Community

Hidden Villa offers new way for kids to 'unplug'


Photo Laurie Aubuchon
Local children enjoy “unplugged” education courtesy of a new after-school program offered by Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills.

Only 6 percent of children ages 9-13 play outside on their own, and children are spending less than half as much time outdoors as they did 20 years ago.

The two reasons most often cited are the ready availability, convenience and distraction of screen time, and the increasing focus on academic learning in the classroom.

While parents find value in focusing on academics and the use of tablets and computers, they are also becoming savvier about addressing unintended consequences, such as the loss of outdoor time and the challenge of getting children to “unplug.”

The most successful enrichment programs find fun ways to inspire a love of learning and reinforce what teachers and parents are already accomplishing in the classroom. Hidden Villa is responding to requests for after-school programming that facilitates learning through outdoor play in the farm and wilderness area. The preserve recently launched a new After School Adventures program for kindergartners through sixth-graders.

One factor that helped bring about the new program was the involvement of Ana Akthar, who volunteers both as the enrichment coordinator at Gardner Bullis School and as a member of the Hidden Villa Board of Trustees.

Akthar said she saw the opportunity to provide after-school programming that “develops both the love of scientific exploration and social-emotional learning.”

Hidden Villa worked closely with parents, staff at Los Altos elementary schools and Hidden Villa board members to launch the pilot program last fall.

The community filled the first session’s enrollment 100 percent.

“Hiking and nibbling edible wild plants, building a hut from sticks on the creek, climbing a tree, picking up a chicken to find her egg, learning how to whistle with a blade of grass – these are just some of the things that small groups of students can experience with the gentle guidance of our outdoor educators,” said Maggie Shields, Hidden Villa public programs manager.

There are also some serious side benefits in addition to the fun parts of guided free play, Shields explained.

“With inquiry-based learning, After School Adventures reinforces the new Next Generation Science Standards used in most classrooms but feels more like play than instruction,” she said. “Our educators are outdoorsy science people – they love to teach, and this 1,600-acre place is the perfect learning laboratory.”

After School Adventures enrollment is open for the session ending May 26.

To register and for more information, visit hiddenvilla.org/asa.

Marc Sidel is director of visitor services at Hidden Villa. Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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