Unplug and Experience the Outdoors
The word "camp" has many definitions for people. For some it could mean a half day activity. For others, a week long overnight experience comes to mind.
For a parent, the number of organizations offering "camp" can be overwhelming. How do you define the camp experience? The organized camping industry is more than 100 years old. The options to participate in camp activities are in the thousands!
There is a movement in America to get kids outdoors and active. I know when I was a child we were told to go outside and play. There were no instructions or camp counselors to guide us in a positive youth development setting. It was a time to use your imagination and build a fort to keep your opposing neighbors out. If you were lucky, there was a mud pie bakery inside your fort, or a growing insect collection to feed the birds.
Are Today's Kids Too Plugged In?
Today, "Kids are plugged into some sort of electronic medium 44 hours per week" says Richard Louv, journalist and author of eight books about the connections between family, nature and community. He is the founding chairman of the Children Nature Network.
Louv's writing discusses the notion that today's youth suffer from nature deficit disorder. He argues how the lack of interactions with nature and the outdoors is impacting the physical and emotional well-being of our youth.
Technology is a must in this day and age. But there needs to be a balance between disconnection with electronics and a reconnection with the outdoor environment. The out-of-doors is the most relevant place to teach science concepts and engage youth in the process. Water quality discussions are only enhanced by actually being at the stream or pond and testing the youth's observation skills. Do they see or hear the frogs? When youth allow themselves to become part of the environment and not just a passer-by the effect can be tremendous.
Encourage Childrens' Interests Outdoors
The outdoor experience offers many avenues to adapt to the child's interests. Perhaps they want to test the water quality or collect rocks from the streams and see if they can find caddis fly larvae? A simple walk around the neighborhood can produce a worthy nature experience. Look up at the trees and try to find a bird or a squirrel nest. Challenge your little urban hikers to find unique natural features while walking the dog.
Now that spring is upon us, encourage your child to look closely at the plants, shrubs, and trees starting to produce buds, which creates an awe inspiring moment. One of the best aspects of these nature encounters is that they are free! You do not have to know the scientific name of the plant or insect. The motto of outdoor education is, "If you don't know the answer it's ok, we can find out."
Summer camps provide ample opportunity to get your child active and engaged in the outdoor environment. Whether it's a science camp or an art camp, ask yourself, "Does it provide opportunities for my child to go outside and play?" Does it allow your child to disconnect from electronics and allow for outdoor free time to engage in imaginative play? No matter what option you choose for your family to participate in the "camp" experience, I encourage you to choose one that connects to nature and the outdoor environment on some level. The benefits will last a lifetime.