Why We Love Summer Camp

January 25, 2017
Why We Love Summer Camp

Why We Love Summer Camp
By Eve Smallwood, Youth Program Manager and Camp Director

Ahh, winter. Trees are bare, there’s a nip in the air and animals are busy surviving the cold. It’s the perfect time to think about… SUMMER CAMP!

Although it’s January, preparations for CincyNature Camps are in full swing. It’s this time of year we’re busy creating the camp brochure, hiring our excellent camp counselors and excitedly planning themed camp sessions. We know a lot of parents and guardians have started to plan their kids’ summers already, too.

There are countless options for kids over the summer. So why is sending them to camp one of the best? More specifically, why day camp? And why a nature day camp?

It’s a slippery slope to ask me about the benefits of camp. I could go on for DAYS about the benefits of attending a nature day camp like ours. Here are just a few of the advantages that are embodied by our camp program at Cincinnati Nature Center.

A Great Place to Begin
Raise your hand if you like participating in ice breakers. I’m not a betting person, but if I had to guess, you probably didn’t raise your hand. While most people don’t love ice breakers, they’re a camp staple, and there is a reason why; they help campers feel more comfortable in a new situation.

Venturing out to try new things with new people can be challenging for people of any age. A week-long day camp is the perfect opportunity for youth to try something different without committing to a longer camp experience. Day camps tend to be close to home, so the environment is familiar and campers feel comfortable, knowing they will return home to their families each afternoon. Plus, we work hard to make sure campers feel like part of our camp family from the moment they arrive. Campers gain confidence in spending time in a new setting away from home, but not too far from home.

Find Your People
Picture a hot, humid summer day; a group of campers wades through the flowing water of the stream, excitedly turning over small rocks in search of aquatic creatures and fossils. A camper shouts as she discovers a small, nonvenomous queensnake and gently scoops it up. She proudly holds it while other ecstatic campers gather around to get a look and maybe even a chance to hold it themselves. One of the counselors asks some probing questions about the snake’s coloration or where it was found, and the campers eagerly share their reptilian knowledge while contemplating questions they’re unsure of…

This is a typical scene at many of our nature day camps. We are all about hands-on experiences in nature. It is the best place for campers to gain a deeper appreciation for the outdoors while also learning and discovering in a safe environment. When I say “safe,” I not only mean physically, but also emotionally. It can be hard to imagine a situation like this in another setting, where a child’s excitement about nature is considered cool, and the other campers are equally excited.

Nature day camp is a place where youth will find like-minded peers. Campers can share their passion for nature with others who feel the same way, helping to build their self-confidence and deepen their connection with the natural world. Camp is where you find your people, where you get to be your true self, where you are celebrated for being you. Camp is a treasured setting because it is a place that is intentionally inclusive and where we make connections and friendships that can last a lifetime. Staff are trained in helping campers discover their commonalities and build friendships so that all of our campers know that they are a special part of our community.

Speaking of staff, our counselors and teen counselors-in-training (CITs) are an integral part of the camp experience for campers. While we hire a variety of different counselors, they all have a few things in common: they are passionate about working with children, love nature and are excellent role models. Sending your child to camp provides them with many role models who exemplify the values and principles that Cincinnati Nature Center holds in the highest regard. They promote community, respect all life, are stewards of the land, provide a welcoming atmosphere and act with integrity. Counselors become personal heroes to campers and we work hard to make sure the camp staff we hire are excellent role models.

Connections with Nature
At Cincinnati Nature Center, we pride ourselves on helping campers develop deep, authentic connections with the natural world. To us, this means providing opportunities for hands-on experiences in a variety of settings- from catching newts at the pond to building shelters out of natural materials to journaling about nature observations while sitting quietly in the woods. There are also a multitude of benefits of spending time outside for the mind, body and spirit. Check out this handy fact sheet from the National Wildlife Foundation to learn more.

At nature day camp, we spend most of our time outside, soaking up that vitamin D, getting our hands and boots muddy as we explore and feeling the breeze on our faces… or simply wishing for a breeze in the muggy weeks of July! Not only are your kids reaping the benefits of just spending time in nature, they are making deeper connections. They’re gathering awareness about cool animal adaptations (turtles can breathe through their rear ends!?) while figuring out how everything in the natural world is connected- even humans! Camp is a time for inspiring passion for nature and gaining an understanding and appreciation for how it all works. Later in life, we hope our campers will continue to hold this passion for nature that is fueled at camp, and will be inspired to be stewards of the nature world.

Learning Skills for Life
As a parent or guardian, what skills do you hope you child will possess as an adult? Perhaps resiliency in challenging situations, or the ability to calmly and creatively problem solve. Maybe teamwork, collaboration, communication and other social skills. Adaptability? Initiative?

While camp is known for being fun, you may not know that we also focus heavily on helping campers build skills for life during their time at camp. Almost every situation leads itself to learning these skills, and our staff are trained in helping to further develop them. Imagine working together to build a fort with a group of other campers- communicating, working through disagreements (perhaps with the gentle guidance of a nearby counselor) and celebrating success together when the task is complete! We see campers overcome fears, or at least become more comfortable when encountering them. For example, we’ve seen campers who start the week terrified of daddy long legs. By the end of their camp session they are softly picking them up and holding them in their hands.

While our camps are in large part about having fun and experiencing nature, they are simultaneously about developing skills that will benefit campers throughout their lives.

So send your kids to camp this summer! They’ll try new things in a safe environment, make friends and memories that will last a lifetime, experience authentic connections with the natural world, develop skills for life and have a blast doing it!

Online registration for the 2017 CincyNature Camp opens February 7 at 9 am!  

Eve Smallwood
is the Youth Program Manager and Camp Director for Cincinnati Nature Center. She holds a Master of Science in Environmental Education and Interpretation and has worked as an outdoor educator for a variety of nature centers throughout the country for more than 10 years. Her passion lies in helping others build community and increase their love of nature, especially at camp! Eve grew up as a “camp kid,” directed her first summer camp as a teenager, and has been working at camps in different roles ever since. She thoroughly believes in the power of camp to positively change lives and is eagerly anticipating another magical summer of CincyNature Camps this year.