Women's Fund Camp Scholarship Fosters STEM Learning For Girls

By Tom Meier

“FLASH FLOOD! 10-9-8-7-6…”

As the counselor counts down to zero, campers scatter in all directions. Some find large logs to jump upon, others climb trees or dangle from low branches. If they aren’t at least 12 inches off the ground by the time the countdown ends, they get swept away by the imaginary flood waters and lose the game.

This was a popular game this summer at Baltimore Woods Nature Day Camp in Marcellus, NY. In all, 575 local children came throughout the eight weeks to explore the forests, look for frogs and crayfish, paint their faces with clay from the creek, build forts with sticks, cook over a fire, and jump feet first into the swamp. They came to learn about nature and science, to make new friends, and to spend time outside learning to care about the environment. At least, that’s why the parents send them. The kids mostly want to play – as they should.

As adults, we get caught up in wanting our children to perform well in school, to get good grades so they can get good jobs – and that is perfectly fine…so long as we do not forget the importance of balance in a child’s development, and that spending time in unstructured outdoor play is crucial to the mental, spiritual, physical, and even social health of children. That’s where Nature Play comes in.

Nature play, very simply, is time spent playing in and with nature. That’s important – it is not playing on a playground, or on a sports team. It is playing outside, in the woods, or a field, or an overgrown weed lot, somewhere with branches and logs and rocks, water, frogs, chipmunks, salamanders, and mud. It is unstructured and lacks adult interference.

Nature Play is different. It isn’t about toys, or curriculum standards, or formal mathematical equations. It is self-led discovery, self-directed problem solving, self-motivated physical development, self-taught learning through direct observation and experimentation. It builds self-esteem and confidence. It sparks imagination, curiosity, and creativity. All of which make for good scientists and engineers.

Nature play also sows the seeds for environmental stewardship, for children to grow up with a personal connection to the natural world and a set of personal ethics that includes taking care of the land.

Play is work for young children. It may not look like it to us, but it really is. The benefits of this “work” for them cannot be overestimated. At Baltimore Woods, we believe that every child should have a chance to play outside, as much as possible, and to reap those benefits.

Baltimore Woods Nature Center was grateful to have received camp scholarship funds in the form of a Lockheed Martin-sponsored grant from the Women’s Fund of Central New York. With this money we were able to bring young girls to our summer nature day camp and give them the opportunity to play outside, connect with the natural world, and to benefit from time spent in nature. In time, these girls may become future scientists and engineers helping to solve humanity’s problems in harmony with nature. 

The Women's Fund of Central New York is a component fund of the Central New York Community Foundation.

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