15 July 2012

Helping Children Make Friends with the Rest of Nature

I just wrapped up my Nature Daycamp for 6 to 12 year olds. (I know, I know, I'm the oldest daycamp leader in the world!) This is my fourth year, and each year I get more and more children signed up.

Last Monday, I was feeling rather dazed with the sheer number of kids. But by Tuesday afternoon, my assistant and I had worked out some strategies for getting their attention and getting all of them engaged at the same time.

And then the magic began. Following a daily sketching lesson, these kids all sat quietly during Magic Spot Time, then eagerly showed us their drawings. They "built a tree" and played in the woods. They listened for birds at the marsh and celebrated when the osprey flew overhead. They dipped their nets into the pond and shrieked with delight and fascination at what they found. They played at the beach, floating on logs. And then they harvested vegetables from the school garden and made hand salads ... some of them eating foods they'd never tried before. We visited a farm where they fed the chickens and held some chicks. And then we ended the week with a splash – in a pond!

One of my goals, always, is to help children make friends with the rest of Nature. I've been thinking lately that the environmental education movement's move (since the 1960s) away from "naming" has been at least partly misguided. After all, what's the first thing we do when we make new friends? We learn their names! This year, my daycampers learned the difference between Douglas firs and cedar trees, between sea urchins and sea cucumbers, between eagles and turkey vultures in flight.

Only once, as we were hiking up a mountain, did I hear the older boys talking about video games, and I quickly explained that that was the one thing we don't talk about at Nature Daycamp. They respected that. Several parents told me they'd signed their kids up for daycamp in order to get them away from their computers. And we heard lots of stories of excited kids getting home and sharing every detail of their day, then sleeping soundly at night.

So I had to laugh – and I did, right out loud (a bit of a gallows laugh) – when the very first thing my youngest daycamper, a sweet little girl of 5 and a half who had loved daycamp, said to her mother at the end of our swim on Friday afternoon was, "Mom, when we get home, can I play video games?"

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?