How Camps Help Children Care for the Earth
Whether a child makes his home in the heart of the city or the fields of the heartland, daily life can make getting “back to nature” hard for any family. Yet experiencing the outdoors helps children gain enhanced abilities to learn, lead, and experience contentment, as well as gain a lifelong interest in caring for planet earth.
Parents who want to be sure their kids know a toad from a frog and a catfish from a crawfish don’t need to go it alone. Camp programs are among the very best ways for children to get to know first-hand a very important family member — Mother Nature.
Take James, for example. Despite being included in many family travels, James and the natural world had only a passing acquaintance, and his parents were wise enough to send him into the woods for camp.
“We have a little potato patch down by the river, and the kids can catch a trout in the river and dig up potatoes and bring them back to camp, learning what it’s like to live off the land,” explains Sandy Schenk, owner and director of Green River Preserve camp of Cedar Mountain, North Carolina.
Almost all camps incorporate hikes and nature activities, and some go an extra mile to immerse kids in nature and the environment. Green River Preserve is one such camp. It specializes in helping gifted children better understand the earth through daily activities with professional naturalists on a 3,400-acre nature preserve.
“We find that getting kids into the natural world is transformational,” says Schenk. “Nature’s a magnificent teacher because everyone is treated the same. Pushing yourself is something that happens naturally in the out of doors. And when you see kids helping each other over a slippery rock wall, it’s amazing. We see each child come out of the program with a greater understanding of nature and better sense of self.”
Eagles’ Nest Camp of Pisgah Forest, North Carolina, has been teaching kids to take care of their natural world for decades. “In our Explorer’s Club class, kids are out in the woods, streams, and bushes, really getting a feel for the amazing biodiversity of the Northern Appalachians,” explains Noni Waite-Kucera, executive director of Eagle’s Nest Foundation. “To have kids be able to explore and be a part of that is a real gift for them.”
Eagle’s Nest also sponsors camp craft classes, helping children learn to read a map, build a fire, and leave no trace. “We teach every camper how to respect and avoid making an impact on the environment,” she says. Even an earth art class uses items found in the forest for woodland sculptures, which campers then leave behind to biodegrade and contribute to the health of the forest ecosystem.
Environmental programs don’t always take place exclusively in the outdoors. The Whole Kitchen program uses holistic ingredients, fresh foods, whole grains, and local produce. “We grind our flour from wheat berries, and the kids make the bread,” Waite-Kucera says. “It’s all a way to show how nature provides for us, and why we need to return the favor.”
Sometimes, a camp’s location can provide built-in environmental lessons. At Windsor Mountain (formerly Interlocken), camp life centers around a small farm and camp garden nestled in the foothills of New Hampshire on the edge of a 4,000-acre nature preserve.
“We offer kids a chance to get their feet wet in the morning dew, to feel the grass under their feet, to lie down in the field and look up at the stars. Our activities help them understand how Mother Nature is delicate and why we care about helping to protect her,” says Sarah Herman, director of the camp.
Campers harvest vegetables from the garden for the salad bar and help take care of the farm animals. Children with a special interest in nature also can go directly into the marsh to learn about its animal habitats, into the woods to create natural art, or on a bog-wading ecological adventure. For older youth, three-day, off-campus trips can take campers backpacking, mountain climbing, rafting, and more — all with an eye to building awareness in the natural surroundings.
Regardless of which you choose, nearly all campers leave with an enhanced appreciation of the outdoors. #
Reprinted by permission of the American Camp Association