Camps offer kids lessons learned in nature
Whether your child is a promising garden steward who can’t keep her hands out of the dirt, a bookworm who squeals when she sees a live worm, or a gaming wizard who thrives on solving puzzles, he or she can benefit from the hands-on lessons of the earth.
“Nature is a such rich venue for experience for kids,” says Erin Saunders, the education program director at Thorne Nature Experience. “Being in nature stimulates learning with a kid’s whole body. It gives a venue to engage all types of learners.”
The rich ecosystems of the Front Range are home to many summer camps that focus on just that — giving kids a chance to learn and play in nature. While some focus on growing food and community, others on ecology, and still others on discovery and understanding nature through integrating art, music and theater, all stress the importance of giving kids the gift of exploring and learning about their Colorado environment.
Camps like Growing Gardens Peace Garden Summer Camp give budding foodies and kids with little green thumbs a place where they can literally get dirty and participate in a hands-on program in an urban garden environment. At Peace Garden’s theme-based, week-long sessions, kids plant seeds to take home, make pizza with toppings picked from the gardens and bake them in solar ovens, learn about insects, like the honeybees they have on site, and make candles from beeswax.
Program Director Annie Sweeney says that Peace Garden Camp teaches kids about what they can do to help cultivate and prepare food and how they can make their community a healthier place to live. Participating in the gardening process helps kids develop a new respect for their environment, she says, and gives them a greater framework for understanding the natural world around them.
The more science-minded child might benefit from Thorne Nature Ecology Experience, where they employ their 55 years of nature education experience to shape the 145 camp classes that they’ll offer to kids ages 3-15 this summer. Each day campers and staff meet at Boulder High and then set off to explore a new ecosystem, Saunders says. At Thorne, the environment is the classroom. One day they might be in a forest, the next in a wetland. “We want to guide students,” Saunders says.
“But we also want them to have unstructured exploration and help them discover that they don’t have to travel to a rainforest to be in the environment. The environment is right here.”
If you’re west of Boulder or feel like heading into the mountains, Wild Bear Mountain Ecology Center, located in Nederland, offers kids the chance to have a blast in the natural world that is their backyard, says Jill Dreves, Wild Bear’s executive director. The center provides age-specific programs for children ages 5 and up to learn about ecosystems, hike trails in Roosevelt National Park, fly fish, learn about mines, work with botanists, and reflect on their experiences in nature with journaling, art, music and theater. Aside from their thoughtful programs, a great benefit of Wild Bear is that families can set their own schedule — kids can go just one or two days a week if desired — rather than being locked into a week-long session.
Whether you choose one of these great nature-based camps or seek out another that appeals to your child’s nature interests, getting your kids outdoors and in their natural environment will help them develop a life-long love of the natural world and obtain the skills to protect it.
“Nature-based camps give students a sense of place. They help them learn that their actions make a difference,” Saunders says. “They see that the environment is all around them and it’s their world and they can make a difference in it.”