Nature Camp, last day photos

The pace on the last day of Nature Camp is always a little slower, because everyone is a little tired from a week of outdoors activities. We got to spend time in a tent today, and Kris explained to us why you should never bring food into a tent: it’s messy, and it can attract unwanted wildlife like bears and raccoons. The campers were interested to learn about this and other tent lore (and when they are old enough to attend the gr. 2-5 camp, they’ll go on a overnight trip, and use their knowledge about tents).

We had a leisurely snack time….

We finished making the leaf medallions. Yesterday, the campers had found a leaf and pressed it into “Sculpey,” which Kris had baked overnight so that it was hard. Today, the campers applied some green acrylic paint, then wiped it off the high parts so that the color seeped into the depressions left by the veins of the leaves. Lots of fun, and each camper wound up with a cool medallion to wear around their necks!

Nature Camp, day four photos

Today was cooking day. We learned about campfire safety, and we got to watch Dan build a fire in the firepit:

We mad s’mores in a solar oven. Yum!

We learned how to cook scrmabled eggs on a campstove. Each camper broke their own eggs, stirred them in a mixing bowl, poured them into the frying pan, stirred the eggs till they were done….

Then we ate the eggs:

Then we each washed our own dishes:

Nature Camp, day three photos

We checked our insect pitfall traps, and held the insects under a magnifier that we made by stretching clear plastic wrap over a bucket, then adding water to the plastic wrap so that it forms a large magnifying lens:

We made art by placing flowers on watercolor paper, and covering the flowers with paper towels:

Then we pounded the flowers with rubber mallets to release the pigments, which soaked into the watercolor paper:

We heard a story about Wangari Maathai, a scientist and environmentalist from Kenya who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her enviornmental work:

Other activities included the usual singing and climbing trees, and many other brief activities.

Nature Camp, day two

The second day of Nature Camp started with opening circle, as always. Our kindergarteners and first graders sat in a circle, and we sang one of the songs we learned yesterday, “The Earth Is Our Mother,” and the children remembered it well enough that they told me when I sang one of the verses wrong. Abby read a short story about Wangari Maathai, one of our Nature Camp elders. Kris also showed us a slug that she had found that morning, and we spent some time watching it before we released it in a shady place.

Then Kris introduced the them for the day: insects. Kris read some excerpts from Simon & Schuster Children’s Guide to Insects and Spiders. We learned what an insect is, and we learned the three parts of an insect (head, thorax, and abdomen). Kris also read to us a little bit about butterflies and moths, or Lepidoptera.

Kris next told us that we were going to make some pitfall traps to catch some insects, by burying a plastic cup in the ground. We learned the ethics of pitfall traps: you have to empty them regularly (at least once a day) to be sure the insects don’t die, and they should not be placed in full sun (the hot sun can kill any insects that fall in them).

The children enjoyed finding shady places to put the traps, and then digging holes in the ground with trowels and placing the plastic cups in the holes. Each child got to put at least one insect trap in the ground. While we were doing this, we stopped at the plum tree and managed to find a few more ripe plums to eat, enough for every child who wanted one to have one.

The highlight of the morning for me was Abby’s “natural paintbrush” project. The children got sticks (the handle of the paintbrush) and then attached leaves or pine needles or some other natural object to the stick with masking tape or rubber bands.

We taped large sheets of paper on two tables, and provided red, yellow, and blue tempera paint. The children enjoyed mixing their own colors, then spreading the colors with the natural paintbrushes.

It was a great example of process art, since there was no “product”; instead the whole emphasis was on exploring the materials and colors.

After we painted for a while, it was time to walk over to Mitchell Park to play on the trees and eat some lunch. The children particularly enjoy climbing a tree that has a long branch that is almost horizontal the the ground, sloping gently upwards. It’s the perfect challenge for this age group. One or two of the children felt comfortable walking along the branch, but most of them moved along slowly, clasping it with legs and hands. Kris told them that they should only climb as far as they felt safe; at the same time she gently urged them to go a little beyond their comfort zones. One child was pleased to find that he could make it further along the branch than he thought he could.

While we were eating lunch, two California Gulls landed not far away and started fighting over some trash. We talked about how gulls like to eat trash, and I described the gull nesting colony near Charleston Slough. I also expressed my opinion that gulls are not particularly pleasant birds: they are loud, and messy, and kind of aggressive. While we were eating lunch, we also saw some butterflies flying by probably (Western Tiger Swallowtails), but it was breezy and the butterflies went by very quickly.

