As summer nears, many parents are struggling with decisions about what to do with their kids to keep them busy.
Summer camp brings fond memories of chasing toads, climbing trees, catching worms, eating “mystery meals” in the mess hall and drinking “bug juice”.
This experience of just playing in the dirt out in nature really helps to shape children into environmentally responsible people, according to a Cornell University study. The study showed that children who participated in “wild” outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, playing in the woods, were more likely to have a visceral connection to the environment and more environmentally friendly attitudes as adults.
Richard Louv, co-founder of the Children & Nature Network coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” in his 2005 national bestseller, Last Child in the Woods (Algonquin Books). He links a lack of nature experiences to rises in childhood obesity, attention disorders, and depression.
His call to bring children back into the fold of nature is “a call to nurture and protect the spiritual lives of children and adults and ultimately protect the natural world”.
So if you want to gift your child the opportunity this summer to step away from the monkey bars and the concrete jungle and kick of her Converse and climb a tree like a monkey, why not check out some outstanding options for sustainable summer camp.
Camp has always been a place for children to connect with nature. Now with the push being towards sustainability and green living, children can also learn how to keep the earth green at camps that build “green” principals into their programing and facilities.
At summer camp, Earth Day is every day and these camps hold environmental stewardship as central to their respective philosophies.
Briar Bush Nature Center- Abington, PA
At Briar Bush Nature Center, campers as young as 2 years old can participate in outdoor education activities. The Eco-Kids in Action! Program allows campers to see how their actions affect the world around them.
In this weekly program 2nd-3rd grade students take field trips to wind farms, paper recycling centers, and learn about renewable energy, and water conservation. Visit them online- www.briarbush.org
Pennsylvania Resources Council- Eastern, PA
In the Wildlife Detectives program at Pennsylvania Resources Council kids discover wildlife and practice identification of species. In their Earth Action Squad day program campers become environmental scientists for a week, participating in organic gardening, learning about alternative energy, and what water testing can tell us about the health of an ecosystem.
To learn more, visit them online- www.prc.org
IslandWood- Bainbridge Island, WA
Bainbridge Island, Washington’s IslandWood offers a wide range of sleepaway and day programs throughout the year for everyone from young children to grad students and adults.
The beautiful, 255-acre outdoor learning center offers enrichment in environmental sciences and the arts together with a strong commitment to sustainability education and fun. Explore their tree house, which overlooks a bog, one of six natural elements in the camp watershed.
Visit them online- www.islandwood.org
Gwynn Valley Summer Camp- Brevard, NC
Marketing themselves as an Eco-friendly Kids camp, Gwynn Valley has been using high efficiency lighting in over half their cabins, which are run from batteries for over 10 years. Installing water-saver shower heads that use only 2 gallons per minute, saving up to 40% in water and heated water usage. Using compact fluorescent lights throughout our program for over 5 years.
They also compost their kitchen waste and grow much of their food onsite. Their activities include farming, horseback riding, outdoor living skills, pioneer crafts, sports, nature hikes and more.
Visit them online- www.gwynnvalley.com
Now that you have an idea of what types of camps are out there you need to make sure you ask the right questions so that your child makes the best out of the camp experience.
Here are 5 questions to ask the camp directors when deciding on where to send your child.
How does your program incorporate green living principals and teach sustainability education? These days it’s just not enough to offer pretty scenery and a break from city living, with the issues our planet faces its important for kids to learn through practice.
Ask if they have water and energy conservation programs, if they have recycling and composting onsite. If the camp isn’t really walking their talk, it will be hard for campers to do so.
Do you have a policy on electronic devices? While its not necessary to completely forbid electronics, most camps do have a ban on them. It can be distracting when campers are text messaging friends or playing handheld video games.
What type of meal options are available and where does the food come from? Those of us who went to camp remember how bad the mushy french toast was, detested the clumpy macaroni and we wouldn’t dare touch the meat loaf.
Fortunately for our kids, many camps have come a long way and have incorporated local, seasonal, organic produce, some having grown on site. Whole grains, leafy greens, and low sugar should be on the list of top priorities.
How much unstructured time do children have? With kids being so over scheduled these days its nice for them to have some time to explore the outdoors on their own. There needs to be a balance between free play and scheduled activities.
What are you all doing to reduce your carbon footprint? Look to see in what ways the camp is working to become completely green.
If you need assistance filtering through all the camps that are out there, check out Choice Camps, a Boston-based summer camp and youth travel referral service.
They have launched a great resource for parents; www.ChoiceCamps.com, a website designed to improve the way families find summer camps and teen travel programs online.