The Friends of Ballona Wetlands and the Santa Monica Bay and Los Angeles Audubon Chapters are offering a six-week training program for volunteers to become “volunteer naturalists” and lead tours of school children through the Ballona Wetlands.

Classes will be from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesday mornings, September 12th through October 17th.

No prior experience is necessary, just a desire to help children develop a love of the natural world and an enthusiasm for preserving it, says a program spokesman.

Since 1990, the Audubon Society has offered tours of the Ballona Wetlands for children in fourth to sixth grade. More than 40,000 children have participated in the program, which offers an opportunity for students to see the last major salt marsh in Los Angeles County and to learn about the native plants, insects, birds and microorganisms that inhabit the Ballona Wetlands.

Tours are held Tuesday and Thursday mornings from October to May. Students are divided into groups of 15 and a volunteer naturalist accompanies each group.

During the two-hour walk with the volunteer naturalist, students have an opportunity to use microscopes to observe microorganisms, and telescopes and binoculars to watch birds.

Volunteer naturalists are asked to lead at least two tours per month between October and May.

Training is also offered to become an educational outreach volunteer. These volunteers visit local classrooms for about an hour and a half before a class field trip to the Ballona Wetlands.

Training sessions cover wetland ecology, birds, native plants and animals, the food chain and interpretive techniques.

Each participant will receive a comprehensive training manual.

The training program is free to Audubon members and $20 for non-members. The fee includes Audubon membership. There is also a refundable materials fee.

Information, Barbara Courtois, (310) 379-4669, or Cindy Hardin, (310) 301-0050.

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