Typical Summer Camp at the Schuylkill Center

Now that summer is here and covid-related restrictions have loosened, summer camp at the Schuylkill Center is in full swing giving many kids their first taste of freedom in over a year. This summer follows an atypical school year, when most students spent all or part of the academic year learning from their desk, bed or dining room table. They adjusted to long school days in front of a computer screen, without recess or the opportunity to socialize with their classmates. For those that attended school in-person, connecting with friends was a challenge with face masks, reduced class sizes, physical barriers and social distancing.

If you come to Camp Schuylkill on a hot day, you will see our campers running through sprinklers, picking wineberries, lifting logs to count the slugs and pillbugs, and balancing on tree stumps. Except for the legacy of wearing face masks indoors and maintaining physical separation among camp groups, it looks like a typical summer at the Schuylkill Center.

I had the opportunity to chat with some young campers at Camp Schuylkill and learned first hand how it feels to be at summer camp after the strangest school year in memory. One camper’s response summed it all up, “It feels good and very refreshing!” Because we are a nature-based program, campers shared some of their favorite things about summer camp including: “collecting mushrooms.” “building forts,” “hikes,” “edible wild snacks,” and “going on cool nature trails.” While I expected that kids would be most excited about playing outdoors and being in nature, their most common answers were making new friends and playing games with them.

Given more thought, this makes a lot of sense. The benefits of spending time in nature for kids and adults are well-known. When the pandemic was in full force and lockdowns closed schools and businesses and cancelled public and private gatherings, people largely responded by taking to parks and nature trails; it was one of the safest ways to spend time outside of the house. Lots of campers reported that the grown-ups in their lives committed to regular walks to balance out their increased screen time.

One camper even mentioned spending many weekends on the trails here at the Schuylkill Center. 

What was more difficult to replace was the social interactions that kids would normally get being physically at school every day. On top of schools being closed, playdates were cancelled, birthday parties were converted to drive-by celebrations, and vacations to visit extended family were the all-too-familiar video chats.  It was a ‘perfect storm’ for isolation.  For healthy social and emotional development, children need to interact with their peers. During the pandemic, most were isolated from each other for more than a year. While adults could have Zoom reunions and social media to connect with folks outside of their bubble, those same types of interactions aren’t as engaging for kids. 

We are delighted that kids arrive each morning eager to explore our trails and play games with their new friends. They are making up for 18 months of lost connections and stalled friendships, missed celebrations and postponed playdates. Summer camp gives them a chance to recapture the magic of childhood.  

What better place for that to happen than in the beauty of nature; at the Schuylkill Center.

Camp Schuylkill runs weekly sessions for ages 3-12 through August 20. We currently have a waiting list but encourage you to call 215-853-6249 for more information. 

By Aaliyah Green Ross, Director of Education

Searching, Soaring, and Sifting with Summer Camp

childrenneednature-01By Shannon Dryden, Preschool Manager and Lead Teacher

“Look, Miss Shannon, when I turn it over, I found green. What do you think that is?”

“This piece is shiny, it must be polished.”

“I can see the sparkles…it’s the schist!”

Learning about a frogAs the Preschool Summer Campers dispersed among tables filled with rocks, minerals, magnifying glasses, dishes, paintbrushes, and water, they immediately began to inquire and connected their questioning and observations with the visit from a preschool science expert on rocks.  One little boy brushed both sides of his rock and was amazed as he turned it over to see the split rock and the imprint and colors become more clear.  He exclaimed, “Look, it’s the crystal, the geode!”  The Preschool Nature Ramblers have been engaged in activities enriching their outdoor connections and building upon those extended periods of exploration and play since the very beginning of the summer. Continue reading

Why Photography Camp?

 By Elisabeth Zafiris, Manager of Public Programs

dragonfly on waterWhen you think about sending your child to a nature-based summer camp, you probably picture them frolicking among trees, worms, and birds, but do you see photography as a way to build a relationship with the natural world?

At the Schuylkill Center, we do.  Last week we offered a nature photography camp for our eight- and nine-year-olds, culminating in their very own gallery show.

Engaging with nature through art offers a unique way to connect with the natural world, using all five senses.  It’s a direct, yet play-based, experience that encourages critical thinking and reflection on one’s own relationship to the environment.

From Christina Catanese, Director of Environmental Art:

In environmental education, art making can be a powerful way to explore, inquire, and experience our environment, helping to develop not only environmental literacy but deeper, more emotional connections with nature.

For our campers, the experience of being in nature becomes relevant and personal through photography: that photograph of a flower, or bug, or tree is seen through their eyes, and they create a personal connection to what they observe. It’s no longer a random object that kids pass on the trail.  They are now intimately connected to that object, turning it from something removed to something personal in their individual experience.

During middle childhood, kids are building their feelings of competency.  Creating things, and getting recognition for the work they create, allows them to build confidence within themselves. Going through the creative process of photography allows them to build their feelings of competency. It allows them to get first-hand experience with a multi-step process that culminates in a finished product that is put on display for recognition by their peers and community.

The creative process itself also builds skills that are important – creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration.  Being able to look at the world with a creative eye challenges perceptions of the natural world; it allows one to focus observation skills and build close looking skills.

photos on wallFor the campers in the nature photography camp, going through the editing process helped kids to think critically – why pick this photo, what are we trying to communicate to the observer, what is the best way to go about that?  Creating the exhibition showed them that there is an ultimate goal for the work that they created, honoring and respecting their creativity and letting them communicate to a larger audience about their photographs and why they created took them.  The gallery show at the end of the photography camp was an opportunity for these campers to work together on a unified project that gave space and relevance to each individual’s work.

And, we all had a lot of fun taking photos, exploring the Schuylkill Center, and learning to see nature through art.