Saturday, May 7, 2011

Summer Camp

As the days grow longer and the sun feels warmer, I know it’s time to start shifting gears and getting ready for another summer of camps here at the farm.  During the winter, I focus more on my “indoor” profession of Life Coaching, but once the grass starts turning green and the birds start chirping, it’s time for me to shed my professional clothes in favor of jeans and a t-shirt and head back out to the barnyard.

When we first moved to the farm in 2005, I had a vision of combining my years as a horse-crazy young girl with my stint as a girl scout leader to create a riding and farm program for kids.  My own girls had gone to several horse and farm-related camps before we moved out here, and though they’d enjoyed them, I’d always thought there was so much more that the leaders could have done with the rich material of animals, nature, kids, crafts and games.  Also, once we bought the property here in Boulder County, we were pretty tapped out financially, so if we were going to have horses (and eventually goats, chickens, a llama, etc.) they were going to have to generate enough income to pay their way.  Camps and farm programs seemed like a great way to accomplish this goal while allowing me to still remain essentially a stay-at-home mom.

Each summer, we put on 3 or 4 week-long summer day camps.  Some are full day camps and some are half-day, and they are organized according to age of the campers.  Pony Pals is a half day camp for kids 6 and up; Boots, Suits & Brushes is a full day camp that includes swimming and art in the afternoons for kids 8 and up; and Middle School Mares is a full day camp with a backyard sleepover in tents the last night for girls ages 11-15.  Ours camps are small and intimate with no more than 8 or 9 campers per session, and I’ve really gotten to know a lot of the kids well as many come back year after year.  Last year was an especially gratifying summer when I realized that many of my new Middle School Mares had been coming to camps or lessons on the farm since they were in kindergarten!

The way I organize the camp day is to teach riding lessons to a small group of 2-4 kids at a time while the others work on a craft or choose from an assortment of other farm-related activities.  I always post of list of these options in the barn and go over the choices with the kids at the beginning of each camp day.  Activities range from playing with the goats, to collecting eggs from the henhouse, playing with bubbles or water balloons, working on camp journals, swinging on horse swings, hunting for toads and free play.  Guess which one always gets the biggest cheer when I read through the list?   Free play!  I’m always amazed how excited the kids get when I tell them they can actually make up their own games outdoors using nothing more than their own creativity and imagination.  You’d think I just told them they had won the lottery.  And they have come up with some pretty amazing, deeply involved games over the years involving teamwork, story plots, strategy, and lots and lots of running.  In fact, some kids resume a game they had started the previous summer when they come back to camp the next year.

In his book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv identifies a phenomenon he calls Nature-Deficit Disorder: the disconnection between children and nature.   He sites research confirming that direct exposure to nature is essential for the physical and emotional health of children and argues for a return to an awareness of and appreciation for the natural world.  I have to agree that I think today’s kids are so plugged into electronic media and so over scheduled with structured activities (although many of these are very worthwhile), that they are craving time to just explore and create their own sense of adventure in the outdoors without any specific goals or adult intervention.  I like to think my camps are giving a handful of kids the chance to get a bit more of this in their lives each summer.  I know I sure enjoy watching them do it!

Life Lesson:  We could all use a little more Free Play time outdoors 

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