Username: Outdoors

Having directed children’s camps all of my adult life, and now having hit my mid-50s, I have noticed a paradigm shift in the way campers and their families perceive the great outdoors.

With a little imagination, you can turn the mysterious outdoors into something magical. Photo courtesy of The Arc of Dauphin County

In my own days of childhood recreation and leisure time, nothing–I mean nothing–beat going outside to play. In fact, I was out there in all sorts of weather, year-round, until dark, every day.

In my quest, I explored the local woods, fields, and waterways. My particular interest was animals–hence the outside-until-dark every day, with a strip search/shakedown prior to coming into the house.

To a lesser degree, I also loved trees, wild herbs, flowers, and edible plants. My feeling was that the outdoors was great!

Oh, but the times they are a-changing! Children today have been raised in an era of over-accessible information, entertainment, and electronic distraction. I do not know any teenagers who don’t have 122 cable channels, cell phone, Nintendo, Xbox, PlayStation, iPod, laptop, and Kindle!

Do I blame them? No. Their parents were test pilots for this age of technology, and their environment is resplendent in gadgetry.

With all those cool techno-entertainments, who would want to go outside? In fact, over the years, the children who attend the summer camp I direct have informed me that outside time equals punishment.

My campers are often surprised that outside is not climate-controlled like home.  In short, for them at least, it is the mysterious outdoors.

My camp is located halfway up Blue Mountain near Linglestown, Pa. The campus itself is nestled in 69 acres of Eastern Woodlands that are protected from hunting. One is likely to see an American Bald Eagle soaring above the ridge, and deer and turkey in abundance. The camp hosts giant, rare woodpeckers to minute moth hummingbirds.

It is safe to say that the camp is rustic. The campers have intellectual disabilities, and many are from the city of Harrisburg. The question becomes, “How do we get tech-savvy, inner-city kids to appreciate an outdoor setting?”

The answer is to make magic. Most video games and many movies that appeal to today’s youth involve magic, from Harry Potter to The Legend of Zelda.

I am not referring to anything occult, but to the wonder in a young mind that asks, “How did they do that?”

Getting kids away from technology and out into the natural world. Photo courtesy of The Arc of Dauphin County

Here are some “tricks of the trade.”

The “I Smell Spiders!” Night Hike 

Nothing is more magical than the outdoors at night. I often like to lead short, small-group hikes in the early evening that begin in an open meadow sparkling and twinkling to the glow of fireflies.

We sit on the grass, and I tell tales of the wee folk and fairies of old, explaining how our ancestors misinterpreted these gentle insects as supernatural beings.

Page 1 of 2 | Next page

Related posts:

  1. Back to Nature
  2. Good Horse Sense
  3. Taking Stock
  4. The Spirit of Camp
  5. The Nature of Crafts
  • Columns & Features
  • Departments
  • Writers