Stories from Summer Camp

Dirt Time

I love engaging children in the outdoors. Connecting them to the beauty and magic of nature is the greatest gift I could ever give.

A few weeks before I began teaching at Wilderness Awareness School Summer Camp, I attended a garden tour on Whidbey Island. Many people I talked with wanted to hear about my year-long sabbatical with the Anake Outdoor School.

At almost every garden, I had a conversation that started like this: ‘That is really important that you are going to work with children (in summer camp). I wish my niece Jenny would attend. Jenny is afraid of the outdoors and won’t go outside! I don’t understand it. I’m a gardener, and I spent my youth playing in the woods every day. I hear more kids today are afraid of everything outside – worms, bugs, plants… even the birds. If our kids don’t connect to nature now, who is going to protect and care for the earth?’

At the beginning of each week of camp, I watched kids just like Jenny build forts and safely collect plants they could use for food or medicine. They learned to listen for bird songs and alarms, and how to move quietly, so they could see more wildlife around themselves. By the end of the week, they didn’t want to leave their fort areas or the tracks they found in the mud. Parents commented on how calm their kids were and how much they had learned in such a short time.

Direct experiences with nature stay with you for life – whether it’s feeling a clown millipede crawl in your hand, or smelling the ground after a rain. As I wrote this article I was sitting outside on my deck, and I noticed that the birds nearby got quiet and then darted upward to tree cover. I looked up to see a long, brown-striped tail bird circling low around our chickens, which just then began to squawk wildly. Just in time, I chased off the Sharp-shinned hawk, and was grateful for my Anake training. Ultimately, awareness and stewardship lead to reading all signals from nature and responding in time with the right action. As a Board member, I hope to keep expanding my vision of and connection with all our relations, and hope you and your children will too.

Annie Thoe, Anake Outdoor School Graduate, Wilderness Awareness School Board member, Feldenkrais Practitioner


Summer of Sit-Spot Swallows

This past summer, I had the pleasure of hosting enthusiastic young people in weekly nature camp programs with The Wilderness Awareness School. It was a wonderful opportunity to practice my recently acquired naturalist mentoring skills, which I received in a nine-month adventure with the Anake Outdoor School.

One of my favorite core routines to share with the kids was the Sit Spot. It’s often a challenge to ask nine energetic people to sit still for any extended period of time – at least, not without strong motivation. An example of something worth sitting still for, are bald eagles. Anytime someone spotted a large bird, the entire group would freeze in place, eyes to the sky, looking for eagles. We would often play games near a bald eagle nest, so the kids could watch the huge nest and hear the juvenile calling from within.

Seward Park has a large outdoor amphitheater with almost half an acre of field seating – a great place to play running games or lay in the sun. Another wonderful attraction to the field was the acrobatic flight of a large number of swallows that gathered there. These smaller birds were not as impressive as the bald eagles. But to the kids, high-energy diving fliers were irresistible. Many of the children would lie down and watch these amazing birds as they darted and dove after insects. To see over-stimulated youthful energy lulled into the grass to watch swallows swooping for half an hour was incredible.

These children were fully engaged with the elegant movement of the wild birds, which often flew quite close to our heads. Some of the more enthusiastic kids were running around with the swallows, mimicking their acrobatics with jumps and rolls of their own. The magic of children and birds swirling around in golden fields together truly captures the playful feel of my experience with Wilderness Awareness School Summer Camps. It also showed me that nature is more than willing to offer wild companionship to all ages and energy levels.

Liz Crain, Anake Outdoor School Graduate, Anake Leadership Program student