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.

Gr. 2-5 camp, overnight

I managed to take a few photos on the overnight:


Above: Playing games in the redwoods after getting the tents set up, and before dinner.



Above: Spontaneous singing, led by the CITs, after dinner.



Above: Program Director Mike stoking the fire to cook breakfast. We had eggs, hash browns, bacon, and gluten-free pancakes.



Above: Lining up to get some of the pancakes.

Gr. 2-5 camp, day four

A busy day at camp. so lots of photos today….


Above: We started off the morning cooking scrambled eggs on a camp stove. But first the campers learned how to break eggs into a bowl.



Above: Enjoying the finished product: eating scrambled eggs in the great outdoors.



Above: We took a field trip to Baylands Nature Preserve to see where Adobe Creek — that’s the creek that flows beside camp — flows into San Francisco Bay. On the way to the creek, we passed by Cliff Swallow nests on the side of a building.



Above: Here we are on the dike trail between Charleston Slough and Adobe Creek. you can see Black Mountain in the distance, which is where Adobe Creek begins.


IMG_5779 (1)

Above: In the afternoon, two Counselors in Training (CITs) offered choice activities. Ben showed the simple yet devilishly difficult Sphinx puzzle….


Above: …and Sarah had people make sock puppets of California organisms. There were puppets of brush rabbits, tube worms, artichokes, a garter snake, an octopus, and more.



Above: Later in the afternoon, herbalist Carmela came to visit, and show us how to make simple herbal remedies with plants that grow locally.

And after camp today, we’re all going on an overnight — I’ll report on that tomorrow!

Nature Camp 2016, day four

Today’s theme in Nature Camp was cooking.

Nature Camp Thurs a

Above: We started with a story about cooking and camping. And C.I.T. Abby came to join us this morning.


Nature Camp Thurs b

Above: We cooked s’mores in a solar oven.


Nature Camp Thurs c

Above: Making entries in our notebooks.


Nature Camp Thurs d

Above: The campers learned about camp stove safety, then helped the adults cook eggs over a camp stove. After we cooked, the campers helped clean up. We started by cleaning the cast iron frying pan…

Nature Camp Thurs e

Above: And we even washed dishes in a tub, just the way we would do it if we were camping out.