Category Archives: EcoKids

Five Reasons Kids Love Our Camps

At Mass Audubon camps, we celebrate the long, warm days of summer by exploring our natural surroundings, from the wooded hillsides of Lenox to the sandy beaches of Wellfleet Bay. Year after year, families tell us how happy they are to have found us because of the people they meet, the places they go, and the things they do together.

Here we share the top five reasons kids (and parents) love Mass Audubon Camps.

Our Staff

Enthusiastic, friendly, knowledgeable—these are just a few of the words used to describe our counselors. Many are environmental educators, and some have grown up with our camps. Others are students from farther afield, with a worldliness and sense of adventure that inspires campers to become informed, thoughtful stewards of nature. No matter their life pursuits, they all share a common goal of creating fun, meaningful outdoor experiences for kids.

campcounselors

Playing Outside

“Discover, explore, be outside” is the mantra of camp since nature investigation forms the basis for many activities. Campers enjoy fresh air and space for their active bodies and leave camp filled with new knowledge about their surroundings. Life science lessons abound, and young learners are encouraged to ask questions and reconcile seemingly disparate facts about the ecosystems they visit.

Wildlife Encounters

Whether encountering a gray squirrel, watching a tiger swallowtail, or spotting a red-tailed hawk, campers brim with excitement when they observe animals up close. As campers begin to understand the creatures around them, they build a sense of place and belonging, helping them to see how they fit into the web of life.

Camp

 

Hands-on Activities

Experiential learning is central to all activities because it connects campers directly to what they’re studying (also, it’s fun!). Campers are free to get dirty while they learn about a range of subjects, from wilderness survival to plant identification. Moreover, they have opportunities to explore their interests and build confidence through new endeavors. By incorporating practical lessons, such as how to use a field guide or build a campfire, campers are able to become independent students of nature and continue learning on their own.

Other Campers

Last, but certainly not least, friendships are an important part of any summer camp. Our campers meet children from different backgrounds and build relationships based on mutual respect and empathy. They are able to find companions who share their interests and participate in group activities that require teamwork, strengthening interpersonal skills and making memories to last a lifetime.

Campers

 

Guest Post (and previously printed in Connections) by Adrienne Lennon, Camp Director & Teacher-Naturalist at Joppa Flats Education Center in Newburyport.

 

 

Summer Camp 2014 Highlights

Before we say an official goodbye to summer 2014, here’s a look back at some highlights from our camps across the state—and beyond!

New Programs

Many camps offered new programs that brought campers closer to nature in exciting ways.

Stony Brook trip camp

  • Stony Brook Nature Day Camp in Norfolk offered its first Adventure Camp for teens, which travelled to Douglas State Forest, Purgatory Chasm State Reservation, The Bog and Poutwater Pond & Barre Falls Dam, Quabbin Reservoir, a fish hatchery, and Mt. Watatic allover the course of one week.
  • An enthusiastic group of high schoolers launched the first digital Environmental Education Project, known as DEEP, at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln. Merging the technical world with the natural world, campers became virtual land planners, set up wildlife cameras on Boyce Field, and even programmed a mobile adventure game that was tested (and approved!) by younger Drumlin Farm campers!
  • Wildwood offered a new and well-loved Discovery Group activity called “Spider Army,” during which overnight campers searched for and identified insects and arachnids to aid “mad scientist” counselors in inevitable world domination.

Science Exploration

Don’t tell the campers, but science learning is at the heart of all of our programs!

  • Middle-schoolers at the North River Nature Camp in Marshfield built their own microscopes and plankton nets, and used them to explore ”invisible” ocean critters.
  • Wilderness campers at Wachusett Meadow Day Camp in Princeton harvested tall grass and wove it into a 25 foot rope. They tested the strength of their rope with a few rounds of tug-of-war and also discovered that, when used as a swing, it could hold two teenagers!

Wildlife Sightings

Campers discovered all kinds of wildlife wonders during their nature explorations.

Moose Hill bone ID

  • On a field trip to Cape Cod’s South Beach, Wellfleet Bay Natural History Camp-goers found horseshoe crabs, live quahogs, razor clams, shorebirds, and seals. They loved the experience of being on an “island” and feeling as though they were discovering uncharted territory.
  • Moose Hill campers in Sharon discovered a mammal skeleton during a walk through the woods. Using their natural history science knowledge and some team work, they determined it belonged to a raccoon.

