Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Little Eco-camp That Could.

This past summer I had the cool opportunity to finally launch an Eco-camp I designed specifically for kids ages 3-6 years-old. This 'little camp that could' was warmly titled: Jack and the Greenstalk Eco-camp and was built around the idea that introducing kids early to some environmental basics gives them the tools to grow into Eco-minded adults who make a difference, hence our slogan, "Where kids become sustainable leaders!"

This idea started simply enough. My son is a die-hard environmentalist. He's constantly picking up random street trash with his delicate little hands and - although I appreciate his efforts - encourage him to wait until we have gloves because you never know what you'll find. I'm not gonna lie, he tells on people who litter. He doesn't like it and isn't afraid to say it. He also doesn't like any amount of water running that is not directly being used. I like his style. He gets it and he's only four. During an earlier trip to the Seattle Science Center this year, he was appalled to learn an exhibit made up of plastic bags, golf balls, electrical tape, Capri Sun juice boxes and rope were actually the contents of a whale's stomach beached earlier in West Seattle. He not only talked about that whale and the garbage in his stomach for days - he talked about it for months.

This got me thinking.

How can we encourage other kids his age to be aware of their environmental surroundings? How do we get them excited about picking up litter, using less water, understanding the impact recycling has on oceans and animal life? In essence, how do we help shape their lives where they grow and want to act on their commitment to the environment and become conscientious adults?

And this, my friends, is where Jack and the Greenstalk Eco-Camp grew from an idea into a day camp for kids which was first introduced at my son's Montessori preschool in Seattle.The agenda was simple enough: introduce things like recycling, composting, planting trees, playtime with worms and dirt, up-cycling items instead of throwing them away and using food as natural dyes.
Day 1 of this five-day camp started out with a fun display of a whale bath tub (for an infant) that I filled with - you guessed it - plastic bags, golf balls, electrical tape, Capri Sun juice boxes and rope to mimic the contents found in the real stomach of the whale beached in West Seattle. My family and I had just been at the beach along the Oregon Coast when we found tons of trash on our walks in the sand. It actually hit home more than ever how our garbage - and lots of it - is ending up in our oceans, lakes and rivers. We picked up some of this beach trash to bring with us to the Eco-camp and drive home why we should be picking up after ourselves. We followed this up with our crayon project and broke up a bag of old crayons to melt down into new ones. We removed the paper and broke them down into the color designs we liked and placed them in mini muffin tins. We placed in the oven for 15-20 minutes at 250 degrees. This created the most spectacular colors and we displayed them in a plastic berry container after filling it up with shredded recycled paper. We drew a personalized label out of a cereal boxes that said: "100% Recycled by...(insert name here)." It was cool and the kids were psyched about their new crayons.

Day 2 - This was our 'using natural dye' day and it required various foods to be either boiled down and the juices strained or using the natural juices of foods liked canned beets. We chose to boil down purple cabbage and onion skins and used both canned beet juice and grape juice to color our hard-boiled eggs. We added a tablespoon of vinegar to each dye and poured our dyes in various reusable containers like mayonnaise jars and cottage cheese containers. The best part about this project is the kids thought it was so cool to be able to drink their "dye" which you typically don't  encourage with your store-bought dyes. The kids loved seeing what colors their food dyes produced. (I'm always partial to the rusted orange the onion skins produce.)
Finished eggs and the variety of colors using food dyes.
Not afraid to drink the 'dye'.

Day 3 - This day was focused on composting and tree planting. I brought my composting bin filled with red wiggler worms for the kids to run their hands through. They loved finding and holding the thousands of worms inside the bin. It didn't matter they had to sort through food waste to get to them. Next, we took 'composted' dirt and planted Evergreen trees into various recycled containers. They each got to take a tree home and replant at their house! It was a fun day of getting our hands dirty and seeing how little worms can make rich dirt to plant trees with.

Day 4 - This was a review day of everything we learned during the week. We documented our Eco-week by cutting up paper bags and cereal boxes and binding them with old yarn to make a book titled, "Jack and the Greenstalk Eco-Camp 2012." Each page included a photo of them doing each project. The front of the book included the entire class. It was a nice keepsake to take home and show their family what they did during the week at camp.
Our 2012 Eco-camp participants with their new trees!

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