What We Did This Summer: Camp KEEN!
By Ginny Figlar, KEEN Editorial Director
Right now, any sense of normal feels pretty darn good. (Just being in nature has a special way of doing that.) And recently a bunch of us at KEEN and our kids had a really awesome full week of normal.
For the final week of summer break before school starts, KEEN partnered with Trackers Earth outdoor education — which has programs here in Portland, as well as in San Francisco, Denver, and Seattle — to offer a week of summer camp to KEEN families. My 9-year-old son and 14 other KEEN kids signed up for five full days of getting outside to connect with friends and nature while following social distancing guidelines.
All campers and leaders wore their KEEN masks when together in their small groups, and snack and meal breaks were taken 6+ feet apart. Plus every kid had hand sanitizer; temperatures were taken at check-in each morning; and they were 100% outside.
As I worked with a focus I haven’t had in months, my kiddo spent days farming, learning wilderness skills like archery and wood carving, crawdad fishing, crafting, and structure building. He came home with blackberry and cedar leaf tea and now carves sticks that he finds with sharp rocks. (We also now have two pet crawfish — invasive species that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife wants removed from waterways.)
I got to tag along on a couple of outings, and I came home with major camp envy and a bunch of handy wilderness facts: the bright green tips of cedar leaves are edible and can help disinfect a cut; beard lichen (aka old man’s beard) can be used to dress a wound; and bushes of edible Himalayan blackberries can be identified by their five leaves. More than anything, I came home with a deep appreciation for the experience my child was getting during a very not-normal summer, a sentiment shared by my fellow KEEN parents.
Don't think like a boring adult. Do more than look at sights. Think like a kid.
Crawdaddin' in Scoggins Creek, about an hour outside of Portland, Oregon. One of the leaders noted, "We literally spent the whole day doing one activity. I loved seeing the kids so engaged and enjoying exploring.”
“It’s been a tough few months with very few opportunities to attend camps, so Millie really got a lot out of this,” says Ashley, KEEN Insights and Engagement. “She would come home covered in dirt, couple of bruises from sword fighting, but a huge smile on her face. And she didn’t mind being the only girl in her age group!”
Erica, KEEN Workplace Services, adds. “The week felt magical. My 6-year-old is, I assume, like most 1st graders, never sharing about his school day. If we got anything from him it was a lackluster shoulder shrug with a monotone comment about recess. Each day Avery got home from Camp KEEN and had so many stories he wanted to share. He explored dwarf huts, survived Ogres, learned to protect animals, gathered food, cloaked himself in a protective shield (aka dirt) and shot a bow & arrow. Each morning he was up, out of bed, dressed and ready to get out the door. Tell the Ogres we will be back next summer!”
3 Ways to Keep Kids Closer to Wild All Year
Next summer feels like a lo-o-o-ong way away. So what can we as parents do to keep that spirit of adventure and connection to nature alive all year, especially as many of us are navigating distance learning? Tony Deis at Trackers Earth has a few great suggestions:
1. Families can role model a keenness for getting outdoors and having real adventures
Don't think like a boring adult. Do more than look at sights. Think like a kid. Understand there are universal inspirations that really get our kids excited about being outdoors. These often involve hands-on, gettin' dirty activities.
- Kids love free food, go berry picking for blackberries or fishing.
- Kids love cooking outdoors, make a cobbler with those berries or cook the trout you catch.
- Kids love animals, learn to track them and get closer to them.
- Kids love creek walking, find a creek you can walk up and explore.
- Kids love sneaking, get muddy and play sneaking games in the forest.
- Kids love quests, make up an adventure quest with a cache of candy at the other end.
- The list goes on and on.
2. Make your adventures multi-generational and social
Connect with grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins and good friends by asking them to join you—with responsible social distancing, of course. This reflects how people have been a part of nature since humans were first humans.
3. Connect in your yard — it’s easy
Come up with quests and challenges that break them out of the mental box everyone assumes about nature.
- Learn the habits of the birds that live in your yard. Start by watching how they respond to others. Develop an understanding of how they "alarm" for the cats sneaking in the hedges. You can start to find predators with "bird language" without even seeing them.
- Start to map the trails of all the animals and see if you can discover new ones you never knew where living there by the birds: possums, raccoons and more.
- Start small with gardening. Get a 1 x 1 foot plot going. When that is successful. Add another square foot. Plant items the local birds can also forage on. Plant wild edible plants in the garden, like stinging nettle, as well. Then start adding animals, chickens, ducks, etc. If what you have is a windowsill, you can raise plants there.
- Play "Rangers Eye." It's hide and go seek where the parent can drink their coffee. Sit in place and count to 30. Each kid has to hide in a place in the yard but be able to see that parent sitting with one eye. The parent has to see if they can find the child. Kids quickly learn to stay very still and how animals camouflage in their environment. They will do this for hours.
- Most important, get rid of or limit screens. Only make them accessible when necessary.
Thank you, Trackers! And good luck, fellow parents. We’d love to see how you’re getting outside together for those much-needed breaks in your work and school day. Share it and tag @keen.
Our camp favorites: hybrid sandals