By Heather Reichle
Sessions: All seasons, with overnight camps in the summer
Ratio: Ranges from 1 to 5 and 2 to15
Ages: Preschool to eighth grade
Costs: Range based on program, scholarships and reduced rates available for those who qualify
Located on Bainbridge Island near Seattle in Washington, IslandWood is a 255-acre outdoor learning center that offers campers the opportunity to develop a love for the outdoors. Opened 10 years ago, the facility reveals nature’s assets and encourages campers to consciously preserve them. Staff members hope the knowledge the kids gain will lead to “greener” lifestyles.
“To change habits, you need to change attitudes,” says Christen Foehring, Program Coordinator. “You typically need to understand something in order to love it. We try to create the opportunity to learn to love the outdoors, and in the end, that can teach kids at an early age to preserve our natural resources.”
Known as “the school in the woods,” IslandWood offers multiple programs--including those for school children and families--and traditional overnight summer camps.
“All of the programs, no matter what age, integrate art, science and nature,” Foehring relates. “The programming centers around an emphasis on learning being fun, and that learning about science can be fun.”
Ranging from preschool to eighth grade, about 40 to 60 campers participate in summer camps from mid-June to mid-August.
“The summer overnight camps are the most exciting to me” says Foehring. “It’s more fun with songs and games, and we help a wider demographic. The program varies, but the central themes are that kids get excited about nature and comfortable in nature. And meanwhile they form a community with social skills.”
The weeklong summer-session programs begin on Sundays; campers will develop their own sense of community, get to know fellow campers, settle into lodging, go through orientation, and eat in the dining hall. On the first night, they enjoy a campfire with songs and games. Campers start each day with their teammates, ranging from 10 to 14 members, and two instructors. IslandWood also offers a graduate program for those seeking a master’s in education, so campers are paired with a graduate student along with instructors.
Surveying The Land
Throughout the day, the groups explore acres of land that include aquatic and terrestrial habitats.
“The facility gives us different ways to engage in spaces,” Foehring says. IslandWood offers every type of habitat from marshes to hiking trails. Children are able to view and learn about a wide variety of ecosystems, and see how each interacts with the other to create the environment.
For instance, at the pond, the kids make maps of the sounds they hear around them. Once they are able to create an image of what they hear and begin to see how many creatures inhabit an environment, they gain a perspective of how land and water creatures interact.
Another reflective activity involves sit spots. Campers are encouraged to spend 10 to 15 minutes at a time in a single location, and identify what is happening around them. They use their senses to identify what the environment has to offer in a certain space and compare it with other locations.
“We try to make every experience meaningful for each kid,” says Foehring.
In the harbor, kids learn how to be safe around aquatic organisms and how to handle them.
“When they are examining a crab, we tell them the right way to pick it up. It’s important to not interrupt the natural habitat of the organism,” says Foehring. “If we are around the sand, we make sure to tell them to be careful not to destroy anything. It’s about teaching them to respect every piece of nature as something’s home.”
During field games, kids take on the roles of predator and prey to learn how animals stay safe when being preyed upon, as well as tactics to conquer their targets.
“We try to make each experience really out there,” says Foehring. “We want them to have a lot of fun, and then the education piece gets snuck in.”
Food For Thought
In addition to outdoor activities that build awareness about ecosystems, the team tries to show campers what they can do in their everyday lives to protect the environment. One way they accomplish this is through food conservation.
Campers are asked to roll up their sleeves and help from dirt to dinner. They begin by planting and tending a garden on-site. Once the food has been harvested, kids make dishes using the food they’ve grown. Along the way, they learn about where food comes from, how to create it in nature, what happens after it’s been eaten, and what happens to the food left behind. In addition, compost piles and compost toilets assist in teaching lessons, while a scale named Wade weighs wasted food each week.
“We don’t even make it a competition with Wade,” says Foehring. “The kids see how much food we waste in a week and on their own start reducing it. Sometimes we start at 20 pounds, and by the end of the week we’re down to two, sometimes zero. It’s amazing to see them learn on their own and begin to adjust themselves to conserve.”
As a result, parents tell administrators that when the kids return home, they encourage their parents to eat vegetables, to help cook with the family, and to look into composting as a way of eliminating unnecessary waste.
According to its mission statement, IslandWood “envisions a future in which all people view themselves as lifelong learners, and share an extraordinary bond of stewardship for the environment, for their communities and for each other.” Through educating their campers on ways to love and appreciate the environment, IslandWood accomplishes its mission one kid at a time.
Heather Reichle is a freelance writer living in Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at HReichle28@yahoo.com.