Service Projects

Many of our summer programs incorporate stewardship projects to demonstrate to campers that they are capable of making substantial improvements for our environment.

  • Camper Care Crews at Moose Hill Camp kept the sanctuary up to snuff by turning the compost pile, filling the bird feeders, and weeding the garden.
  • Campers at Broad Meadow Brook Summer Day Camp in Worcester came up with a way to give back with a favorite camp activity—making friendship bracelets! Some campers donated their bracelets to the gift shop, where they are sold for $1−$2 each to support the sanctuary’s Camp Scholarship Fund. So far the bracelets have raised $38 to help future campers!

Art and Nature—the Perfect Combination

Arts and crafts are a favorite activity of any summer camp, and ours are no exception.

MABA dana_instruction_group_ceramics

  • Arcadia Nature Day Camp in Easthampton and Northampton offered a new Nature Photography program, bringing nature together with art to celebrate the beauty of the natural world.
  • Wild at Art campers at the Museum of American Bird Art loved having the chance to work with professional artist and instructor Dana Schildkraut during pottery and clay weeks. Dana helped them experiment with nature treasures to create textures and patterns on their sculptures.

While every camp had unique adventures this summer, they all agree that everyday had campers feeling like this:

Today is the best day ever

It’s never too early to start planning for next summer. Check out all 17 day camps and our overnight camp at Wildwood online, and look out for camp registration starting early January!

Meet Owen the Birder

Owen Lawson

More than 800 birders took part in Bird-a-thon, Mass Audubon’s annual fundraiser where teams spend 24 hours competing to see (or hear) the most species. But this year Owen Lawson, age 6, stood out.

Along with his dad, Justin, the first-grader at the Elmwood Street Elementary School in Millbury recorded 102 species, and raised $230 for Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Worcester.

But Bird-a-thon is just one part of Owen’s master plan. Since the beginning of 2014, he’s been pursuing his own “Little Big Year” in New England. (“Big Year” refers the quest by birders to identify the most species in North America in a calendar year.)

Owen’s original goal for 2014 was 200 species. But as of today, he’s already at 220! Many of these species were spotted using a pair of well-worn binoculars. “I use my grammy’s,” Owen said. “It’s much easy to pick up, because my dad’s is more heavier.”

Speaking of dad, it’s little surprise that Owen’s favorite birding partner is his father, who serves as trip planner, driver, and bird mentor. “When I go with my dad, I see lots of stuff,” he said.

For Justin Lawson, birding is a serious avocation, but his wishes for Owen are to see beyond the birds, to make a broad connection with nature. “I want my sons to be educated about the outdoors, but more important, develop an early appreciation for it.”

Owen is already on his way emulating his father as a birding mentor. “I think when I grow up I want to tell my kids about birds,” he said. “And I always make sure to tell my little brother when I see a bird.”

Justin is clearly doing a good job. In addition to birds and birding, Owen is intrigued by tide pools, and the critters he spies in the shallows. A whale-watch is on tap for this summer. And he plays on baseball and soccer teams.

As Owen puts it, “I guess I just like running around and looking at stuff. And up at the sky.”

Some Owen the Birder fun facts:

  • Started birding two years ago
  • Has now birded in 10 states
  • First Bird: Merlin, at Worcester airport
  • Best Bird of 2014: Painted Bunting
  • Number of “life birds”: 235
  • Favorite bird: Great Grey Owl (seen only in picture books—so far)

Follow along on Owen’s Little Big Year by checking out the Lawsons’ blog, which includes pictures taken by Owen and check out his fundraising page.

18 Camps, One Important Accreditation

campcounselorsAmanda Zoellner, who works at Wildwood, Mass Audubon’s overnight camp in Rindge, New Hampshire, sheds light on the importance of a summer camp being accredited by the American Camp Association.

What do camp directors do in the winter? Most Mass Audubon camp directors coordinate and teach other sanctuary programs during the school year, but they also spend significant time preparing for the upcoming camp season—including maintaining their camps’ American Camp Association (ACA) accreditation.

