Instead of letting their summer trickle by, a group of fifth- through eighth-graders challenged themselves to a week of learning and adventure.
“It’s about getting kids of all ages outside,” Jim Flanagan, a program leader, said. “We take them on local hikes, we learn the basics of camping and what you need to take when you go out and just really show them that you don’t need anything.
“It’s pretty simple. Make sure you have food, make sure you have water and make sure people know where you’re going.”
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Throughout the week, campers get to choose where they will hike and will learn how to watch the weather for camping and hiking.
“I think just like a lot of people have been writing about in the last 10 years, you know kids aren’t getting out as much,” Flanagan said. “It’s pretty loose; we just let them decide what they want to do and learn.”
The children chimed in with different ideas for hiking locations, including Shingletown, Black Moshannon and Bear Meadows.
“We’ll build a tent, we’ll look at some Purple Lizard maps, which are some nice local maps, we’ll pick a place to hike and we’ll do a little bit of survival basics,” Flanagan said. “We learn what to to bring, what little activities you can play while camping, like Hacky Sack, cards; you don’t wanna bring in too much if you’re camping.”
To kick off the week, the campers and program leaders introduced themselves and shared their favorite outdoor experiences and their favorite animals.
Despite the young age of the campers, they had many adventures to share.
“I went to Olympic National Park and I saw a bear and a long redworm,” camper Katherine Milner, 10, said.
Others have swum off the coast of South Korea, camped in the Rockies and hiked to waterfalls to have a picnic beneath roaring waters.
Flanagan sees these exploits as physically and socially beneficial to the kids.
“When they go on a hike you just hear the conversations they start having,” Flanagan said. “That’s awesome because they’re engaging with the environment and each other at the same time.”
Katherine also realized the importance of working with her camp friends.
“We learned how to build tents and tie knots,” Katherine said. “You need to know how to tie the knots for certain kinds of tents, but everybody needs to know how and work together to do it. It doesn’t work if everybody is doing their own thing.”
One of the goals of the camp is to teach kids how to explore the outdoors without leaving a trace and doing it as simply as possible.
“I don’t want to bog them down with too much and I think people get afraid of camping because there’s all this great stuff out there,” Flanagan said. “I love all the gear, but really you could probably do it with a tarp, a sleeping bag, a few pieces of rope, food, a good backpack, good shoes, extra clothes and you’re good.”
Another objective is to get children to continue their outdoor explorations once the camp is over.
“My hope is that they go home and say, ‘Hey Mom, Dad, I know where this hike is; let’s go do it,’ ” Flanagan said. “And that’s what I like is to see them drive the outdoor experience for their family.
In addition to the Outdoor Explorer camp, Millbrook offers a boating camp in the mornings.
“Most of the week they are trying out several different types of boating options,” instructor Phil Gardner said. “Each week we spend time with them like we did today learning the basics of boat parts. We learn paddle strokes, how to maneuver the boat and we play a game to put those skills to use.”
Camper Lilly Hasan, 10, enjoyed the novelty of canoeing and being able to explore on water.
“It feels special to be on the water because people don’t do it a lot, especially in Pennsylvania,” Lilly said. “When you learn to canoe you can be on the water more often and that’s really special.”
Boating is just one way to get children outside, and Gardner thinks it serves an even greater purpose than just physical activity.
“In this day and age, we’re glued to our TVs, phones and computers,” Gardner said. “There’s a real detachment from the world, from the environment and even from hobbies in general. It’s important to really interact with the physical world and get out and find a hobby that they love that binds them to the environment around them.”
Learn more about these summer camps and others online at www.crpr.org.