Of all the programs we do at Audubon, Day Camp is by far the favorite of the education staff. It is probably also the most effective at achieving our mission of connecting people to nature. And connect them, we do!
First of all, having kids for four consecutive days allows us to get to know them better than we can when we visit their classrooms for a brief one-hour program. We get to build on ideas and dig deeper into concepts than we can in any of our other programming. It is rewarding to watch the growth from day to day, and from year to year. It is satisfying to know that they were so bitten by the nature bug that not only do they want to return year after year as campers, but many want to keep coming to serve as Counselors in Training, then Junior Counselors. In fact, this year, one of our former campers - Karen Eckstrom, now a college student - is on staff and will be leading her own camp sessions.
It seems to be the animals more than the plants that intrigue the campers. And many of them experience at least one "first" while at camp. The first time they ever pet a slug ... turning their finger bright orange from the slime. The first time they ever held a dragonfly gently by the wings. The first time they ever saw a muskrat swim. The first time they ever caught a frog or salamander. The first time they ever held a snake. The first time they ever saw eggs or baby birds in a nest.
It changes your world view when you find out that getting dirty doesn't hurt and that dragonflies don't sting. It makes you more comfortable in your corner of the planet when you know the names of the things you see. You feel connected when you hold another living, breathing thing in your hands and realize that the two of you breathe the same air.
Our camps are always run in a playful, child-centered way. In Nature Nuts, for example, campers (who will enter grades 3-4 next fall) build "peeps" - little creatures that need to survive in the woods. Survival requires food, water, shelter, and space. Campers will take their peeps to the woods to build shelters for them. Soon, the collection of shelters grows into a community with each peep taking on a special role - a niche. Parents - be prepared! Your presence will be required for a grand tour of Peepville at the end of the week. Nature Nuts repeats June 30 to July 3 and Aug. 4-7. Several specialty camps are offered for this age level, too. In Water Camp find out how many drops of water can fit on a penny and walk through one of our ponds to see what it's like for the critters who live there. Study a forest from the ground up in Beneath the Trees. Learn to identify birds, flowers, and pond critters in Junior Naturalist. Build a nest box and other wood projects in Woodworking for Wildlife.
For kids who will enter grades 5 through 7 in the fall, Nature Safari offers a variety of nature exploration opportunities. Dip in the pond to see who lives there, turn over logs looking for salamanders and snakes, check the status of bird families in our nest boxes. Nature Safari is offered twice: July 28-31 and Aug. 11-14. There is still room in Art Camp for this same age group July 7-10. Campers in this session work with local artist Lori Rothfus to create works of art - some of which go home, and others that stay at the Center to become a part of our exhibits. Lori creates a wonderfully safe and creative space and encourages all to express themselves through a variety of media. Or perhaps your children would be more interested in Animals Camp - which will include short trips offsite to visit an Animal Shelter, a veterinarian, and a farm. In Nature Totems, campers explore nature, study native animals, and find wildlife symbols for themselves which they create in an artistic way to serve as their personal totems.
All campers will help us out with a Citizen Science project related to pollinators called "The Great Sunflower Project" - we will start by planting sunflowers. During camp, children will help by observing and recording who comes to feed and pollinate.
Several of our offerings are already full. Others are filling up fast. Even if you check the camp Web site at jamestownaudubon.org to check camp enrollments, please call Audubon at 569-2345 before mailing your registration. We can place your children's names on the list to hold their spots while we wait for the post office to deliver your applications.
Finally, a note to those of you who are already enrolled: If you find your children cannot attend after all, please let us know as soon as possible. It will make someone on the waiting list very happy indeed!
- Jennifer Schlick is Program and Camp Director at Jamestown Audubon and an avid singer of camp songs. Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road in the town of Kiantone, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Warren, Pa., and Jamestown. For more information, visit jamestownaudubon.org or call 569-2345.