Back To Nature

By Joel Winchip

There is one feature that sets most camps apart from other summer opportunities for children and youth—natural surroundings. Camp facilities were often built far away from “civilization” so campers could appreciate the beauty of nature. How can this feature be incorporated into programs that are already full with activities? Try including new nature games and activities into a summer curriculum—even if there isn’t a nature center.

The suggestions below require minimal preparation. One of the games even includes the use of cellphone cameras (a gasp can be heard from camp purists!). While staff has long struggled with allowing this technology at camp, perhaps this activity is a way to “test the waters.”

Color Hunt
Divide campers into groups of four or five. Give each group one or two paint swatch cards (free at a local paint or home-improvement store). Instruct participants to find natural objects around the camp grounds that match all of the colors on their card(s). Ask the groups to leave part of their paint swatch with the matching nature item (and note the location). Then take the other groups on a short “hike” to see the matches. Another option is to ask the groups to bring back a little piece of each of the natural items to display alongside the paint swatches. For this variation, give participants some time to visit the “finds” of the other groups. Following this activity, lead a discussion about the beauty, life, and diversity found in the natural world.

Human Camera
Divide the group into pairs with one person serving as the camera, while the other is the photographer. The photographer leads the camera person (with eyes closed) by the arm to different examples of nature in the area. The photographer positions the camera person by asking him or her to adjust their head and/or position the body for the best angle. When the photographer believes the camera is in position, he or she taps the camera person on the head. This signals the shutter (the camera person’s eyes) to open and immediately close. The camera person is to memorize everything in the line of sight and store as many as six “pictures” in his or her memory.

For older groups, try adding a “macro” setting. If the photographer says “macro” before tapping his or her head, the camera person must be ready to focus their eyes on something very close to their face.

Once six pictures have been taken, the roles are traded. When the last pictures are finished, ask them to return to the group. The leader then debriefs the activity by inviting campers to share what images they remember when serving as the camera. For a more involved activity, ask participants to draw three of the images before they return to share with the group.

If the members of the group do not know one another, some basic trust activities (like a trust walk) can be used before trying this activity.

Nature Slideshow By Email
This activity requires cellphone cameras, a decent cellular signal, and email capability. Divide the group into pairs, with at least one person in each pair having a cell phone.

Instruct the pairs to take pictures of the natural surroundings with the phones. These images should focus only on nature and should not include people, buildings, vehicles, or other human-made additions. To create variety, ask each team to concentrate on a particular subject (i.e., tree trunks, leaves, the ground, water, etc.). Each pair contributes five pictures to a group slideshow. The teams email these images to the group leader as they are collected. While other pictures are being taken, the leader puts the images together in a slideshow for the whole group to enjoy when they return. This presentation could be narrated by the members who took the pictures, embellished with soft music in the background, or used during a closing activity.

After this activity is completed, upload the slideshow to a website so it is available to all of the participants.

Sound Mapping
Campers wear blindfolds, and receive a piece of paper and a pen. Each person is led to a spot and told to sit against a tree. The group is spread throughout the forested area. Working in silence, each participant records what is heard in the surrounding environment. Ask them to track the sounds (natural and otherwise) and from which direction. After 10 minutes, campers remove their blindfolds and gather as a group. In a whole group, in small groups, or in pairs, participants share the sound map they created. This can be taken a step further by turning maps into an art project— the sources of the sounds can be recorded.

Identify Yourself In Nature
Send participants into the woods to find an object in nature that best represents each of them—whether some attribute they bring to the camp community or a quality that relates to their personality. Gather campers in a circle where they can take turns sharing their findings. Then place the items in a box for safekeeping.

At the end of the camp session, participants remove the items from the box, sit in a circle, and share what they have learned about themselves or one way they have changed over the session. After the group members have shared their findings, the campers head back into the woods to return their items to nature.

Joel Winchip is the Executive Director of the Presbyterian Church Camp and Conference Association. He also serves on the adjunct faculty of Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga. He can be reached at