Many of your campers may be coming from cities or suburbs. The noises they’re used to are more likely to be car horns and construction than birdsong and babbling brooks. They’re disconnected from nature. And the disconnection is so serious, it’s been given a name: nature-deficit disorder.
Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, coined the term to describe the negative effects children face when surrounded by technology instead of the outdoors.
The kids may not understand the severity of this disconnection, but their parents definitely do – and that’s probably one of the reasons they entrusted you with their children at your camp.
It can be difficult to reconnect to nature, even for adult camp leaders. We’ve compiled the following list of activities to kick-start activities that will connect your campers to nature.
- Silent hikes
At school and at home, childrens’ lives are filled with constant digital noise. Many kids are even on their phones or computers when outdoors.
To combat all this noise and practice just existing without constant stimulation, take your campers on a silent hike. Split into small groups, each with their own adult leader. Campers will follow the leader on a short hike with one challenge in mind: being completely silent.
When introducing the activity to your campers, emphasize that while they will be quiet, nature will not be. Encourage them to listen for three unique sounds that they can tell their group about after the hike is over.
- Starry storytime
This activity is especially good for sleep-away campers. Before bedtime, lay out a large tarp or blankets so campers can lie down and stargaze.
Take some time to ask them if they recognize any stars or constellations, then point out some of your own. They may be surprised by how much you can see in the night sky, especially if they are coming from cities with lots of light pollution.
When the group has quieted down a bit, ask them to quietly stargaze while you tell them a story. Whether it’s a local legend or a far-away fairytale, there’s something magical about connecting with the earth under a beautiful sky for a special storytime.
- Guided meditation sessions
While our first two activity suggestions required access to large outdoor areas, these last few ideas can be enjoyed regardless of proximity to nature.
The first is to host some guided meditation sessions. Meditation is not only a great way to get kids focused and connected to the world around them, but also a fantastic skill to teach that can reduce anxiety later in life.
Start by asking campers to sit comfortably, leaving a few feet of distance between themselves and other kids. Lead the group in taking a few long, deep breaths with eyes closed.
Next, you can either play a pre-recorded guided meditation or create your own. Choose a “storyline” that involves visualizing yourself in nature and grounding yourself with the earth’s energy.
For younger kids, this meditation may only last a few minutes. For older kids, try to stretch the session to fifteen minutes or beyond. The longer they can focus and reconnect, the better.
- Nature-based crafts
Crafts are an essential part of many camp experiences, but designing some specifically around reconnecting with nature can rekindle an interest in the outdoors.
For example, you could plan a craft session focusing on animals and plants indigenous to your immediate region or state. When introducing the activity, go the extra mile. Share fun facts about the flora and fauna, show videos of the animals in action, and ask campers about their favorites.
Elevate the craft session even further by using natural materials instead of the usual plastic-based supplies. Gather fallen leaves, acorns, pinecones, sticks, or other things native to your area that have naturally been discarded. Avoid picking plants or making cuttings – it’s a good reminder to leave nature as we found it.
- Nature-inspired games
No camp experience is complete without a repertoire of fun games. Add some animal-inspired games to your rotation for some creative play that can connect campers with the natural world.
An easy one to get started is a round of nature charades. Write down different animals, plants, and environments on slips of paper. Have your campers pick a paper from a hat and silently act out what’s written there. This will get them thinking about their environment, how it works, and how to express it creatively.