Learning Among the Oaks (LATO) started with a teacher dreaming of taking kids out of the classroom and into the oak woodlands surrounding a rural California school. With a multi-year grant, many partners, and luck, the LATO adventures began in 2005. Soon, the kids, teachers and families at Santa Margarita School began to experience the joy of making discoveries and learning outdoors. Season after season, year after year, the LATO trail at Santa Margarita Ranch became a well-worn path.
Kids felt a connection to the land and were eager to share what they had learned through the years. Who better to teach other kids than the older kids? Thus the junior naturalist training program, known as Oak Ambassadors, began in 2010. LATO now has a home in three different San Luis Obispo County public elementary schools, each with its own associated oak nature trail.
Thousands of people, mostly school children and families, participate in LATO hikes and activities each year (before the pandemic). Many spin-off projects, including the popular wildlife cameras, puppet shows and skits have made LATO a high-impact program and a source of pride for all involved.