The Medina County Park District in Northeast Ohio is sponsoring a series of summer nature camps that rekindle what is in the heart of many parents: awakening a love and reverence for the natural world in their children. Through simple natural histories, and direct interaction with birds, insects, woods and streams, the Young Naturalist Camps beg kids to step out and enjoy the return of warm days and sunshine at some of the major parks throughout the county--Hubbard Valley Park, Plum Creek Park, Wolf Creek Environmental Education Center and Letha House Park. To accommodate every parent's schedule, five week-long camps with morning, afternoon and evening sessions are held. Young naturalists who attend four programs during their camp week receive a T-shirt that they can tie-dye. Twelve nature themes are sure to grab the attention of every youngster.
Water, Water Everywhere
Sounds of laughter and children's squeals fill the streamside habitat at Letha House Park in Chatham. Carrying plastic tubs, nets and ice cube trays, twenty-five kids are ready to dash into Little Sweetly Creek for their “Life in a Stream” program. The stream is a dream place for finding two-lined salamanders, crayfish, pickerel frogs and a number of aquatic insects. Bigger specimens are placed in the tubs and tiny ones in ice cube trays. After identifying the creatures and learning some interesting facts about them, the kids carefully return them to their habitat.
Another fun session, “Water World,” involves the pond at Plum Creek Park in Brunswick Hills. This unique habitat contains many species of dragonfly nymphs, numerous larvae of aquatic insects, and bullfrog and green frog tadpoles. Some kids hesitate at first to wiggle their fingers through the muck scooped up by an adult from the bottom of the pond. But after they're shown that none of the tiny animals lurking there can hurt them, they act like whimpering puppies when it's time to send the creatures to their watery home. Only a water balloon toss entices the kids away from the pond.
Searching for Animals
Most of the camp programs involve looking for various animals or the signs that animals leave behind. In “Reptiles and Amphibians,” kids learn that there are many types of these creatures calling Ohio home. They go on a hike in search of these then get an up-close look at several species in cages and aquariums in the lab at Wolf Creek Environmental Education Center in Sharon Center.
Wolf Creek is a good place for the session “All About Birds” because it has a variety of habitats, including a wild bird sanctuary. Here kids learn that birds are one of the most visible, colorful and fascinating forms of wildlife. Even known facts, like birds drilling holes in trees, cracking hard seeds, spearing frogs and even catching mammals, are seen with an interesting new light.
During an evening session of the camp week, kids and their parents experience “The Wonderful World of Owls.” A representative from the Medina Raptor Center brings some of Ohio's native owls to Wolf Creek, and talks about their natural histories, such as how special adaptations enable owls to catch their prey.
After the talk, everyone goes on a night hike, and an expert calls a local barred owl; usually the owl answers, followed by a chorus of its friends.
Creatures of the Night
Because many of Ohio's animals are active at night, Plum Creek Park features “Creatures of the Night,” where kids enjoy an evening hike and explore the lives of these animals.
There are more species of insects than those of the other animals combined. Among the camp sessions is “Incredible Insects,” in which kids find out why these tiny creatures are so successful. They learn about special adaptations while looking for ants ("architects," "nursemaids" and "soldiers"), grasshoppers, cicadas, crickets ("musicians"), praying mantises ("hobgoblins"), etc.
In “Searching for Animal Signs,” kids become detectives and discover which animals live in the parks by looking for their clues (scats, tracks, bones, pellets, nests, etc.).
“Critter Crafters” requires a little imagination. What kind of home would kids build, using teeth, beaks, claws and feet? They are asked to create a unique shelter for their animal family.
Themes Off the Beaten Path
“A Night with the Stars” offers kids and their family a look through the telescope at seas and craters of the moon and the brightest stars and constellations. While stretched out on a little knoll by the pond at Wolf Creek, families can listen to an amateur astronomer tell ancient stories of the night sky.
No nature camp is complete without learning a little about people who were most passionate about our earth. “Native Americans in your Backyard” is a program that teaches youngsters about the people who lived in their backyard 10,000 years ago. Who were these natives, what were they like, and what skills did they use to survive? An expert on Native American culture is the presenter.
Have your kids ever been lost in the woods? They can learn the basics of orienteering with a compass, Native American trail signs and other fun games in “Lost in the Woods.”
These nature camps throughout the summer provide not only fun but also a means to cultivate environmental concerns that will take root and blossom in youngsters.
Demetra Mihevic is a naturalist, freelance writer and the author of three published books, including To Cherish The Earth, a nature resource book for adults working with children. She may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by calling 330-722-4558.