Bring Buildings To Life

The Floating Classroom provides an opportunity for visitors to work together as a team.  Photo Courtesy Of IslandWood

The Floating Classroom provides an opportunity for visitors to work together as a team.

Photo Courtesy Of IslandWood

dismissed as a useless swamp. Ask a group of campers in a Nature Detectives Camp to explain why the trees growing out of the bog are so much shorter than the trees in the forest, and they follow the clues to the answer—the bog lacks the nutrients to support normal growth (another secret lesson: healthy eating counts). The campers are here to learn from the tree house, not about it.

Similar experiences await campers at the Learning Tree House, built to ADA specifications to provide all campers with opportunities to gain new perspective, face new challenges, and use their imaginations while being immersed in nature. No matter which tree house the instructor chooses, the goal is to make the visit intentional. If the moment has a purpose, the structure will work its magic on the campers.

Please Don’t All Stand Up At Once

Mac’s Pond was created at the turn of the century as a fresh-water source for the Port Blakely Mill, at the time one of the largest timber mills in the world. Whether the millworkers who built the dam ever imagined that one day campers would travel to the middle of the pond on a hand-cranked raft is lost to history. What is certain is that the millworkers did not dam the stream just for the sake of it.

Although it is not an immobile structure, the Floating Classroom is just as purposeful as the dam. The four cranks compel campers to work together to propel the raft—another field lesson in teamwork disguised as fun. Once the raft is safely underway, campers soak up 360-degree views of the forest and watch herons fish for lunch; dip nets through a trap door and peer at the macro-invertebrates they find; or quietly write stories from the perspective of a water drop traveling from the pond downstream to the saltwater estuary at Blakely Harbor.

Campers absorb the adventure of the raft like modern-day Huck Finns, seeing the world from a different point of view, bonding with unlikely companions, and discovering there is life hiding in plain sight all around them.

Enduring Memories

No camping experience is complete without a visit to the Garden Classroom. In this sun-soaked spot, campers sample hand-picked kale, mint, and peas as they learn about how the soil—and life—is replenished for others. In this way, memories are also replenished by the land for hundreds of campers every year. For IslandWood, the secret is not having a floating classroom, a tree house, or a canopy tower, but it is using what is there with purpose and imagination. Instructors are given the freedom to go off script to make the most of moments when and where they happen. Campers are given the opportunities the land and buildings provide to create enduring memories.

Look around your camp. Is there a building or a structure that might have a new purpose, or find new life as a teacher?

John Haskin is the Senior Vice President for Education at Islandwood. Reach him at (206) 855-4300.

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