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‘Camp-to-Go’: Bundles of lessons help kids explore the outdoors

This is an example of an animal created with only natural materials. The activity, part of ÒCamp-to-Go,Ó teaches youngsters about animal adaptations. The Michigan United Conservation Clubs is offering Camp-to-Go bundles after its youth camp was canceled this summer because of COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of Max Bass)

MARQUETTE — Camping with COVID? It might sound like a catchy phrase, but it’s not such a good idea.

Many youth-centered events were canceled this summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with organizers understandably not wanting youngsters to congregate too closely with each other.

The Michigan United Conservation Clubs’ Youth Camp, located at the Waterloo Recreation Area in downstate Chelsea, was one of those cancellations.

However, the education team at MUCC, based in Lansing, ended up creating a “Camp-to-Go” curriculum.

The Camp-to-Go curriculum is a bundle of outdoor-related activities mailed to families that’s full of lessons and programs in which children might normally participate at camp.

MUCC Camp Director Max Bass said he and MUCC Education Director Shaun McKeon developed the plans.

“We took a lot of the pieces of the things we do at camp and looked online for other sources and other stuff,” Bass said.

The two found curricula they could break down to just be able to do with a family of two to four people, he said.

Bass said bundles were mailed beginning in early June, with about 50 families receiving them. The Dowagiac Conservation Club asked for 100 bundles, which it distributed throughout the downstate community.

Lessons include instructions on what type of wildlife to look for on a night hike, how to build a survival shelter and and how to start a fire.

Getting outside is important in another way.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, in an article titled “COVID-19 Planning Considerations: Guidance for School Re-entry,” suggests elementary schools use outdoor spaces when possible.

In the meantime, kids can use Camp-to-Go to personally connect with nature in a family setting.

It can’t fully replicate the camp experience, but it has benefits.

“It’s giving families an opportunity to get outside and do some of the stuff we do at camp,” Bass said. “Not necessarily to replace camp, by any means, because we know that can’t be done.”

However, he stressed Camp-to-Go provides ways for families to have something to do during these “unprecedented times” while staying safe and practicing social distancing — and also enjoy the outdoors and not be stuck in their homes.

An activity sampler

One of the plans is “Create a Critter,” geared toward ages 5 to 12, although older kids might enjoy the activity as well. The objective of the activity is to get campers to understand animal adaptations — special skills they use to survive.

Does a kid, with an imagination raised on Pixar movies, have a hankering to make a snake with googly eyes attached at the end of horns to see better? Now is the time.

After talking about local wildlife and adaptations, campers go outside an collect pieces of nature that already are dead, such as leaves, pine cones and other materials. Using pipe cleaners or string to hold everything together, the youngsters build their own imaginary animals.

Campers then can discuss their animals’ names, what it eats, what eats the animal, and whether it is nocturnal, diurnal or crepuscular — that is, whether it’s active mostly at night, during the day, or at dusk or dawn, respectively. They also can talk about the adaptations they have given their new creature.

Making scent jars is a fun way to study senses no matter what the participant’s age.

This activity requires three jars or pill bottles, and three different spices like cinnamon, ground basil or garlic powder.

Before a camper goes on a night hike, a third of each jar should be filled with a spice, with each jar containing only one spice.

The gist of this experiment, if you want to call it that, is to demonstrate that as one sense weakens, other senses strengthen.

Campers smell each of the spice jars, wafting the scent instead of sticking their noses in the bottles. The youngsters then wet their noses by licking their upper lips right below their noses.

After their smell the jars again, they should notice the scents are stronger. The explanation is that water molecules near their noses hold onto the smell particles longer, making the scent stronger.

Sometimes just a pencil, paper and clipboard are all a camper needs.

To learn how trees are unique “individuals,” a youngster picks out a tree and sits as close to it as possible. Then the camper draws directly what’s in front, that being just a section of the tree, not the entire thing. The young artist then backs up to view the whole tree and sketch it again.

Leaders and campers can discuss the things they noticed about the tree up close and far away, noting the similarities as well as the differences.

Funds raised from Camp-to-Go will be used to help MUCC with revenue lost through the cancellation of this season. So, Bass said donations for bundles are appreciated.

For more information or to request a bundle, email Bass at mbass@mucc.org.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net

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