As parents drop their children off at camp, they probably tell you, "I'm glad my kids have a chance to be outside. They are usually in school or sitting in front of the computer."
Take advantage of the great outdoors by incorporating nature crafts into your camp craft program. Turn the project into a learning experience by going on nature walks or looking for signs of animal life. Many children today lack the ability to hike and play in a natural setting.
One summer, (when I was known as Silver Moon), I had a group of children from the inner city of Los Angeles come to camp in the San Bernardino mountains.
We hiked along a wooded trail until we came to a sharp corner. Suddenly the campers could see we were on top of a ridge, looking out to mountains across the horizon. One ten year old said, "Wasn't that a lot of work?" When I asked her what she meant, she replied, "It must have been a lot of work for you counselors to paint that big picture of a mountain for us. Now I know what a mountain looks like!" It took several minutes of explanation to convince the young camper she was seeing an actual mountain.
Since most camps are in rural settings, you have the ideal opportunity to expose children to nature through direct experience and through craft projects.
As you look for natural craft supplies, have campers examine pinecones, leaves and pieces of moss. Take a close look at the pinecone. How does it smell? Is it sticky with sap? Is the pinecone smooth or does it have small barbs on the end?
Some campers might actually be scared to touch moss with clumps of dirt attached. "Eeeckkk! What if there's a spider in the dirt?" they'll yell.
Take time to expose children to mud by the side of the creek or a branch covered with lichen. It certainly beats touching a sterile, plastic computer mouse. Select a box where you place an item from nature each day. Campers need to reach in and try to identify the branch, acorn or leaf by touch only.
The highlight at my daughter's day camp was for cabins to build forts from branches and fallen tree limbs. Each day she'd come home, brimming with stories about the huge fort they were building, complete with walls and a roof. Parents were only allowed to see these massive structures on the last day of camp.
She eagerly led me back to where I expected to see a fort with solid walls made from large trees. Instead, I saw an area about 6' x 6', basically surrounded by thin branches. No solid walls, no big tree trunks… just ten little girls, absolutely thrilled to display the feeble fort they constructed in the great outdoors. It was a new experience for them. The fort building experience gave them a chance to work with natural objects in the fresh air.
Here are some additional ways to incorporate nature into your camping program...
Leafy Creatures of the Forest
Take children on a walk, collecting various leaves. Compare what the leaves look like that are on a tree with ones found on the ground. Remind children to only collect leaves that have fallen.
After the leaves are collected, give children construction paper, scissors, glue and markers. Encourage them to use their leaves as the basis for a creature. Could their leaf be the skirt of a fairy? Maybe their leaf resembles an umbrella. Use the scissors to cut the leaves into distinct shapes. You'll have campers tell you, "Hey! I never thought of cutting leaves!" Glue the leaves on the paper and use markers to embellish the artwork. Be sure to display these masterpieces from nature.
If your camp doesn't have access to smooth stones, you may need to buy a few pounds at the local brick and gravel company. Give each camper 10-12 small, smooth stones, along with a variety of paints and markers.
Let children write one word on each stone, then decorate it. Encourage children to write verbs, adjectives and adverbs, as well as nouns.
When the stones are decorated and paint has dried, play a game of Poetry Pebbles. Divide campers into groups of three or four.
Give each group a random set of 20-25 decorated stones. See what kind of poems they can make using the stones. Let each group read their poem out loud. Remember… poems don't need to rhyme!
Do you have boxes of puzzles with missing pieces sitting on a shelf? You always tell yourself, "Someday I'll find a use for those puzzle pieces." Well, here's your chance to incorporate nature with cardboard puzzle pieces.
Ahead of time, spread the puzzle pieces on a sheet of newspaper. Use any color spray paint to spray the pieces a solid color. If you have various colors of spray paint, spread out more puzzle pieces and spray with different colors. Let dry.
Take campers on a nature walk, asking them to look for small leaves or flowers. Dry the leaves by placing them inside an old book. (Or if your camp has a flower press, by all means, use that to dry and press the flowers.)
After a few days the leaves should be stiff and dry. Give each child a cardboard frame along with a handful of painted puzzle pieces and dried leaves.
Show children how to glue a leaf to each puzzle piece. After the glue dries, glue the actual puzzle pieces in a random pattern around the frame as a decorative border.
Have some extra decoupage medium available? Paint over the puzzle pieces to give a shiny finish. Parents will proudly add their children's photos to these hand-crafted frames.
Silvana Clark has over 20 years experience helping thousands of children create arts and crafts projects. (She thinks the dried paint under her fingernails might start a new beauty trend.) A frequent speaker at camp and recreation conferences, Silvana is also a spokesperson for S&S Worldwide.