We frequently field questions from understandably inquisitive parents about our age recommendations on our programs. The questions typically go something like this: “The program says it’s recommended for ages 6 and up, but my child is 5 years old and interested in attending. Is that possible?”
The short answer to these types of questions is, “Yes, absolutely.”
We don’t check birth certificates at check-in for programs, and we provide general age recommendations instead of strict limits, so if your child is pretty close to the recommended age range, it’s not a problem. We prefer to be inclusive, rather than exclusive, if possible. So you might ask, why do we post age recommendations at all?
When our park naturalists develop a program, they assess that program on a number of levels when deciding on an age recommendation.
First and foremost is participant safety. The last thing we want is for any of our guests to get hurt, so our naturalists make that their top priority when considering the age of participants in a program.
So why is our Creek Stomp Hike on July 28 recommended for ages 6 through adult? Because naturalists will be leading a hike up the middle of Big Walnut Creek, and we don’t know what the water levels are going to be like. It’s challenging for a youngster to try to walk up the middle of a creek in optimal conditions, given the current and uneven creek bottom and other obstacles, but when you add the potential depth of the water and possible swift current and physical strain of walking up the middle of a creek against the current, you’re getting into a potentially dangerous situation for our youngest participants. It’s our worst nightmare to have a young guest trying to walk up the creek in chin-deep water, lose their footing, and be swept under by the current. Thus, the age recommendation.
(For a less physically-demanding creek experience, consider our Creek Stomp at Ellis Park in Danville on June 1 or our Creek Critters and Bugs program at McCloud on June 30.)
Similarly, our Wicked and Ugly Plants program on Aug. 4 is recommended for ages 13 through adult. Why? Well, because we’re discussing and seeking out toxic plants, and we don’t want young kids touching or tasting them when we find them. Do you have a responsible 12-year-old who you’re confident won’t shove a bunch of stinging nettle in their mouth or want to see what poison ivy leaves feel like when we find it? Then, by all means, bring them to the program. But a 3-year-old? Not a great idea. Thus, the age recommendation.
Another factor that our park naturalists consider is participants’ physical ability. You’ll notice that many of our hikes that could extend up to 2 miles are recommended for ages 6 through adult. That is simply an age recommendation based on how far we’d guess children in general would want to hike at a given age. Can you imagine taking a toddler on a two-mile hike? Neither can we. Thus, the age recommendation.
Our park naturalists also consider the level of complexity of the program. An example of this was our Beekeeping 101 program in January. Given the complexity of information that was being given and the two-hour length of the program, we suspected that young kids would find it boooorrrrrrrring. So we recommended it for adults. Does that mean that a 16-year-old who’s really into beekeeping couldn’t attend? Absolutely not. If your high-schooler has a burning love of pollinators, we’d love to have them at our program! But a 7-year-old? They’re going to be terribly bored and possibly disruptive to the rest of the group and the presenter in the confined space of the Nature Center. Thus, the age recommendation.
It works the same on the other end of the age spectrum. If we recommend our Spring Break Wilderness Survival Day Camp for 8-12 year-olds, that doesn’t mean we won’t allow a 14-year-old to attend who is going to have a blast playing in the woods with us. It simply means that, all things considered, our best guess is that the program will be most interesting for 8-12 year-olds.
If you ever have a question about why our age recommendation on a program is what it is, and whether or not your child can still participate, please don’t hesitate to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (317) 718-6188. We’ll be happy to give you as much information as you need to make a good decision.
We hope this explains a bit about our thought process when it comes to age recommendations. Ultimately, we recognize that as a parent, you know your individual child better than we do. We’re recommending ages based on generalities. Your child is unique, so if you think they would enjoy one of our programs but don’t quite fit into the age recommendations, feel free to contact us.