Our first camp is behind us! Since the farm isn’t ready yet, we hosted our first Science Adventure Camp at the Wilderness Resort. What a week it was! A week of fun, learning, adventures, and developing ideas to make it even better for the future! We got our name out using a local Groupon which caused a flurry of inquiries and signups in a very short time. In a matter of hours, we had the perfect group size to get things started and test some ideas out.
The format we developed was to start the camp with group warmups, some talk about the science we would be exploring, an introduction to paddling kayaks, followed by some kayak exploration time on the lake, and lunch. Afternoon activities included more science and a swim in the pool to wrap things up. For one or two of the days, we would substitute hiking for the kayaking. Funny that everything started out okay, but the campers took things in a slightly different direction. For instance, our very first kayak expedition halted abruptly at the boat dock where the campers (led by one with previous experience on the lake) realized they could have a TON of fun jumping off the boat dock and swimming for a bit. So, with everyone on board, that’s what we did. After a bit, we hoped back in the boats feeling refreshed and cooled off and headed on our way!
One thing I wanted to try was the sort of loose format that we have begun to – successfully – utilize for our home schooling, to let the children’s interest lead the direction of learning. This worked well for the camp. Instead of a rigid schedule where we would force the children to quickly wrap up and move to the next activity, we allowed them, and their interest in what they were doing, to lead gradually to the next activity. However, working into this methodology took a bit of old fashioned trial and error mixed in with a big dose of patience and a tad of humility.
Monday and Tuesday were a whirlwind of activity. Energetic kids and a over-enthusiastic leader (me) accomplished much, but exhausted everyone. It became clear by Tuesday afternoon, that we seriously needed to schedule in some downtime after lunch. I hung out some hammocks, sprinkled some comfy camp chairs around the shady areas and almost by accident, our lunch time spread into a relaxed free time that lasted over an hour. During this time the campers could eat, relax, swim in the lake, kayak a bit on their own (near the camp lot & under my watchful eye), or even ride a bike around the glen. Interestingly, they really enjoyed this time. They liked the total freedom to choose exactly how they wanted to spend it.
It was interesting too to see how they spent time analyzing the experiments and specimens collected. One thing I had hoped to do was to work some science “lessons” into the activities. One thing the kids let me know quite clearly through their actions and interest level was that they certainly weren’t interested in “learning”! My hopes were crushed, but only for a moment. Going back to the “un-schooling” plan that is working so well for our home school, I took the official “learning” component out of the activities and replaced it with wonder and curiosity. We practiced observation skills and I carefully asked questions about the different ecosystems as we encountered things. We collected specimens – the kids were particularly interested in scums and slimes! We also took large jars and recreated the ecosystems in miniature so we could study them better.
Things that were collected during adventures were left on tables at the site with extra collection tools and magnifying glasses. The afternoon break time was filled with curiosity and the kids would grab a magnifying glass and explore those miniature worlds all on their own, watching, analyzing, asking questions and making assumptions to test.
For this “test” group, the age range ran from 7 – 15 years old. We had three girls and two boys and we were able to keep all of them engaged and happy. We offered some flexibility in the “what next” category and allowed them to choose from a menu of options. This flexible plan worked well and was one of the things the campers were the most excited about. Almost all of them had been to camps with more rigid schedules/tracks and they all really enjoyed the flexibility as well as the ability to be part of the decision making.
For future camps we need to add: additional counselors (one for every 5 campers seems to be a good ratio); more bikes and helmets; more hammocks and chairs; no journals, forms or forced science lessons; a microscope or two; fishing rods & live bait; regular flow of snacks and beverages (boy can teenagers and pre-teens eat!).
All in all, it was extremely successful, even with the learning curve. The kids had a blast, grew ever more inquisitive about the great outdoors, developed an appreciation for kayaking and exploring and learned to cooperate, explore and make decisions as a group! What a fantastic week!