Plastic-free summer camps in the Park

This summer SPES ran our outdoor Eco Summer Camp for the 5th year! One hundred and six 7 to 11 year olds participated in these popular five day long outdoor adventure camps. Each week offered a different exciting, nature-based theme which included Animal Detectives, Forest Explorers, Art in the Park, and Stanley Park Survivor.

Swimming at Second Beach…and learning about seashore life. (Photo: SPES)

This year we decided to move our camps towards being plastic-free. We made changes to the way we supply snacks, and we even had some of the campers create their own beeswax reusable food wraps. We often have campers who come back every year and one of our returning campers remarked, “I noticed that you guys are going plastic-free this year! There are no granola bar wrappers and you have us make our own popsicles instead of buying them wrapped in plastic. That is so cool!”

Each week the activities look different depending on the theme. One week we will transform into coho salmon, using our sense of smell to migrate back to our home stream. The next week may see us setting up our own shelters using specialty knots, and later we may remove invasive species from the forest as we learn how to be stewards of Stanley Park. Whatever the specific games and activities, our main goal is always the same – to have fun outdoors, and encourage a sense of excitement and curiosity about the natural world.

Campers “parade” past during an Eco-Olympics opening ceremony in Stanley Park. (Photo: SPES)

Through our games, activities, talks, and time spent exploring, we learn all about the ecosystems in Stanley Park. Campers learn which plants and animals live in the forest, intertidal zone and wetlands in Stanley Park, and how they interact with each other. At the end of each week, campers present their ‘Eco Spirit Project’ – a project that they work on throughout the week on something that they are passionate about. They spend time everyday researching their topic and using their creativity to build a fun way to present their knowledge to the group.  

Campers spend a day at Lumberman’s Arch beach exploring the intertidal zone (Photo: SPES)

Each season of day camps is full of stories of kids getting excited about nature. Some of our favourite times from this summer were:

A camper who had never swum in the ocean told us the morning before we were going to swim at Second Beach that he was nervous to try it. After swimming we asked him what he thought of it, and he exclaimed that, “It was amaaaaazing!!”

Another favourite story happened when we brought our campers to the Stanley Park Nature House for a private VIP tour. One camper would only walk two steps into the Nature House, and seemed too timid to go in further. When we asked if something was wrong she replied that she didn’t like dead animals. After some encouragement from one of the leaders, she began to walk through the room to look at some of the taxidermy, and to think of them as cool, not scary. By the end of the tour, she was excitedly stroking the beaver pelt with a look of awe and fascination.

As our Eco Campers try new things and explore nature, we see them become more comfortable outdoors, and more confident in their abilities. Eco Camps allow us to connect children to nature in a profound way that allows their appreciation for nature to grow, while they build fun and lasting memories.

By Chandehl Morgan, Environmental Educator