Sunday, February 3, 2013

Summer Camp!!

When I first began my project my focus was on using the land as an education medium for teaching children about where their food comes from and how it is produced.  For three weeks during June and July I was a volunteer at Oxbow Farm through their partnership with Wilderness Awareness School (WAS).  We started the morning at 9 a.m. with a team meeting to prepare for the day.  My favorite part of this time was the 'bringing our minds together' portion - we would each share something we were grateful for or someone would share a list of things they were grateful for and we would agree and confirm.  At the end of this short time the person leading would say, "And with that our minds are one".  For me this portion was almost as powerful, and in some ways, more powerful than a prayer.  It was collective, community and gratefulness to the earth and the people around us and a way to bring ourselves together for the day.  Next the kiddos would arrive - thirty-two, four to six year olds filled with boundless energy, excitement and nerves!!  We spent five days together and on the fifth day we celebrated with a hay ride, community games and having parents onto the farm for the kiddos to show them around.  The kids learned about the farm; tending the land; where their food came from; how much fun it was to pull and eat a carrot straight from the ground; how to be quiet and still and in their bodies; what was safe to eat and an appreciation for the vast world around them.  It was my first time ever being at a summer camp and I think I had as much fun as the kids!

Week 1 Summer Camp - picture slideshow

During the first week I was paired with a great instructor, Carlsen, and we quickly discovered we worked very well together and so we were both pleasantly surprised when we were paired together the second week of camp.  The second week of camp Carlsen and I both felt more comfortable on the farm and with where things were so we ventured much further afield.  One of our ventures was out to the swamp/wetlands area of the farm.  We spent the entire day rolling in the mud, wading in the swamp and then playing a game called "Eagle Eye"; we were covered in dirt/mud and trying to hide in the tall grass while one of the kids would try to spot us.  My favorite part of this week was the swamp because it was so much fun to help the kids overcome their 'fear' of being dirty or what their parents might think of them being so dirty.  The best line of the day was by one of our five year olds, "I don't like to be dirty or muddy!!"  This said while he was coated in mud and standing in a giant mud puddle!!  The kids thought it was hilarious when I fell into a huge hole, up to my armpits in swamp water.  So funny they immediately began pelting me with mud balls.  Good fun!!

Week three was much different as we had a whole new crew and only myself and Julie, the camp director, were the returnee's.  Our kids this week were also a huge mix from six to eleven which was fun and also challenging.  I was actually an 'extra' volunteer and it was hard to figure out where exactly I would fit for the week.  During the first part of the week I was with Kim and even was able to fill in for her as instructor one day while she was sick.  During the latter part of the week I was with Gordon and helping him with a pretty rambunctious group of boys.  The highlight of my week was our group finding a huge old growth Maple which was a hangout spot for owls at night.  We had so much fun collecting feathers and owl pellets and dissecting the pellets.  It was inspiring to watch these six to eight year olds be willing to sit for over an hour dissecting these pellets and marveling at the small bones inside and also helping each other and sharing.

Summer Camps Week 2 & 3 - picture slideshow

My take-aways from camp - aside from bruises, scratches, wonderful memories, new friends and a new passion for my life were as follows:

  • With a little direction, kids love to be outside and try new things.  Even things which may have frightened them before.
  • Even when it does not seem they are listening, kids absorb what you tell them and what they experience through their senses.  They are little sponges!
  • The field I currently work in labels children and families without ever meeting them or seeing what they have to bring to the table and contribute.  I spent nearly an hour or more helping one of our kiddo's with sensory issues work through a major meltdown.  I discovered in this space and on the land there was room for the amount of emotions felt during that time.  There was no rush, no impatience, no frustration and we were able to work through things and end the day on a great note.  In another instance we were having story circle in the corn maze and Jules, our camp director, had to step away for a minute.  One of the kiddos was sitting on her lap and he had sensory issues as well and we had quite a few frustrations learning how to help him interact with the rest of the group.  As I held him in my lap and we listened to the story it dawned on me how this little boy was only six years old (he was the size of an eight to nine year old!) and that realization erased my frustrations in a moment.  I recognized I had been holding him to a much higher level of expectations due to his size, when in all reality he was still only six!  I have endeavored to apply this take-away the most to my current work as I learned from my time at camp, every child has something to bring to the table; there is no such thing as problems or issues, rather every child, and person, has strengths to offer and opportunities to share.
  • I discovered a renewed love for nature and the earth and realized the work I want to do in the future needs to involve these elements:  being outside, dirt!, nature, kids, food and farming.  
My time at summer camp was primarily for grad school research, however, my soul was rejuvenated during this time and I felt the most at peace I had in ages.  Oxbow Farm was a respite for me, a place filled with love, peace and beauty.  I feel so incredibly grounded and filled with peace whenever I step food on the farm and am so blessed to be a part of the Oxbow team.

**Due to release agreements, my research stipulations and having campers in the pictures, I am not able to share any photos of kids from camp.  Hopefully you enjoy the other photos I took!

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