All 18 Mass Audubon summer camps are ACA-accredited (that includes day camps and our overnight camp, Wildwood). Accreditation helps our camps reach a higher level, beyond the minimums required by state licensing. Accredited camps uphold up to 300 standards for camp operation, program quality, and the health and safety of campers and staff. For a large organization like Mass Audubon, the standards help ensure consistency among our diverse camps—each has unique attributes, but all adhere to the same standards.

ACA accreditation is a valuable tool to assist camp directors in thinking critically about our programs, continually refining our policies and procedures to ensure smooth, safe operations, as well as quality camp experiences for campers and staff. The ACA standards are updated regularly as the best practices for camp operations evolve, and camp directors are guided by the standards as they plan programs for the upcoming summer, hire staff, and participate in professional development.

Every three years, each accredited camp hosts an accreditation visit. After reviewing the camp’s written materials before the summer begins, a team of ACA-trained visitors spends a day at camp to observe the program in action. A camp’s accreditation visit is an exciting day for camp staff and for its ACA visitors. The visitors verify that the camp is upholding its standards and following appropriate policies and procedures, but it’s also a welcome opportunity for our camp staff to introduce others to the programs we are proud of, and to learn from our peers in the camp professional community.

I’ve volunteered as an ACA accreditation visitor since I was trained in 2007 and have visited several camps each summer since. Several other Mass Audubon camp professionals are also trained as visitors, and we agree that accreditation is a worthwhile process, for visitors as well as for the camps being visited. I have never visited a camp without learning about something I can take back to my own camp—and when you love camp like I do, it’s just plain fun to see other camps! When it’s my camp’s turn to have an ACA visit, I am always proud to share the programs at my camp.

Learn more online about ACA accreditation, or speak with the camp director at your nearest Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary!

While You’re At The Beach

Shell via National Park ServiceLast summer, we published a fun post on BostonMamas about how to explore the beach. In honor of the upcoming 4th of July holiday, we thought it would be a good idea to share it again…

Beachcombing Basics

Just because school’s out for summer doesn’t mean the learning has to stop. In fact, when you’re outdoors, there’s always something new to discover—especially at the beach!

Ever wonder what that cute little fuzzy bird is running back and forth to the water? How that shell got a perfect hole in it? Or what sand really is? Where there’s a question, there’s an answer. Next time you head for the coast, bring along this collection of interesting coastal facts to share with your kids. Continue reading >>

Photo via National Park Service

12 Reasons Mass Audubon Camps Rock

CampPicWhen you choose a summer camp for your child, we know there’s no shortage of options. We also know that as parents, you’re always looking to provide your kids with the best possible experiences.

Perhaps we’re a bit biased, but we think our camps are the bee’s knees, the snake’s hips, the kipper’s knickers, monkey’s eyebrows, oyster’s earrings* … you get the drift.

Just why do Mass Audubon summer camps rock? In brief:

  1. We’re everywhere! We currently have 17 American Camp Association-accredited day camps from the Cape to the Berkshires, plus Wildwood, our accredited overnight camp in Rindge, New Hampshire.
  2. Kids come home dirty, tired, happy, and hydrated every day they’re at camp.
  3. We’re flexible. Our camps typically offer 1- and 2-week sessions, plus before and after care, allowing our sessions to work with many summertime schedules.
  4. Our campers develop a bond with nature that lasts a lifetime.
  5. Kids build confidence, whether your child is safely completing a challenge course 30 feet up in the trees at Wildwood, learning to identify a red eft, or making new friends in new social situations.
  6. No two sessions are alike. Our camps have organized activities but leave plenty of room for personal exploration and group decisions.
  7. Kids sing, explore, dance, paint, get dirty, and discover that the world is literally at their fingertips.
  8. After camp, parents and families learn a great deal about nature from their very own family nature-guide.
  9. We give families the opportunity to partake in the fun with Family Camp at Wildwood.
  10. Kids flex their science, math, social studies, and language arts muscles without even realizing it.
  11. Did we mention that kids get dirty?
  12. Camps help Mass Audubon advance our mission at a local and statewide level to protect the nature of Massachusetts for future generations to enjoy.

Don’t just believe us, take it from a camper: “The most awesome camp anyone could ever go to. No offense other camps. Fun counselors, awesome games, cool nature.”

