No child left inside: The benefits of outdoor camp
Twelve-year-old Katie Jacques had never been to camp, but she was eager to give it a go. “When I looked at the brochure, it looked like everyone was having a good time,” she recalled.
Katie spent nearly a week last summer at Camp Furnace Hills Girl Scout camp in Lancaster County, but her foray into camping wasn’t without some trepidation. “I had never been away from home that long without my family,” she said. “It was a little scary at first.”
Katie, a sixth-grader at St. Joseph School in York, spent her nights sleeping in a platform tent, and her days frolicking in the outdoors.
She participated in activities such as archery, horseback riding, canoeing, dancing and swimming. She cooked S’mores and mountain pies over a campfire.
“I liked the canoeing the best,” she said with a grin. “It was fun to be out in the water.”
The Great Indoors?
Years ago, when today’s parents were children, most kids spent a large part of their time outside, especially during the summer. But recent studies show children living in the U.S. today spend on average just 30 minutes of unstructured play time outdoors each week.
That’s not nearly enough, according to Child Advocacy Expert and Author Richard Louv, who has concluded most youngsters suffer from “nature-deficit disorder.”
Louv, who penned the book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, believes society is teaching young people to avoid direct experiences in nature, and Louv has created a “Leave No Child Inside” movement to offer suggestions for families, doctors, government agencies, educators and others to encourage outdoor experiences for kids.
Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatrics is also attempting to get children away from TV, social media and hi-tech devices and connect them with the outdoor environment.
“Play in nature provides children with opportunities for self-directed physical activity that can help promote physical health and reduce obesity. Unlike team sports, individual play in nature allows the child to tailor exercise to his or her own interests and abilities, often in conjunction with creative efforts,” said Kenneth Ginsburg, in his testimony at the hearing No Child Left Inside: Reconnecting Kids with the Outdoors. “The great outdoors can move children away from the passive entertainment of computers and TV and into an interactive forum that engages both mind and body.”
Local experts agree. “The recent interest in the concept of Nature Deficit Disorder confirms what we professionals in the field have been observing for years. Even kids who have the opportunity to live outdoors in the suburbs still have a lack of attachment to outdoor activities,” said Gina Padilla, program coordinator at Kings Gap Environmental Education and Training Center in Carlisle. “Many really don’t do much to interact with nature outdoors in any structured way.”
Padilla said summer camps are a great way to introduce children to nature. “We feel the summer day camp setting is not just an opportunity, but a structure and focused way for kids to learn about nature,” she said. “Kids need to be shown how to do something—even something as simple as playing outside.”
Kings Gap offers day camps from June through August for children 4 to 15, to encourage children to form an attachment to the natural world. “When they feel comfortable with nature, they are going to appreciate it more,” Padilla explained. “The first step in sustaining the environment is to appreciate it.”
Katie’s mother, Barbara, recalls her own camp days and wanted to instill an appreciation of the outdoors in her children. “I had such fond memories of being [at Camp Furnace Hills]. I’m glad she got to do that,” Jacques said.
Katie’s brother, Graham, also had his first camp adventure last summer. He and his dad went to Boy Scout Camp at Camp Tuckahoe.
Graham, 8, said he shot BB guns, practiced archery and climbed over a monkey bridge.
Since outdoor camping was new to him, Graham said he wasn’t sure what he’d encounter at camp. He admitted he was a little worried about wild animals, but that soon passed. “I saw deer tracks or bear tracks, I’m not sure which,” he recalled. “I didn’t see any animals besides spiders and bugs.”
In fact, bugs were the only things that were an unwelcome part of camp for Katie. “They were mostly on the ceiling in the tent,” she said. “It was kind of scary when you have a flashlight in the middle of the night and see them.”