Username: Outdoors

We proceed to the woods with me holding the only flashlight. Too many flashlights will foil the darkness and ruin the magic. I then announce, “I smell spiders!” as I move the flashlight closer to the ground until I illuminate a spider in the beam.

The campers exclaim, “How did you do that? Can you really smell spiders?” I then explain the trick.

Like those of most animals, a spider’s eyes reflect light, and so as I walk along the trail, I wave the single flashlight back and forth until I see the greenish reflection, make a mental note, ham up the announcement, and slowly move the flashlight closer to the spider.  I then explain how many creatures live and thrive in the night forest.

The depth of the talk can be tailored to the campers’ interest level. The key is to stop teaching before they grow tired of the subject. I always conclude with, “Now you know this secret, and you can amaze your friends back home with it because there are spiders, even in the city!”

Safari Day

I run a day-camp program, so what works in the daytime? Safari Day! This full-day, nature-focused event is one of the most popular days each summer.

To start, we usually have representatives from a local wildlife park visit camp with several animals the children may touch, pet, and sometimes even hold. Members of the park staff discuss each animal as they walk the critters around to interact with campers.

This activity opens our campers’ minds, gently conditions their acceptance of wildlife, and prepares them for a finale. After the interactive show, we talk about plants and all the wonders that plants give us, from food to fly traps.

One of my favorite talks during Safari Day is “What eats a tree?” I begin with the campers’ guesses, which usually include dinosaurs.

The actual focus is fungus, for fungi and mushrooms can easily be found in the forest. I always have some colorful dried specimens on hand, and a full-color field guide. We talk about poisons, medicines, and pizza!

We then send teams out on a scavenger hunt for natural items that include live animals. A point value is assigned to every item found. Living creatures have the highest point value. We run a camp-wide scoring system with high-score prizes, usually snacks and ribbons.

Safari Day concludes with the “Critter Olympics.” Campers use the animals they captured earlier, mostly in the form of insects and amphibians, to compete in a series of faux-Olympic events. If one critter eats another, as often happens, the eaten critter is disqualified.

There are many other nature-based ways to enrich campers’ lives, and you’ll discover your own tricks of the trade. The “magic” is really the effort we bring to our respective camps.

To turn the Mysterious into the Great Outdoors, just say “abracadabra!”

Richard Honeycutt is the director of Camp Sertoma, a summer and year-round respite camp in Harrisburg, Pa. It is owned and operated by The Arc of Dauphin County, a non-profit, membership organization with the primary purpose of providing services and support, with dignity and respect, to people of all ages who have intellectual and developmental disabilities.

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