Leader Experiences

Frances Sparky Sotcher
June 2018


How to involve volunteers to make it fun and meaningful for them and helpful to you?  – How to involve parents.

Before each ICO hike I send an email to our ICO Volunteer google file inviting them to join the hike, and giving school name, grade, and destination.  Then I include any volunteer who agrees to join us in “The Trip Reminder” I email the week before to everyone involved.

The ICO volunteers are introduced to the students and told these adults know about the park and about nature and they are happy to answer your questions.  I encourage the volunteers to speak to the individual students and engage them in conversations about nature.

I ask Volunteers and/or Parents to assist with various tasks such as:

  1. being crossing guard where there are cars passing,
  2. standing beside the trail to assist any hiker over a difficult part, but only if the student really needs assistance,
  3. helping an individual student who needed to go to the bathroom (within sight but apart from the group),
  4. monitoring the boys and/or girls bathrooms,

I ask only Volunteers to help with the following:

  1. assisting Mickey in fitting backpacks on students who don’t have one,
  2. speaking to the bus driver, getting a cell phone number, learning the time we are expected back,
  3. having a volunteer hike near the front of the line to alert me about any problems going on within the group of students,
  4. keeping students moving along, encouraging their participation, pointing out signs of nature,
  5. sharing their expertise with the group, e.g. as a nature talk,

What to do if someone can’t finish the hike?

In one instance, a secretary of the school could not hike up the hill to the waterfall at Temescal.  Since we were coming back on the same trail, I invited her to rest on a rock, have her lunch and water, and wait for our return.

One very out of shape middle school student was lagging. I asked a volunteer to walk with him, hold his hand, encourage him, and generally distract him but to keep him moving at a slower space. The entire group stayed together.

On what hikes do you take kindergarteners?  First-graders?  Second graders? 

Franklin Canyon is a favorite of mine. Nearly level with two small challenging spots to add adventure and skill building. I give some suggestions like using your hands and your feet to climb up or down and encouraging all the adults to let the students do it by themselves if possible. At both ponds we ALWAYS see ducks, turtles, fish and birds. We talk about how they differ, where they live, why they are here. The highlight of the outings is the low growing Coastal Live Oak tree growing just a few feet off the ground. Little ones can easily climb, walk on, sit on, jump over and swing on the branches. If it is one class, we eat our lunch while sitting on the tree. After climbing everyone finds a seat and we shut our eyes for a minute to just listen. Afterwards we thank the tree for letting us climb on it.  If we have two classes, each class has 30 minutes of climbing while the other class has their lunch at picnic tables nearby, but out of sight. Then they switch. I give the teacher a choice of having 20 or 30 minutes of free play on the hill side near the Sooky Goldman Nature Center or visiting the nature center. The ample restrooms are also located there.

Malibu Creek State Park is another favorite.  Everyone gets to cross a stream walking on rocks (if it has not rained too recently), walk the length of a fallen Eucalyptus tree, enjoy a relatively flat walk with one little hill to climb, find and touch sand stone and find how it turns to sand when you rub it with your thumb or finger, look for wildflowers in the spring, and finally, near the end of the hike, if there is time, to climb down to a gentle stream and touch the water, feel the green rocks, and get a little wet. Along the way we look for and touch different leaves and rocks.

Griffith Park, meeting near the Merry-go-round.  We walk through the park to the right and below the grassy area to let everyone walk up a dry stream bed. Lots of rock climbing, scrambling, and fun. In the middle everyone finds a seat on a rock, feels it, describes it, enjoys the sense of nature with a moment of quiet.  This creek leads up to cross a dirt road with a nice grassy area with picnic tables for lunch. The “old zoo” is nearby where some teachers like to let the students explore the old cages. Returning to the road, one can walk up beside a concrete stream bed for an opportunity to talk about using your hands and feet to climb by yourself up a steep hill.  This next dirt road leads either right or left back to the area where there are restrooms and a jungle gym play ground that some teachers like to have their students visit instead of using the grassy field for free play.

Where to hike with Second graders? Third graders?

Temescal Canyon Park. Meet students at the restrooms near Sunset Blvd. After using the restroom, everyone finds one pinecone and we talk about the differences, whole, open chewed? By whom? The hike begins by walking across the field toward Sunset Blvd to enter the lower part of the park where there is a single width trail over a stream, past Prickly Pear Cactus, poison oak, California Live Oak trees and many other trees. It is cool and dark and forest like. This trail eventually leads to the entrance of Topanga State Park where we bear right along the side of a steep hill to reach an Oak Woodlands. Students are asked to collect one each of an oak and sycamore leaf to learn about the difference.

An alternate hike is to head straight to the entrance of Topanga State Park through the Oak Woodlands and up the trail to the right of the stream to picnic below the water fall.  Observe being in a canyon, the erosion caused by the stream, and the conglomerate rock formation. Two miles round trip. Return the same way.

