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The camp nature program: how to prevent the extinction of an endangered species.

Instilling a love for the natural world should be a prime obligation of all camps. With such an ideal setting for nature studies, it is mystifying more camps do not offer a nature program. If your camp doesn't offer nature education, read on and find out what you can do to change this situation.

There are two essential elements for restoring nature to its prime position as an integral part of the camp experience. First, those who own, direct and/or operate the camp must be sincerely committed to providing this important activity for every camper. Second, the person who serves as the nature counselor should not only love nature, but be enthusiastic about passing on that love to children. Only when both of these elements are present and working together, can a vibrant, exciting, high quality nature program become what it could and should be.

What Camp Directors Can Do

A commitment to nature should be expressed in every aspect of the camp. To begin, support the nature program with a suitable facility; provide a place where indoor and outdoor programs can be successfully conducted. It should be well-lit and equipped and be roomy enough to allow the specialist to create attractive displays that invite investigation and stimulate interest in the natural world.

Give the program equal status with other important activities. Nature studies should be fight up there with arts and crafts, sports, theater and other specialties. Whatever your camp does to enhance those other programs (awards, special shows, etc.) can be done with the nature program too, so that campers view it as an integral part of camp, not an afterthought.

If your camp prints a "newspaper," have nature news as part of it. Through this effort, the sighting of a woodpecker by a camper gains equal standing with the winning home run. For those who don't excel in athletics, this kind of recognition can create a successful camp experience.

Equal status also means that the camp should be willing to pay the nature specialist a salary equal to other specialists. That equality will also serve to attract (and keep) a quality person in the job.

Try not to overwhelm the nature period by scheduling too many campers at one time. Children need to have a personalized experience; all need to be able to get close enough to see and hear. There should be no more than 15 or 16 in a group.

For rainy days, if the indoor facility is large enough, groups could double up for special programs such as nature filmstrips. General counselors who accompany the groups can serve as assistants if they are prepared in advance to assume this role.

Since the attitude of the camp director filters down to all staff members and to all employees, all workers at camp need to demonstrate a reverence for living things and the environment. There should be a conscious effort not to pollute or waste or destroy. Camp should set the model for living in harmony with nature. This philosophy should be imparted to the entire staff at orientation, in brochures and especially in practice.

What Program Staff Can Do

If you love nature and the camp you're interested in doesn't offer a nature program, take the initiative and try to convince the director to include it. Be specific in your proposal; be willing to demonstrate how interesting you can make your subject. It might be exciting to break new ground and create a brand new program where one hadn't existed or had been allowed to languish.

Because of the limitations of most camp programs, the person who handles the camp nature program needs to plunge right in. There is no opportunity for significant on-the-job training; by the time you learn the job, the summer will be over. Therefore, it is vital to prepare beforehand so that when campers arrive, you are ready to launch.

An attractive nature room goes a long way. Collect posters, specimens, books; cut photos from nature magazines, and mount, laminate and hang them. Add small live specimens where practical and when they can be properly cared for. Hang stuff from the rafters. Decorate the outside of the building to draw the attention of campers. Consider your nature space as a mini-nature center or museum.

Learn about and practice indoor and outdoor techniques for presenting vital ecology concepts. A hands-on approach is always successful, always memorable. A child will never forget the excitement of seeing chickens hatch from eggs, or caterpillars change to butterflies, especially when he or she turned the eggs or fed the caterpillars.

Be sure to go for variety in the activities you provide; mix the fun and the contemplative, the noisy and the quiet, the indoor and the outdoor, the plant and the animal. Add some special events - contests, all-day nature hikes, water explorations, early-morning walks, night-time activities. Leave your group wanting to come back for more. (See "A Grab Bag of Nature Activities" on page 14 for some ideas.)

Bring your love and enthusiasm with you so that campers can catch it from you. All too often, people associate nature with ugly or revolting things, such as insects or bats or spiders. They don't mind watching nature specials on television, but shrink from touching the real thing. You must counteract this attitude by expressing your thrill in seeing that "magnificent" dragon fly, that "spectacular" snake, that "amazing" bat who devours so many mosquitoes. Soon, you'll have the campers echoing your wonder. Of course, this awe needs to be sincere, since children will pick up on a phony affectation.

Think "nature" all the time; you must be ready to seize every opportunity that arises to enhance the specialty. Be willing to give the job extra effort. You may have to put in long hours at the beginning to set up an attractive nature facility, but if you truly enjoy imparting your love of nature, then you will be rewarded with scores of campers who will flock to share that love with you. Moreover, you will have the knowledge that you have helped to establish an environmental ethic in the campers with whom you will have come in contact. It is, indeed, a most noble calling.

Now Is the Time To Get Started

A nature program can be part of every camp program. It's fight, it's timely, it can only enhance a camp. But more important, it enriches everyone's life and will serve our future well. The time has come to return nature to its exalted place in summer camps. Let's see to it that every child has the opportunity to truly "touch" nature.

Of-Season Efforts

* If attempts made to find a suitable person to handle the program have not met with success, be creative about where you recruit for this position. Put a notice in the Audubon or Sierra Club newsletters or on the bulletin board of the local nature center. Try the environmental studies or biology program at the colleges; call the heads of these departments and ask them to suggest or recommend a student. Call the state or city parks and see if they would post a flyer that would be seen by the kind of person you are trying to attract. Many locales have environmental advocacy groups whose members may be available during the summer. At the very least, add the job title of nature specialist to your usual want-ad list.

* When hiring, if possible, don't expect the nature specialist to also serve as an overnight hiking trip person. The job description for the nature counselor is really different from that of the overnight leader; you may overlook a highly qualified nature counselor if trip arranging takes precedence.

* Try to hire for this position early. To carry out a proper nature program requires preparation beforehand; the nature specialist must "hit the ground running" and that takes time.

* When promoting your camp to prospective campers, don't neglect nature. Campers and their parents should come to camp expecting to have such a program. The proper up-beat attitude will set the stage and demonstrate the enjoyment and pleasure that comes with touching nature directly. You may find that parents will respond and have wonderful feelings and memories about natural experiences. Whatever photos are in your brochures or yearbooks should depict children with nature... the butterfly sitting on a child's hand, the campers looking at a bird's nest or crouching over an antihill. Nature is fun and the director must convey this to boost the success of the program. You will find that enthusiasm is contagious.

Lenore Miller teaches environmental studies at New York University. A nature instructor for camps in Pennsylvania from 1972-1986, she is author of The Nature Specialist.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Camping Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related article; part 2
Author:Miller, Lenore
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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