EcoCamp

I always have these great dreams that I’ll have time to do all sorts of stuff during the summer, as I work more regular hours than I do during the school year. One of the things I always think I’ll have time to do is write in my blog. Alas, by the time I get home to the east end of the city from High Park (often stopping by at one market or another on my way home), after a day running around the park with kiddies, there’s not much energy left in the reserves.

One of the highlights of our training/planning weeks in June is the mulberry tree right outside our office in High Park. We shared the berries with some chipmunks too (or, more likely, they shared with us).

I am definitely not complaining, though.  I think this summer of High Park EcoCamp may have been my best one yet!  (And that’s not to say the past 2 years weren’t great as well.)  The EcoCamp programmes expanded again this year, meaning we had a bigger staff team, meaning lots of new energy and ideas from some amazing new staff members.  The EcoCamp we’ve been running for years is for 6-10 year olds and we added a Youth camp for 10-14 year olds in 2010. This year, we added an EcoSprouts programme for 4-6 year olds – this was meant to be a one-week pilot programme, but proved to be SO popular during registration in the spring that we ran it for 7 of our 8 weeks! We also had a Leaders in Training (LIT) programme for the first time. AND, we had our new kitchen… but more about that in another post.  For now, here’s a picture of the lovely building:

High Park Teaching Kitchen

I had the opportunity to switch around between groups over the summer, which was great. It was good to mix things up a bit. For the first month, I worked with the Junior EcoCamp (6-10 year olds), which is the group I’ve worked with in the past as well.  It’s really nice to see returning campers from the previous years – it’s great to see the kids’ grow and fun to meet their younger siblings as they start coming to camp as well. And, as always, feedback from kids and parents is always rewarding. We had one family this summer (a returning camper and her little brother) where the parents would often stay and chat a bit in the morning and afternoon, always giving great positive feedback. One morning, the dad thanked us for getting his son to eat broccoli! We’re not sure what we said (though probably something along the lines of it’s good to try new foods), but apparently this little guy had been devouring broccoli every night ever since, because “his camp counsellors had said he should”.  The camper also got really excited about eating broccoli flowers in the garden, and kept picking some for his parents. At the end of their camp session, their mom again thanked us – she said her kids had had an amazing time at camp, and that a summer where her son starts to eat broccoli automatically makes it into the “successful summer” books. 🙂  (And yes, if any of my co-workers are reading this, I’m sure they’re laughing right now, as I kept telling the broccoli story all summer… but it was a good one!)

So after a month with the Jr EcoCamp, I was in charge of planning and running our new LIT programme. We only had five 14-16 year olds. Having not worked with teens in a camp setting in ages (12 years, to be precise), I was excited but definitely a bit nervous. I also thought it would be more laid-back and relaxing than working with the younger kiddies. I didn’t have to have my eyes on them ALL of the time, I could let them go to the washroom on my own, they didn’t need help opening and packing up their lunches… But WOW, was I exhausted at the end of each day! Don’t get me wrong, they were a great group of LITs! But we moved a lot faster and thus more every day, and mentally I had to be “on” in a whole different way than what I’m used to: they asked deeper questions, we had real conversations, I had to keep an eye on group dynamics in a whole different way, and they would definitely call me out on things rather than just accepting what I said. But it was a good experience overall. The programme ran for a month in total, with the LITs spending the first couple of weeks with me, doing different leadership activities. Then, they spent the next two weeks as volunteers for the younger camps. I got some good feedback about them from the other staff, which was great!

After two weeks with the LITs, I spent one week with our wee EcoSprouts. Wow, a change of gears! The Sprouts were fun and pretty hilarious, but it definitely took me time to get used to the fact that everything. takes. super. long. As my cousin puts it when she helps teach our children’s folkdance group, it’s like “herding cats”.  You try getting them to line up to go somewhere, you manage to get 5 of them in, then try to gather more of them, but by the time you get the next 6 in, 4 of the first 5 have already taken off somewhere else, had to go to the washroom, needed their water bottle…  Our schedule would have all sorts of amazing activities listed for the day. When we got to the end of each day and reviewed with the campers what we’d done that day, we realized that we’d managed to do about 4 of those 12 activities. Definitely took me time to get used to this. That being said, we did manage to do some fun garden/kitchen activities with them, check out life in Grenadier Pond, go on some wee hikes, read some fun stories and play lots of games. (Having two LITs – teenage boys – with us that week was awesome, because they had the energy to run around a lot with the Sprouts!)  I wish I’d worked with the Sprouts for a couple of weeks, since by the time I got used to working with them, it was nearly the end of the week. But it was fun!

The last week of camp, I was back with the Jr EcoCamp, which is the group I’m definitely most comfortable with. I can pretty much run the programming on autopilot with that age group, meaning I can focus more on getting to know the campers and generally be more relaxed. Lovely!

Thanks for another fun EcoCamp summer, kids and co-workers!

If you know of anyone interested in children’s nature or garden programming during the school year, check out our website (http://torontochildrensgarden.ca/) for information about of school programmes, birthday parties, etc.

Happy growing!

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