Local Grade six students are familiar with Camp Kawartha through the annual winter camp event that has been a tradition in the curriculum for decades.
Established in 1921, the camp is an accredited, award-winning not-for-profit educational organization offering environmental education for students ages four to seventeen.
Through their extensive programs, Camp leaders are catch a glimpse of the lives of children across the region. Like other child and youth experts, staff noted a growing decline in mental health and rising anxiety disorders. The 2016 Vital Signs report produced by the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough noted that local youth and children were getting less than 10% of the recommended levels of physical activity, and noted that local residents also rated their mental health lower than provincial averages.
Anxiety is contagious. Many parents try to protect their children by keeping them indoors or filling their schedule full of organized activities. Research indicates that outdoor, unstructured creative play provides a wide range of benefits for children, including stress reduction, the development of problem solving skills, enhanced physical and mental health, creativity and self-esteem.
Camp Kawartha’s Jacob Rodenburg set out to encourage spending time in nature by devising a program of simple activities to encourage meaningful outdoor exploration. Together with a group of 80 environmental educators, he developed a series of “landmark” experiences tied to various stages of development. Their program, entitled Pathway to Stewardship & Kinship, was published in 2017. It offers simple, age-linked activities that help children obtain tools for physical and mental health by showing them how to care for each other, and the environment and their community.
The guide can be used by anyone working with children, with activities suggested for each age group. They are built around recognized patterns of child development, and progress into larger and more complex concepts to connect children with nature to inspire well-being and positive relationships with nature and the community at large. They encourage a connection and responsibility to the world around us.
The activities are simple. In the four to five year age group one suggested activity is to visit a favourite outdoor space each week to note the seasonal changes in that space, collecting seeds, leaves, rocks and other items, taking or drawing pictures of the space. At age ten, participants can explore biodiversity by exploring a wetland, forest or meadow to build and understanding of the relationships between living things and their habitats. There are thirty landmarks in total, with recommended activities and links to support material such as curriculum and community resources to equip the adult to accompany the child on the journey, and perhaps enhance their own appreciation of the natural environment along the way.
The EarlyON Child and Family Centre has embraced the program and has begun a weekly activity based on this resource. Nine classes at Millbrook South Cavan Public School have also signed up. Wilma Armstrong’s Grade One class is exploring Landmark 2 which encourages positive experiences with animals at least twice a month. These students have enjoyed weekly virtual visits with a rabbit, learning about his diet and habits.
It’s never too late to appreciate our natural world, and respect for the environment is easy to develop. Whether you start by feeding geese at the Millpond or exploring the night sky, there are many ways to rediscover that sense of wonder. Wouldn’t we all benefit from a bit more respect? KG