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Jul 03, 2017 04:02PM

Connecting kids and nature: Summer camp offer free outdoor education


By Ann Ring
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Kids involved in a Spring Forward Learning Center activity help plant raised garden beds at Frances Willard Elementary School in Rock Island.
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Several kids take field trips to St. Mary's Monastery for Spring Forward Learning Center programs.
This summer, dozens of kids will visit Nahant Marsh Education Center in Davenport; the Living Lands & Waters Barge; and Black Hawk State Historic Site, Quad City Botanical Center and St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island as part of the Spring Forward Learning Center's Summer Enrichment Initiative.

The Spring Forward Learning Center serves children in the Rock Island/Milan School District, and for at least the past three summers, it has collaborated with a growing number of local partners to supplement its educational enrichment. Its Summer Enrichment Initiative's mission is to bridge summer learning loss by providing high-quality programming at six-week summer camps to more than 350 children in grades K-6.

The summer camps, which kicked off June 16 and run through July 21, meet at area grade schools as well as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center, and will take groups of about 75 children to experience the meaningful, hands-on outdoor field trips.

"We wanted to further students' education," says Spring Forward Learning Center executive director Dan McNeil. "With all the wonderful resources the Quad-Cities has to offer, these camps also allow us to address the opportunities gap that some kids may run into. These sites are all gems in our backyard."

McNeil says he wants to make sure children at the center have the opportunity to learn outdoors during its summer camps. Research published by the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point shows a number of advantages of outdoor education, including an increase in performance at school when children learn outside. Learning outdoors is active, the research showed, and also increases students' physical, mental and social health.

The summer camp field trips formulated from growing relationships with area sites, and after noticing how drawn the kids are to nature, particularly when Nahant Marsh educators started presenting at Spring Forward's after-school program.

McNeil takes part of his inspiration to connect kids with the outdoors from journalist and author Richard Louv, co-founder and chairman emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization helping to build an international movement to connect people and communities to the natural world.

McNeil, who heard Louv speak several years ago, was struck by Louv's coined phrase "nature-deficit disorder" in the title of his best-selling book, "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder." Louv uses the term to describe the possible consequences to health and social fabric as children move indoors and away from physical contact with the natural world, particularly children's unstructured, solitary experiences.

St. Mary Monastery will host Nahant Marsh educators and Spring Forward campers for the third year in a row this summer. "It has been a fun experience to have the Spring Forward groups coming to St. Mary Monastery," says Sister Bobbi Bussan, who coordinates the visits.

The campers "enjoy our beautiful property and learn about nature, gardening and wildlife, and have a picnic. The sisters are thrilled to share our property and connect with the youth as well as Spring Forward and their staff. The sisters and our volunteers look forward to Fridays in the summer!"

During camp, Living Lands & Waters' educators teach children about various threats to the environment. "Part of our program is 'Trash Talk,' where kids learn the direct relationship with litter, trash and our earth through scavenger hunts for trash, and we talk about ways to reduce that and the importance of recycling," says LL&W education coordinator Meghan Elgan.

LL&W also takes kids out on a jon boat to stop, see and hear nature around them. These lessons make a difference in the way students think about their use of consumer goods and the disposal of their trash, while inspiring a new appreciation for our rivers.

"These outdoor activities are experiential learning where all of their senses are touched," McNeil says. "Students are learning by exploring — plus the Summer Enrichment Initiative is part of a movement to get kids outdoors and ensure they're staying connected to the outdoors."
Ann Ring is a frequent Radish contributor.




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