Summer camp is the ultimate adventure for a kid. It’s a place to discover new things, push comfort zones and experience the outdoors in a whole new way. While every summer camp is different, there are some universal “must-dos” that are worth checking off. Authors Ken Keffer and Stacy Tornio, offer their 9 favorites for keeping kids busy and happy while gaining a whole new appreciation for nature.
Find a bird’s nest. It’s actually harder to find a bird’s nest than you might think. Birds know how to camouflage themselves and their nests during nesting season, so you will have to look really hard. It’s fun to discover, but the group should keep some distance so you don’t worry the parents.
Find (and identify) animal tracks. Animal tracks are out there—but people don’t always notice them. The best time to look for animal tracks is the day after it rains. Challenge your group to find at least two different kinds of tracks and identify what they are. Giving children something specific to look for helps keep them focused on nature hikes.
Discover at least one new animal. To accomplish this one, your group might have to become entomologists. There are dozens of bugs, caterpillars and small insects all around us. We just don’t always notice them (or many times we only notice them when they bite). To make the discoveries even more enjoyable, use magnifying glasses.
Invent your own game. Tag is the ultimate outdoor game, but how about coming up with a twist on this classic? Gather a group and make up a whole new game with fun rules. (Example: Zombie tag! If you get tagged, you have to walk around like a zombie for one minute.) Activities like this can great team building exercises.
Watch the clouds. This is a highly underrated activity, but it’s definitely worth the time. It is as simple as leaning back and looking for shapes in the clouds. Kids love making up stories about the objects they spot, so be sure to leave some time to write up or illustrate cloud stories.
Conduct your own experiment. Summer is a season for discovery, and it’s a great time to put science skills into action. For instance, study the animals around you by monitoring turtles sunning in your area. What time of day do you find the most turtles? What logs do they like the most? Challenge the kids in your group to come up with their own experiments, too.
Make art from nature. Not everything in nature is fair game—best leave those native flowers alone. But there are many great things out there (rocks, sticks, etc.) that you can collect to make a collage from. Here’s an idea—take a rock, paint it and then wrap it in wire to make a necklace out of it. Craft projects are common at camp, but the added exploration of picking out unique nature artifacts is a real bonus for kids.
Skip rocks. It is sad but true—kids aren’t skipping rocks like they used to. You might have to teach them the techniques, but they’ll quickly get the hang of it, leading to countless hours of entertainment. Have a fun little contest, allowing each kid to choose five rocks. Then see who can skip their rock the most skips, the farthest, etc.
Try a conservation project. Make sure the kids understand the connection between the nature around them and how they affect it. Pick out a project as a group (cleaning up an area, pulling an invasive plant, etc.), and then spend a couple of hours doing this together. It’s a great way to encourage the next generation to have an appreciation for the outdoors.
These ideas are from Ken Keffer and Stacy Tornio, authors of The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book from Falcon Guides and We Love Nature with Roost Books. They also run the website, www.destinationnature.net.
What are some of your favorite summer camp activities? What activities are you doing with the kids in your parks and recreation programs this summer? Tell us in the comments below or tweet them to us @NRPA_News.