Nature Campers | Cat Chiappa Creative
Equity and Inclusivity at Nature Camp
Nature Camp 2022 came and went with the flurry of energy like it does every year. There were countless moments of joy, excitement, inspiration, and learning that is expected of our program, which just finished its 38th year. But, to keep up with a changing world, our program saw some changes. As we continue our Equity and Justice work as a whole organization, so too do we make updates in the way we deliver Nature Camp.
Nature Camp by the Numbers
Here are some of the highlights from our summer with our Campers:
- 10 weeks of camp from June to August
- 6 weekly themes including birds, forests, wetlands, oceans, bugs, and nature art
- 19 field trips to parks and greenspaces
- 426 registration spots available and filled
- 396 campers age 5-12
- 302 households participated
- New lottery registration method
- Implemented a positive discipline policy and practice
“Thanks for the wonderful week at camp my two kids had! We walked around Discovery Park today and they were identifying plants and recognizing some restoration work projects. I was really impressed at what they absorbed and the inspiration that grew during their week with you. Hope to be back again next year!”
Campers participate in a variety of activities to understand, appreciate, and protect nature and wildlife.
Launching ‘The Lottery’
If you’re a parent of a grade schooler like me, you know the chaos that can come with summer camp registration season, which usually begins surprisingly early in January or February each year. Parents often find themselves scrambling during post-bedtime winter evenings, juggling calendars, trying to schedule a line-up of camp options that are affordable, fun, geographically convenient for hurried morning drop-offs, and of course, something their child is interested in. And don’t make the mistake of waiting to register for their favorite camp, as most popular options sell out within days, if not minutes, of registrations opening.
It’s dog-eat-dog out there in the Summer Camp world.
As the manager of Nature Camp, I also experience this world from the programming end, and to be frank, it’s just as hectic. Experienced parents begin reaching out in early January, asking for details for the coming summer, hoping to get on registration as soon as it opens. Parents who are unaware of this registration fervor reach out soon after things fill up, expressing both disappointment and surprise at how they weren’t able to get a spot. As an example, for the 2021 Nature Camp season, we opened registrations at 8 a.m. At 8:09 a.m., we already had waitlists going. By the following day, all sessions were completely full with waitlists of 30 or more campers each. Wowza!
It didn’t used to be this way. Eight years ago, when I began my role as Camp Manager and Registrar, there was no desperation around registrations. Sure, we had a surge on opening day, but most sessions took several months to fill completely and waitlists were generally less than a five people long. In the last several years, something has changed in the summer camp world, and it became very apparent that we needed to respond.
This is what led to our decision to implement a lottery for the 2022 summer registration season. Everyone deserves a chance to come to Nature Camp, whether your parent or guardian is able to log on to the registration system at 8 a.m. on February 1 or not. It took some patience and a little extra work on the registration end, and for our families, but we aren’t going back.
Now that this season has concluded, I can look back on the whole process and say with confidence that this was the right change for us. More families had the opportunity to experience Nature Camp, and several expressed their appreciation for the lottery system that allowed them to participate at all. Comments of “we finally got in!” and “we’re so excited to be able to participate!” still ring pleasantly in my ears.
“I just wanted to say thank you for doing the lottery this year. As a teacher, there was very little chance I would have been able to sign [my daughter] up in the first-come-first-serve process of years past. Thank you so much for switching to the lottery so we had a chance.”
Nature Campers | Cat Chiappa Creative
The Diverse Kids of Camp
The other change we made this year was more subtle, and was made in an effort to make Camp more welcoming and accessible to all kids.
Nature Campers are special. They usually come to camp with a baseline of basic knowledge and curiosity about the natural world. They love animals. They love being outside. They love exploring. They attend Camp eager to learn and explore more. There are the “bug kids” that come to insect week, ready to equip themselves with a bug net and catch anything they can. There are the beach-lovers who aspire to being marine biologists and could spend an entire day tide-pooling at the beach. There are the natural artists, who want nothing more than to take the things they see outside as inspiration for their next art project. And, of course, we get plenty of “bird nerds.”
This doesn’t mean, though, that all Nature Campers are the same. All of our participants come from different backgrounds, and have had a wide array of outdoor experiences. Some have experienced nature through outdoor excursions with their families, while others mostly explore nature from a book or virtual sources. All campers come to us in different stages of their social emotional development or with various neurodiversities. Some campers love the high energy environment of Camp, surrounded by their peers. Others have a harder time focusing in this environment and need quiet or solitude. Some have no trouble moving past small squabbles with fellow campers, and others need a lot more time and space to process. Kids are human, and just like adults, some need more assistance to thrive than others.
It is in consideration of these kids that we made a small change in our Parent Information Packet. This nine-page document lists everything a parent or guardian would need to know before coming to camp, including a packing list, field trip schedule, and how we approach discipline. Not only did we update the wording in this packet to include ideas of positive discipline, our camp staff worked tirelessly throughout the weeks to put these inclusive actions into practice as well. I commend our Naturalists for all of their hard work in making sure that each camper was loved and respected, no matter their behavioral struggles.
“My daughters had a blast at their bird camps last week. They loved their counselors, the fun games, and of course, learning about the birds. It was fun to learn from them about Cooper’s Hawk and Killdeer calls. It seemed to be a great mix of education and fun. Well done, and thank you for all your hard work and planning.”
Nature Campers | Cat Chiappa Creative
Thank you Nature Camp Staff and Volunteers!
The 2022 Camp season was a resounding success. Despite the added pressures of the pandemic, the magic and joy of Nature Camp that we’ve come to expect each summer was definitely there. Watching each group come back from their days out exploring, covered in dust-caked sunscreen, with exciting stories to tell about close encounters with various wildlife (from giant green caterpillars, to grass-carrying wasps, to all number of bird species), is a reminder of why we put so much effort into this program each year. My heartfelt gratitude goes out to all of our Naturalist staff: Elizabeth, Acacia, Doug, Ellie, Sofia, Theo, and Becca, and our many high school Junior Naturalist volunteers. They deserve all the credit for our success.