Or I give the teachers a choice of eating lunch in a grassy area near the Oak Woodlands, enjoying 20 to 30 minutes of free play before returning the same way we came in without going through the lower park again. 

How to keep such little kids engaged?

Include lots of hands on activity. We tend to stop for lunch earlier than noon since some students have not had any breakfast.

  1. climbing and jumping off rocks,
  2. walking the length of dead trees,
  3. climbing trees where that is allowed,
  4. touching the water in streams,
  5. finding different kinds of leaves on the ground,
  6. finding different kinds of rocks, to feel and touch, not to throw or keep,
  7. listening for sounds of nature; birds singing, the wind, noise in the bush, and noticing the quiet,
  8. touching wildflowers with gentle fingers and saying why we don’t pick them,
  9. looking for different kinds of seeds,
  10. touching different types of bark on the trees or that have fallen on the ground,

How do I start the hikes?

I go onto the bus, meet the teachers, ask the students if they are ready to go hiking?  If yes, I say, “that means you have a backpack with lunch and water, and your hat and jacket if you brought one. Let’s get off the bus and everyone use the bathroom, because there is none on the trail.”

While students are using bathrooms supervised by volunteers or parents, I speak to the teachers to discuss the options available on the hike and what they look forward to.

After the bathroom, the volunteers and I look for students without backpacks/ or with lunches carried in their hand and get them outfitted with loaner backpacks.

Everyone gathers in a circle. I introduce ICO Volunteers, discuss safety rules. Encourage walking quietly and using your eyes, ears, nose, and fingers to enjoy nature.

How to prep for teachers?

In the fall I email the Teacher Liaison reminding them about hiking with ICO.

The Teacher Liaison emails a request for a hike, sometimes giving dates, destinations, the number of teachers and students.  If not, I request the information all by email.

If additional teachers are involved, I request complete information about each teacher: full name, email, mobile number, number and grade of students, # of adults.

I order the bus.

When the confirmation arrives, I email a copy to each teacher involved and ask them to make and keep a copy.

One week before the hike I email everyone involved; the co-leader, all the teachers, the ICO Volunteers an “ICO Trip Reminder”. Example:


ICO – INSPIRING CONNECTIONS OUTDOORS of Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Membership: Your membership in the Sierra Club can help ICO provide the buses for your outings. 

Griffith Park


Griffith Park is a large municipal park at the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains, in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. The park covers 4,310 acres of land, making it one of the largest urban parks in North America. The Park’s elevations range from 384 to 1,625 feet above sea level. With an arid climate, the Park’s plant communities vary from coastal sage scrub, oak and walnut woodlands to riparian vegetation with trees in the Park’s deep canyons. The California native plants represented in Griffith Park include the California species of oak, walnut, lilac, mountain mahogany, sages, toyon, and sumac. Present, in small quantities, are the threatened species of manzanita and berberis.  We will meet the bus between 9:30 and 10 am in the parking lot above the Merry-go-Round and hike from there.

Date of Hike: 

School: ________ E.S.

Teacher/s: Name and mobile number.

ICO Leader: Frances Sparky Sotcher, E: fsotcher@yahoo.com. C: 310 702 0247

ICO Co-leader:

ICO Volunteers:

I have requested a Mission School Transportation bus for your hike. Invoice #:         . Mission School Bus picks up between 8:45 and 9 AM.  If it is not at the school on time, please call Dispatch 323 225 7000 or 323 225 9105 ext #110 or 111. Use the invoice numbers as the best way to identify the trip if you are calling the bus company.  If there is a problem and Dispatch does not answer call 323 225 9957 or call Sparky 310 702 0247. 

We expect # and grade students on the hike. There should be one agency person for every ten students. They can be teachers, aides or parents. NOTE: 20 students is the minimum required to order a bus. 

  1. Please visit our website at www.angelesico.org/
  2. Click on “Info for Schools and Agencies.” I think you’ll find much of the information you need there.
  3. Click on “Forms for Schools and Agencies.” Click on “Hike Reminder.” This will help participants know how to prepare for the trip and how to behave during the trip.
  4. Under “Forms for Schools and Agencies” click on “Trip Permission Form”. Be sure to print both sides of this form for every participating child, teacher and adult. These forms must be completed and given to the ICO trip leader in order to participate in the hike. Youngsters also need to have completed and turned in the school permission slip. Bring the Sierra Club “Trip Permission Forms” and the school permission slips with you on the day of the trip. Otherwise, we are all financially liable for accidents. This is everyone’s admission to the hike.

Be sure students bring with them any medications they need, including inhalers. Everyone should wear sturdy tennis shoes with socks and bring a back pack with their lunch and water.   Leave large purses, school books, and extra papers home. I will have extra backpacks to loan. 

Please confirm that you received this e-mail. If you need to cancel, please do so 4 days before the trip so we don’t have to pay for the bus.

We’re excited about working with you and your students!