By Darcie Nolan
All camps offered by the Catamount Institute and Rocky Mountain Field Institute get kids away from their electronics and out on the land.
Local organizations are prepped and ready to give your children the outdoor experience that will help mold them into knowledgeable stewards of and active participants with Mother Nature. Between them, Catamount Institute and Rocky Mountain Field Institute offer day camp and residential summer camp programs for young people.
"All of our camps are outdoor, environmental science and adventure camps," says Christopher Aaby, executive director of Catamount Institute.
Catamount Institute has a variety of programs for kids 6 years old and up. Kids get the benefit of being in nature with trained and experienced mentors who guide them. Programs are focused on first-hand experience with environmental science, and fun. In years past, kids have helped scientists study local birds and even extracted DNA from strawberries. This year's programs focus on fish and clean water, with activities tailored for specific age groups.
Catamount Institute's mix of traditional summer camp experiences with a solid learning environment facilitates personal growth. Students become more independent and self-confident while also developing problem-solving skills and expanding their openness to different opinions.
Aaby has seen kids become better students as they engage in lessons outdoors, though there is one hurdle they are encountering more often at the start of camp.
"Technology is in kids' faces all the time," says Aaby, and some kids experience technology withdrawal when they get to camp. "We even encourage them not to talk about screens or video games, but to engage with what is happening right in front of them."
Catamount specifically tailors their camps to help kids get used to not having their phones right beside them. Camps focus on team-building and trust activities in the first few days. "A lot of times just being active in the outdoors can help with the withdrawal symptoms," says Aaby.
One of the programs being offered this summer is a partnership between Catamount Institute and the local nonprofit Rocky Mountain Field Institute, or RMFI. The organizations have worked together to create Dirt Camp — a week-long service and educational day camp for students 10 to 12 years old that's anchored in Garden of the Gods. Each day, students will spend a few hours working on projects around the park and then learn about the land, its geological makeup and its history. The program helps push kids outside their comfort zone, which is where real learning can begin.
"There is some trepidation at first," says Joe Lavorini, the program director at RMFI, "Especially because we bring out tools." Some of the kids in the Dirt Camp program have never worked with the tools or dug in the dirt like they do during camp.
"It is transformative," says Lavorini, "Students get to be outside, make a connection with the environment, and the work aspect is a really powerful tool. You can see the fruits of your labor and there is a sense of accomplishment."
Like Catamount Institute, RMFI has focused programs for youth because it will be their responsibility to take care of the planet in the future.
"By giving kids the opportunity to dig in the dirt and make a connection with a place, they are more likely to protect it and do the things that need to be done to protect it," explains Lavorini.
Studies show that exposure to nature for both children and adults can have a positive effect on mental and physical well-being. Some studies even correlate contact with nature in childhood with fewer symptoms of depression in adulthood and an ongoing appreciation of nature. With programs like those at Catamount Institute and RMFI, local area kids can begin to build or reinforce that connection.
Both programs have scholarships available and Catamount Institute has equipment for overnight trips if students don't have their own gear. This way, students from any background or experience level can be part of the camps and learn how to care for the land.
"Our goal is to help these kids figure out who they are, but also who they are in relation to the environment around them. We want them to have a sense of place and of belonging in Colorado and in nature," says Aaby.
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