Are you a Mass Audubon camper or parent of a camper (past or present)? Tell us what one thing you learned or took away from your Mass Audubon camp experience.

Ready to sign up? Don’t delay as spaces are filling up.

* We just love all of the nonsensical wildlife inspired catchphrases used in the 1920s to indicate something excellent.

Wild About School

Just like that, we’re officially in back-to-school season. And while for many, that means heading to the store to pick up notebooks, pencils, and pens, here we’re gathering our nets, binoculars, and field guides.

Every year, our wildlife sanctuaries around the state work with local schools to get kids out of the classroom and into the fields to learn and explore nature.

Just imagine: one day, you’re learning about dragonflies in a classroom, and the next you’re out in the meadows examining one up close. Not only does this interaction help the material sink in, but gives kids the confidence and knowledge they need to embrace rather than fear nature.

We can’t tell you how many times a we’ve been told of a child who was petrified of snakes until they met one and learned about all of their fascinating traits. The best part: this learning is contagious. Kids bring home their newfound knowledge and share it with their parents, who then may take a closer look at that hawk flying overhead or frog croaking in the water next time their outside.

To make the experience even more fulfilling our educators have developed programs that align with the Massachusetts Department of Education Curriculum Frameworks, and for many of our sites, the classes are customizable based on what a teacher is looking to accomplish.

While we’ve been offering these programs for decades, this year, we’ve launched an Online School Program Catalog to make it even easier for parents and teachers to find out what classes are available and which curriculum frameworks they meet.

If you’re a teacher, check it out and let us know what you think. Parents: Tell your teachers! Have questions? Ask in the comments!

Beachcombing Basics

We are always looking for new ways to encourage people to get outside and enjoy nature. So when the opportunity arose to contribute to the fabulous Boston Mamas blog on behalf of Mass Audubon, I jumped at the chance. So far, posts have covered How to Make Butter, Birdwatching for Beginners, How to Attract Hummingbirds, and Fun with Fireflies.

Our most recent post is all all about the beachHere’s an excerpt:

Beachcombing Basics

Just because school’s out for summer doesn’t mean the learning has to stop. In fact, when you’re outdoors, there’s always something new to discover — especially at the beach! Ever wonder what that cute little fuzzy bird is running back and forth to the water? How that shell got a perfect hole in it? Or what sand really is? Where there’s a question, there’s an answer. Next time you head for the coast, bring along this collection of interesting coastal facts to share with your kids. Continue reading >>

Photo via the National Park Service 

Lazy, Hazy Days of Camp

These are the first weeks of summer camp at many of our wildlife sanctuaries.

Seeing all the campers with their lunches in tow, I can’t help but remember my own summer camp experience. Growing up in Maine, I was no stranger to the woods and, to me, camp was an extension of the woods at the end of our street—a place to run and play, build forts, dig in the mud, and eat plenty of blueberries. Whether the kids who come to our camps have spent tons of time in the woods, or are kids for whom nature is new, I’m jealous of their hours outside and the treasures they are about to discover.

Where else can you create and eat edible dirt, make goop, run, yell, get dirty, and hang around with some the coolest people you’ve ever met? While campers quickly learn that counselors are to be listened to, they are also not quite “adults” in the eyes of the campers, they are much, much cooler! And they are also the only people I know able to rival the campers in energy level. If you’ve seen the counselors in action, you know how much they do over the course of a day and how high their enthusiasm and energy level is.

Visiting camps is part of the job for me—a part I love—and what I get to see is amazing. Camp is a place where both kids and counselors can be themselves. I’ve had staff tell me that this was the first time that they’ve found a place where their love for nature was appreciated and shared, and not made fun of. I’ve seen kids who were terrified of bugs competing with other kids to catch the most dragonflies. I’ve also met many, many kids whose knowledge of critters not only surpasses mine, but I think some of our teacher-naturalists’ too!

And when I meet campers like this one—proudly showing off his camp patches and telling me how many years he’s been at camp and how much he loves it—I am proud to part of an organization providing these kinds of experiences for thousands of campers each summer.

Have you or your kids gone to a Mass Audubon camp? Share your experiences with us in the comments section!

For more information about our network of 18 day camps and our overnight camp Wildwood, visit our website. There are still spaces available at some of our day camps across the state and at Wildwood.