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In The Country

Nature Springs to Life

Kay Deardorff
Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve

(3/2012) "Spring Fever" is spreading throughout our children in the community. Watch for symptoms such as lack of focus on indoor activities: shedding of shoes, venturing into the woods, playing in streams, and a desire to get out of the house. The cure is coming, but symptoms can be treated by allowing your child to sign up for summer camp.

Abigail A. Van Slyck, author of "A Manufactured Wilderness: Summer Camps and the Shaping of American Youth", recognizes that camps were introduced into North America in the 1880s. She notes that camps became part of the back-to-nature trend in many areas, as they provided respite from what were regarded as the moral and physical degradations of urban life.

In 2011, the American Camp Association (ACA) celebrated 150 years of Camp. ACA exclaiming, "Camp is the ultimate gift! It gives children a sense of who they are, helps them to become more independent, and opens up a world of opportunity where they see that they CAN become leaders, work with others, and accomplish goals through hard work . . . all while having fun!"

As Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve gears up for our 2012 camp season, offering variety of activities for children from ages 4-15, interviews with some employees at the Preserve have revealed how their lives were touched through camps during their formidable years.

Growing up as an inner city kid our executive director remembered specific field trips; recreational, team-building, and field games; as well as sleeping in canvas tents with bunk beds. With a smile on his face and a far-away look in his eye, he noted the way the exploration, hikes, and learning were FUN while promoting a healthy active lifestyle. Who knew time spent away from the normal, trouble-causing distractions in his life would lead him to a position of executive director of a nature preserve.

Our education coordinator followed the footsteps of her big sister. Too young to attend on her own, she enjoyed adventures with sis as they relished the arts, crafts, cooking, rope net climb, camp fires, and, of course, sleeping in a cabin. She acknowledged those years of camp as a "path to a certain destination". Now a professional naturalist, she hopes to develop the same passion in youngsters attending Strawberry Hillís camp; to find friends, enjoy play, and explore nature just as she experienced as a child.

Our camp coordinator, a high school teacher, expressed her preference for nature-based camps. Evermore excited to attend nature camps, she loved the chance to get dirty without getting into trouble for it. As she learned about her environment and the local ecosystem, she became more aware of her surroundings. She learned the value of exploring without the need to obtain all the answers. She is now one of Strawberry Hillís leaders forĖ Summer Nature Adventure Camp for Kids, referred this year as S.N.A.C.K. time.

Summer camps can be attended either week by week or your child can sign up to attend the entire summer as a whole. Either way the experiences will be fun, educational, and unforgettable. The rest of this article will give you a window into the schedule for the vacation months.

Letís go through the life of a child attending summer camp at Strawberry Hill. Weíll start by pretending you are a 4 or 5 year old. You will bid adieu to Mom and Dad each morning as you spend the next 5 days investigating flowers, leaves, and native plants. Next youíll learn how to build a tent, then focus on hiking and discovery. Youíll love getting a real feel for camp life when sitting around the "campfire". Moving on, you will be a "Weather Wanderer" who learns to read the clouds and discover how weather works. By the time you are ready for week 4 you will be anxious to dive into the experiences your five senses will bring to you. This leads you to the time when you, as a Mini Naturalist, will discover the story of trees and dig into soil to check on the worms. Week 6 will uncover the life of butterflies and you will learn where insects live and what makes them special. Finally, the last week in the nature camp will emphasize the various shapes and patterns made by sunlight.

Advancing to a 6 or 7 year old, you would begin your summer with a weekís exploration of the world of insects, arachnids, and other creatures that share our habitats. Week 2 will turn you into a Mad Scientist as you perform some cool, messy experiments; being completely natural. But donít stop there! You can learn to paint with plants and create masterpieces using materials found on site during the third week. Looking forward to weeks 4 and 5, you become an outdoor enthusiast as you explore local ecosystems as well as those of the rest of the world. You will need your imagination during week 6 to design sports using your surroundings. You will enjoy the wrap up of your camp experiences during the last week as you learn all about life under the water.

Now if you are a child age 8 or 9, you will look forward to getting up close and personal with some local animals during your first week of camp. Then you will become a nature detective as you sleuth your way through the second week. You will learn how to use forensic techniques to solve the mystery of the bug-napped insect. This will prepare you for your next experience when you will search for and collect many insects from our local ecosystem. The next weeks youíll find that art isnít only for indoors as you explore natural art and use your creativity to create, build, paint, and sculpt. Then be ready to discover roots and wings and shoots and things as you search the murky waters of the pond and peak under logs and catch frogs. This camp really rocks as you find yourself climbing a rock wall and making a primitive stone tool. You wonít want the summer to end after youíve spent a week learning survival skills of foraging and how to build a shelter. Will you be the ultimate survivor of summer camp?

All of the exciting things going on at summer camp at Strawberry Hill this year and we havenít even talked about the 10 through 12 year olds yet. They will be doing some really interesting things like making a fishing pole; building a primitive shelter; finding edible plants; not to mention fire making, kayaking, and canoeing.

The teens, ages 13 through 15, wonít be left out as they enjoy a week of outdoor experiences on the Appalachian Trail, Michaux State Forest, a ropes course, and a day of kayaking. How could the summer end better than with an overnight camp out at the Preserve and dinner over the fire?

All this, plus a bonus week at the Gettysburg Rec Park! Doesnít this make some of you adults wish you were young again? For information about how your child can gain his/her own positive camp experience, visit www.StrawberryHill.org. Registrations are now being accepted to treat spring fever!

Read other articles by Kay Deardorff