After lunch, Kris had a book that showed us how to draw slugs and butterflies. The children each drew some slugs and butterflies in their nature journals. One child drew a slug very carefully, trying to make it the same color as the one we had seen earlier in the morning. Another child drew a large number of slugs, and then dots all over them which he said was salt that was killing them. We talked a bit about why salt might kill slugs.

At last it was time to go back for closing circle. We sang “The Earth Is Our Mother” again, which the children knew really well by now, as well as “The Adaptation Song” which has a verse about how California Gulls adapt to their environment. To close the day, Kris read part of an Arnold Lobel book about a grasshopper.

All in all, a very satisfying day at Nature Camp. We worked on fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and knowledge about the natural world. Most importantly, we just spent time in nature, looking, touching, playing, being.

(Reposted from here.)

Nature Camp, day one photos

The first day of Nature Camp was unusually windy and cool for June in Palo Alto. We had our opening circle indoors, but after that, we spent most of the day outdoors.

Kris gave all the children a “Nature Journal,” a pad of drawing paper that they can draw in, or even tape flowers and leaves into. We went out into the front garden of our host, UUCPA, which is planted with native plants. Two of the children were fascinated by one of the succulents growing there:

We walked to Mitchell Park. The rule of Nature Camp is that when we go to Mitchell Park we don’t play on the playground equipment, we only play on natural objects — like this great tree with a long sloping branch. We explain to children that they should only go as far as they feel comfortable (they don’t get above the heads of counselors):

Gr. 2-5 and gr. 6-8 camps canceled for 2017, gr. K-1 camp still on!

To our great regret, we have had to cancel the gr. 2-5 camp and the gr. 6-8 camp for 2017. We had three core staff tell us they were unable to return in 2017 (due to family or work). After a month of searching,w e were unable to find replacement staff, so with great regret, we decided we needed to cancel these camps so that parents could find alternative camps.

We are excited that Nature Camp for gr. K-1 is going to continue in 2017! Kris Geering is returning as Director, and we have great support staff lined up to assist her. Dan Harper will be on site to handle registration and assist with Nature Camp as well. We look forward to seeing returning Nature Camp campers, and meeting new campers.

Dan Harper, Ecojustice Camp Director
Mike Abraham, Program Director

Registration is now open!

We’ve opened registration for Eco-justice Camp 2017!

We’ll offer full-day camp for middle schoolers (those completing gr. 6-8 in May, 2017, or homeschool equivalent) from June 12-16.

And a full day camp for upper elementary (those completing gr. 2-5 in May, 2017, or homsechool equivalent) from June 19-23.

And a half day Nature Camp for those completing gr. K-1 and Young Fives (or homeschool equivalent) from June 12-16.

Click here to register.

Gr. 2-5 camp, day five

Here are photos from today’s session of camp:


Above: This morning, after we got back from the overnight, Olivia Nayler gave us a tour of the 4H barn in Cupertino. Olivia was a junior counselor at Ecojustice Camp last year. Olivia raises goats, so of course we spent a lot of time with goats!



Above: Olivia let us feed peanuts to the goats. We also got to see baby goats — which belonged to another 4Her — that had been born just that morning.



Above: Here we all are outside the 4H barn. (Olivia is in the middle, with the red shirt on.)



Above: Toasting hot dogs and tofu dogs over an open fire for lunch.



Above: When they had free time, the campers liked to play camoflauge, which involves hiding behind cover. Here are two campers camoflauging themselves behind some bushes.



Above: Carol, the Ecological Solutions Counselor, leading a discussion of how much of an ecological impact our camp made, and how we might do better next year.



Above: At the end of the last day of camp, we all had ice cream.

Nature Camp, day five

Photos from Nature Camp today:

Nature Camp Friday a

Above: Some of the campers and CITs from the Gr. 2-5 camp came to visit Nature Camp today. First they helped set up a really big tent…

Nature Camp Friday b

Above: …then they helped the Nature Campers to sing some songs.


Nature Camp Friday c

Above: Off on another hike past the playground and into Mitchell Park.


Nature Camp Friday d

Above: Our final project today: making nature medallions.


Nature Camp Friday e

Above: The happy campers of Nature Camp.