Why We Love Summer Camp
No screens, just dirty fingernails, forest forts, and fresh air! Outside camp gives kids open-play freedom for wide-open minds. This year, we’ve partnered with a favorite summer camp here in Portland, Trackers Earth outside education, for tips on how to bring the spirit of camp to every kid’s summer.
KEEN parents and masked-up kiddos got to experience a week of Trackers summer camp with COVID-19 precautions last year, and it was a highlight of the summer. We saw first-hand how engaged and empowered our kids became in just five days. We're excited to collaborate with Trackers again, and share their approach and insight with you.
First up in our Camp KEEN series: A Q&A on the benefits of camp and how you can nurture all that creativity, grit, curiosity, and confidence this summer (at home, too).
As summer camp instructors, what do you hope kids gain from camp?
Trackers: In camp and with nature we want less “instructing” and more “learning,” so at Trackers our instructors are called Guides. A Guide’s role is to inspire, motivate, and energize kids to learn together as a team outdoors; to become truly independent learners, engaged with the natural world. A Trackers Guide is like Gandalf, the wizard from Lord of the Rings. The Guides (our wizards) present our fellowship of kids with heroic opportunities full of challenge and adventure; offering words of compassion and wisdom through trials; modeling magical methods and skills vital for their quest; giving them time and space to figure things out on their own; and every once in a while saving their butts with the help of giant eagles.
Like Gandalf and the Fellowship, Trackers Guides give kids a “call to action” and then let them have their adventure. We want kids to have a great time, but to also learn for a higher purpose such as caring for community, nature, and beyond.
What separates camp from conventional education is how dynamic these different elements—friends, learning, fun, and adventure—come together to serve each other.
Remember, next time you’re out in nature with your kids, be a Guide. Help them discover the teacher in Nature for themselves and each other.
How does summer camp help kids build confidence, independence, and curiosity?
Trackers: Obviously, summer camp should be filled with fun and adventure. Kids really need that right now. They also come to learn new skills and make new friends. Those are a must. But what separates camp from conventional education is how dynamic these different elements—friends, learning, fun, and adventure—come together to serve each other. Camp is a place where you collaborate with friends, meeting challenges as a team. The skills you learn at camp have real-world applications—from basic skills like keeping your gear organized to more advanced outdoor expertise like knife carving and shelter building.
Finding connection with a world of plants, animals, and everything “more-than-human” shows kids how they can strengthen their relationships at school, in community, and everywhere in their life.
One crucial element of camp that is often overlooked completely is the relationship a kid builds with a place in nature. At Trackers camps, kids get to know the land they are exploring until it becomes like a friend. They map it through stories, memories, and knowledge they share with their friends and family. Finding connection with a world of plants, animals, and everything “more-than-human” shows kids how they can strengthen their relationships at school, in community, and everywhere in their life.
At Trackers, we provide an Action Call for these unique camp experiences, which is: “Be a Team, Be Ready, Be Gritty.” These are the fundamentals we encourage and foster at our camps.
Be a Team — We recognize that adventuring with peers is the most profound way kids learn. They get more than just facts and an individual experience; they explore challenges with other kids they connect with. That is learning that sticks.
Be Ready — The skills we teach, from wilderness survival to fishing, blacksmithing to woodworking, are all about training to be ready for the greater world and community. While we may not forge hot iron to make our living anymore, these arts build skills of awareness and competency that translate into everyday life. And when kids learn wilderness survival at the level of our Rangers Guild, they are truly prepared for a life outdoors.
Be Gritty — At Trackers we foster grit, which research has shown is a key element to our kids’ happiness and success in life. According to Angela Lee Duckworth, who literally wrote the book on grit (Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance), “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out… working really hard to make that future a reality.” Grit takes courage, conscientiousness, perseverance, resilience, and passion—all traits we inspire and foster during camp.
Whatever your child’s goal, camp is a place where they can explore how to bring that goal to life in the real world.
If families opt out of camp this summer, how can they replicate it at home, maybe with neighborhood friends?
Trackers: Parents can definitely do a version of summer camp at home. The most important thing is to give kids some freedom to explore their independence. Of course, be thoughtful about age and the degree to which they can adventure on their own. Ideally, help kids find a place, a “Camp,” where they can go every day on their own or with a team. Whether that’s the backyard or a local park, this will be the place that centers them for their daily or weekly expeditions, a place in nature so familiar, they may even start to think about it like its family.
Encourage them to name the birds and animals they meet around their “camp,” bringing them in as fellow “campers.” Inspire them to play games. Encourage old favorites, or games they come up with on their own—especially games that teach about the natural world. Through games, kids can learn how to safely feed the birds or even carve wood. As an adult, be their Guide and help them decide which games or activities require your direct oversight for safety and which ones can involve progressively more independence. Just be sure to involve them in this conversation. It teaches kids to gauge their own capacities for further adventures on their own. Below is a list of resources where you can find countless ideas for camp activities. This is not an exhaustive list, but a good place to start.
• Trackers Parenting Blog, a weekly blog that gives parents Trackers-inspired ideas for outdoor adventures with kids, both small and epic. From activities your kids can do entirely on their own, like building fairy houses, to full-family adventures, like taking your kids on their first backpacking trip or teaching them how to ski.
• I Love Dirt! 52 Activities to Help You & Your Kids Discover the Wonders of Nature by Jennifer Ward. Full of fun outdoor activities for all ages.
• Look at That Bird! A Young Naturalist’s Guide to Pacific Northwest Birding by Karen DeWitz. A book about the birds of the Pacific Northwest, written specifically for kids. It’s full of fun bird facts and awesome activities for all ages.
• Mammal Tracks & Sign by Mark Elbroch and Casey McFarland. An excellent, thorough guide to learn everything you need to know about animal tracks.
• Ray Mears Essential Bushcraft by Ray Mears. One of the best books on wilderness survival skills written by one the best experts.
• iBird, an app that lets kids look up any bird by identifying their field marks, calls and more.
For over fifteen years, tens of thousands of families have Tracked experiences outdoors with Trackers Earth and their year-round Guides — in seasonal camp events, through outdoor sport, mentor and apprenticeship programs, and during after-school and school-day adventures. Their mission is to inspire kids and families outdoors, creating stories and memories — new friendships, wonder, and possibilities — within ourselves, between each other, and with the world around us.