Programming Ideas

One of our biggest hits each year has been the Jell-O Pit. We have been doing it for the past 5 years, usually during the fifth or sixth week of camp on what we call Carnival Day. The first few years we used real Jell-O. However, the process took a couple of weeks to prepare all the Jell-O and required assistance from a local liquor store that allowed us to use their freezer. The last couple of years we purchased the Jell-O from a Jell-O wrestling company which allows us to prepare the pit in a couple of hours. The kids go crazy and it is always the talk of the town.

Brian Johnson, CPRP

Pelham Parks & Recreation Director

Pelham, NH 

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Be A Bug Olympics

At a nature camp, all activities must have an educational outcome. Finding ways to make the learning outcomes fun allows campers to experience and integrate information without being forced to memorize or take information at face value.

During our Insect Week all-camp game this past summer, campers of all ages teamed up with teen staff members to discover insects and learn how to be a bug. Teams were armed with GPS units, cameras, and nature guides. Senior staff members were stationed strategically around the game area, so that there was supervision over the whole camp. 

Each station had an outcome—like discovering the physics of a grasshopper’s springy jump, interpreting bees’ communication through dance, or evaluating how different adaptations can help even the smallest creatures. 

Campers tried to roll yoga balls with their hind legs like Dung Beetles. They played leap frog to see how many leaps they had to take to cover the same distance that a grasshopper or leafhopper would. They even tried to create paper airplanes or gliders that could maneuver even the tiniest insects. All the while, campers were taking pictures of each other and their surroundings, encouraging participation and investigation. Bonus points were awarded to teams who discovered an insect to report on the mobile citizen science app, Project Noah.

After the activity, campers couldn’t wait to share with each other what they had learned. By being silly and loosely structured, the game allowed campers to build upon their knowledge at their own pace. Campers were able to immerse themselves in the topic and contribute to wider research through citizen science at the same time!

Ashley Jarvis

Education Manager

Howard County Conservancy

Woodstock, Md.

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Tom Sawyer Days

Start with a half-gallon of whitewash, an old wooden fence, a cave, a fishing pole, a homemade raft and a dozen or more kids. Mix them all together over four sessions and you have Tom Sawyer Days! Back by popular demand for the third year, this summer activity is fun yet also a good learning experience. I came across the book The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and decided to try out this idea:

 

Week 1—Read the chapter about Tom having to whitewash Aunt Polly’s fence. Then the kids have to find a treasure to con Tom out of whitewashing. I play Aunt Polly and the fence is not done until it is completely painted. 

Week 2—Read the chapter about caving. An old trail culvert and an area underneath a bridge serve as our ‘cave.’ I use huge sheets of dark plastic to darken the area even more. The kids gather river/creek mud to leave signs on the culvert or under the bridge as Tom and Becky Thatcher did in the cave when they got lost. 

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