March Break EcoCamp

Spring is trying to peek through the winter.

Spring is trying to peek through the winter.

We held our first ever March Break EcoCamp at the High Park kitchen/garden this year! It’s interesting to plan a March Break camp a few weeks in advance, as you have no idea whether it will be winter, spring or summer. Luckily this year, the weather was as it should be a this time of year – hovering around 0 Celcius, with some days a bit warmer and some days chillier and windier, some sunny days and some days with snow flurries.  I was afraid it would be really icy in the park, but most of the slushy ice had thawed. The first couple of days were nice and muddy, and then with the colder weather at the end of the week, the mud froze but didn’t get too slippery. Pretty perfect, really.

Blizzard over Grenadier Pond.

Blizzard over Grenadier Pond.

I worked this camp with the same co-worker/friend that I ran winter programming with in early January. We had a group of 14 campers, aged 6-11.  A group that loved singing, arts/crafts, cooking/baking, adventuring and experimenting! The camp was in some ways similar to our summer EcoCamp, but we spent more time in the kitchen, and also focused on the changing seasons. Another difference is just the time it takes to move from inside to outside and back, with all of the layers of clothes in the colder weather…

We sang lots of fun songs throughout the week, and the campers kept singing them on hikes! We sang “Knife, Fork, Spoon, Spatula” (chachacha), “There are no bananas in the sky”, “The green grass grew all around…”, “The Garden Song” (inch by inch, row by row…), and probably some others too. Fun!

A beautiful cardinal - made by one of our campers - looks longingly out the window.

A beautiful cardinal – made by one of our campers – looks longingly out the window.

We did a few different craft and drawing activities throughout the week, including drawing our favourite outdoor places, decorating our recipes, making habitat postcards, creating boats, making ice decorations, making clay ‘fossils’…  We also did a big craft that we worked on all week – we started by making papier-mâché creatures on the first day, painted them on Thursday, and then used them in a drama activity on Friday. Crafts were a big hit with this group, and colouring was such a great extension activity with them – whenever we had some campers done an activity before the others, they would get super engaged in drawing.

We also did some experimenting throughout the week.  On the first day, we started a germination experiment and also started growing some sprouts that we could taste at the end of the week. The germination experiment was the same as the seed glove lesson I did a Blake a few weeks earlier – it went pretty well, but it’s more of a classroom experiment where results can be observed and charted over the course of a couple of weeks. But the campers did enjoy seeing the seeds germinating. We also grew mung bean and clover sprouts in Mason jars – most of the campers tasted them on Friday, and many came back for seconds and thirds… Yum! We also started growing some sunflower shoots in a sub-irrigated planter I made out of a 2-litre pop bottle at a FoodShare workshop, but unfortunately these had hardly sprouted by the end of the week (so I took them home and have been growing them on my kitchen windowsill and adding them to my salads. Mmm!).

And on the topic of eating, we made some delicious food with the kids too! Tuesday was pizza day. We started from scratch in the morning, to make sure we had enough time throughout the day to let the dough rise a couple of times. We then prepared all sorts of yummy veggie toppings, like broccoli bits, grated zucchini and carrots, sliced mushrooms and peppers, and pineapple bits. The pizzas turned out delicious! Later in the week, we made biscuits and beet-chocolate muffins. Mmm! This group was really great to bake and cook with – lots of good teamwork going on! Eve and I are also getting better at managing cooking with a group of kids, and at sorting tasks into small group activities. It’s challenging to find recipes that are safe/simple enough with only 2 adults around but which have enough tasks for all kids in a group to be involved… Any ideas are more than welcome!

Canada geese hanging around (freaking out and squaking like crazy) in a tree. Weird.

Canada geese hanging around (freaking out and squaking like crazy) in a tree. Weird.

Competitive games weren’t the biggest success this week, but we did have a couple of new games that went really well.  On the first day, we did a colour scavenger hunt – each pair of campers had a set of paint chips on a binder ring, and they had to go find something in the park that matched all of their colours. (Pairs had slightly different colour selections.) A challenging activity in early spring, but they did well and really liked it. It’ll be a good activity in the summer, especially as an introduction to the garden. We also played a survival game, where coloured popscicle sticks represented animals’ different needs (food, shelter, water, etc.). A few of our new ideas were from this great resource from the Back to Nature Network, called “Into Nature”.

Part of our Nature Museum.

Part of our Nature Museum.

Hikes, adventures and exploration were more the speed of these campers than were big games. Each morning, we had a “nature museum” of things that Eve and I had collected in the park and around the city – milkweed pods, a wasp nest, Japanese knotweed flutes, burr oak acorns, cool pieces of wood… We started each day by circling up and asking questions about the nature museum objects – lots of curiosity! The campers also then got pretty excited when they found the same or similar things in the park later in the week and knew what they were because of the nature museum. One day we went on a little boat adventure – we made little cork boats with the intention of going to float them on Grenadier Pond. Well, as we’d sorta guessed, the pond was still mostly frozen. But by the fishing dock, there was a little bit of open water and the kids had fun playing with their boats, seeing if they’d float or break the ice… On our last day, we went on a hike in the south end of the park. The highlight of this hike was definitely the skeleton we found! Eve and I were really wishing we had some way of bringing it back to the garden, but alas, the skeleton stayed there for others to discover as well.

The skeleton we found. Don't know what it was (though I'm leaning towards skunk, based on the white and black fur).

The skeleton we found. Don’t know what it was (though I’m leaning towards skunk, based on the white and black fur).

The mystery skull! A pretty exciting find!

The mystery skull! A pretty exciting find!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A fun week overall!

Happy growing!

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