You never know what you’ll find when you explore the forest. You might come across some interesting wildlife, discover a striking natural feature, or simply enjoy the solace and inspiration of a peaceful walk through the woods.
The summer camps at Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center (DPNC) have been introducing children to the benefits of natural exploration for many years. In addition to its classic Nature Camp, this year DPNC will see a number of new Specialty Camps and the introduction of a new program for children with physical disabilities.
“We have a certain number of families that return year after year, and those families do not want to let go of the classic camp experience,” says Pauline Gaucher, camp director at DPNC. “It’s very important to them, and it’s also very important to us because it really speaks to our mission.”
Classic Nature Camp
Open to ages 3 through 15, the Nature Camp takes advantage of the nature center’s different ecosystems and its proximity to other natural sites. Campers visit for the day and enjoy fun and stimulating activities, such as hiking, arts and crafts activities, and looking for frogs and other creatures at the pond.
Each camp also introduces children to the DPNC’s resident animals. These include birds of prey, snakes, turtles, and rabbits.
Due to popular demand, early childhood camps will be offered throughout the summer this year. The weeklong Nature Camps run from June 12 through Aug. 25.
Until age 6, children remain at The Nature Center for their activities. However, the hardier groups have been able to hike as far as DPNC’s Coogan Farm property.
From age 7 and up, campers take field trips to nearby places three days a week. The goal is to allow kids to explore ecosystems that aren’t present at DPNC, such as beaches and saltwater marshes.
Pauline says she believes children enjoy the freedom of getting out and exploring. She says it also allows them to slow down and disconnect from daily schedules and artificial stimulation, such as TV or video games.
“We have a basic structure that we go by, but the camp counselors are trained to always take advantage of teachable moments,” says Pauline. “They might start a hike and then stumble on something that’s really cool or really grabs the attention of the children. It’s important to switch gears and live in the moment.”
The camps work to encourage healthy risk taking, which allows children to overcome their fear of certain activities or creatures. The DPNC also helps campers to build confidence, come up with creative ideas, and develop an appreciation for nature.
“There are endless things to learn concerning nature,” says Pauline. “Even the most seasoned educators here, we’re continuing to learn new things every day.”
Shared and Specialty Camps
The DPNC’s Shared Camps partner with local organizations to offer expanded programs throughout the summer. Pauline says the DPNC worked hard this year to offer a Shared Camp or Specialty Camp for older groups for all 11 weeks of the summer.
Several of the Shared Camps partner with the Mystic Seaport. Farm & Sea pairs a morning program at Coogan Farm with sailing lessons in the afternoon. Earth, Water & Skies focuses on topics such as navigation and food webs, while From Earth to Stars studies the connections between astronomy and nature.
A collaboration with New England Science and Sailing—entitled One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, You Fish—explores the fish populations off the Connecticut coast. Nature Kingdoms, a shared camp with the Mystic Museum of Art, has campers look to the natural landscape for artistic inspiration.
A number of Specialty Camps have proved popular in recent years. These include Nature’s Engineers, which looks at inventions that were inspired by nature; a live action role playing and fort building camp; and Drama and Music in Nature, where campers create musical instruments and costumes.
DPNC is also introducing a number of new Specialty Camps this year. Dream Weavers looks at weaving in both the human and natural world and includes activities such as making baskets and cattail mats; it is open to ages 13 through 15 and takes place June 26-30. Natural Art with Niki, an extension of a popular homeschooling program to create artwork with natural materials, is open to ages 7 through 10 and runs July 10-14.
Keeper of the Animals, a behind-the-scenes look at the care of the nature center’s resident animals, is open to ages 11 through 15 and runs July 17-21. Pauline says she hopes the camp will be a good gateway for children interested in becoming animal care volunteers at DPNC.
During the Mystic River Adventure, campers will stay overnight at Coogan Farm. During the day, they will explore the Mystic River by canoe, build a campsite, go hiking, and play games.
New this year is a pilot program, Camp Abilities, which will be open to children with physical disabilities. This camp will run Aug. 14-18.
“What we really wanted to do was begin our journey of becoming truly inclusive,” says Pauline. “We wanted to focus on the positive, not on what children can’t do but what they can do.”
Hiking is a big part of the Nature Camps, and DPNC realized that this component could exclude some children. Camp Abilities includes several components of the classic camp, including meeting resident animals, dipping for creatures in the pond, and keeping a nature journal.
Camp Abilities is open-ended with regard to ages. Pauline says groups with mixed ages have some advantages, namely that older children naturally start to assist younger children.
“You see what happens naturally in a family,” says Pauline. “You see the older children getting an opportunity to nurture and mentor the other children.
It’s not something you really even need to teach children when they’re together in a mixed age group. It just happens organically.”
While this camp doesn’t extend to children with mental disabilities, Pauline says the DPNC always tries to accommodate children. Parents of special needs children are asked to contact the nature center in advance to see if a camp is a good fit for the child and whether the necessary support will be available for the camp.
Registration for most of DPNC’s summer camps can be done online, but registration for Camp Abilities must be done through the camp director. Pauline can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 860-536-1216, extension 22153.
For more information on the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center’s summer camps, visit dpnc.org/summercamp or call 860-536-1216.