home. Audubon will lend you joggers, back carriers, binoculars—first come, first serve, of course. We enjoyed the native plant restoration around the center, including arbors cloaked with native grapes. (Sadly, much of the surrounding hillsides are smothered with invasive, non-natives such as mustard and fennel.) Someone at the nature center can help you identify the plants and birds you see. And your critter may get to pet one of their critters, such as the snake. A large map lets kids (and adults) post their sightings.

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