Nature Adventures! is a wildly popular outdoor program at Mission Trails Regional Park in San Diego that combines science lessons, cultural education, a trail walk and original songs to inspire young children to spend time outdoors. It is also a delightful new book, filled with nature facts, hiking routes and lyrics to those catchy songs. Both the educational program and the book are the creations of teacher Linda Gallo Hawley ’73.
Hawley began volunteering with Mission Trails after moving to San Diego in 2001. She thought it would be a fun way to learn more about her new home. “The trail guide training course enabled me to combine my joy of walking in nature with teaching adults and children,” she said. “Of course, it was all new to me; what I discovered was how few children were acquainted with the abundance of open space parks in San Diego, to be explored 365 days a year, in four distinct environments: the mountains, the desert, the lowlands and the ocean.”
She wrote a curriculum for what became Nature Adventures! and as the program gained popularity, Hawley’s volunteer role became a paid position. “The book has always been there,” said Hawley, who distributed photocopies of her guide before signing on with Sunbelt Publications, Inc., which released the book in 2017. “When I began teaching, words for songs popped into my head. I sang them in my classes, and parents begged me to put them in a book. I wanted the book to be a scientific tool as well — more than just songs — along with my illustrator’s beautiful work. Families requested it, so I happily delivered.”
Correcting misinformation about the natural world is one of Hawley’s goals with the Nature Adventures! program and book. Spiders, bats and reptiles are particularly misunderstood and offer important environmental and health benefits, she said. For example, San Diego County’s tarantulas help farmers by eating insects that destroy crops. San Diego’s bats, also, are mainly insectivores that reduce the need for pesticides and carry no greater risk of rabies than any other animal. Snakes help keep the rodent population in check. “Once people learn how to deal with these animals, avoid danger and realize the importance of each in our ecosystem, they appreciate a walk on the wild side,” Hawley said.
Purchase Nature Adventures!
Hawley has reached thousands of children, parents, grandparents and teachers with Nature Adventures! “They now know how to react to a rattlesnake, tarantula, mountain lion or bat, armed with information instead of myths,” she said, citing studies that show unstructured time in nature to have a calming effect on children and adding, “Walking in nature is also a great way for adults to relax and rid themselves of the stress of the day.”
MORE ABOUT LINDA
Continuing Education: In addition to her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Russell Sage, Hawley holds a master’s degree in Education from the State University of New York at Buffalo and has attended teacher trainings offered by Project Wild and Safari Club International’s American Wilderness Leadership School in Wyoming.
Creative Classroom: Hawley’s knack for creative, interactive lessons has roots in her work as a classroom teacher. She shared a highlight from the American bicentennial in 1976, when she organized a schoolwide celebration of traditional crafts. Artisans filled the gymnasium and demonstrated horseshoeing, candle-making, carding and spinning wool, folk dancing and processing herbs. “We learned from a parent how to tap maple trees, walked daily to do the tapping, and later, after lots of boiling, my class enjoyed maple syrup on pancakes!” That same year, her students performed a song-filled reenactment of the first Thanksgiving for their parents. “Each family brought a dish to share from their own ethnic heritage; then we all sat down to a venison dinner,” she said. “Food is always a draw. My principal said he met parents who had never attended a school function in the past.”
San Diego Sunsets: “I’d have to say all of it,” said Hawley when asked to name a personal favorite aspect of nature, “but especially the colors at the end of the day, whether it be the reds dancing across the mountains’ rocks, turning into blues, pinks and purples in the sky, or the yellow, orange, red sunsets over the ocean. These colors take my breath away.”
Not Just California Reading: “Although my book focuses on San Diego fauna, most of the animals discussed in my book can be seen throughout the U.S.,” said Hawley. “My best customers are teachers, grandparents and parents, although my very first customer was my son-in-law in Saratoga Springs, New York, via Amazon! I’m thrilled that many local bookstores, outdoor outfitters and museums sell my book and have invited me to offer book signings and presentations to their patrons. I’ve been a guest speaker for a number of libraries, schools, book fairs and organizations like OASIS, as well.”