Low-Tech Camps in the High-Tech Age



Courtesy of Redwood Grove Camp

Living in the Bay Area, it feels like tech is the focus of everyday life even when it comes to summer camp. There are so many great coding, programming and tech-focused camps in this area that they may seem like the only option when planning out your summer. 

However, there are plenty of outdoor camps that offer a STEM curriculum with a tech-free program. Kids can learn all about survival skills and how animals camouflage themselves in nature. They can develop engineering skills by building a bird nest. They can even learn orienteering skills with a map and compass (no GPS!). By spending the day outdoors, kids develop lifelong skills, connect with nature and experience the beauty of the area where we live. Plus, they just might learn something while they are out there!

 Explore the Outdoors

The Bay Area can be full of congestion, traffic and noise. Summer camp is the perfect time for kids to escape the city environment and head outside to explore the beautiful outdoors. At NatureBridge’s Coastal Camp, campers discover the national park setting of the Marin Headlands. A shuttle is available to bring kids from San Francisco, Sausalito and Mill Valley to this unique setting.

The camp offers kindergarteners through ninth-graders the opportunity to dig in the dirt and learn about the animals that make the Marin Headlands their home. One week of camp for kindergarteners is devoted all to bugs – campers learn about many different creepy critters, collect macroinvertebrates from a pond and create their own magnifying bug box. EcoQuest Land camp provides kids in grades 7-9 with orienteering skills that they use while exploring the coastal watershed on a two-night overnight backpacking trip.

According to Coastal Camp Director Peter Demyanovich, there is something special about allowing kids to explore and connect to the land where they grow up. “Kids learn differently when they are outdoors. You can’t learn how sage smells by looking it up on the internet.” With more than 90 percent of camp time spent outdoors at Coastal Camp, campers develop a connection to the land that brings them back year after year.

Back to Our Own Childhood

Who doesn’t have fond memories of spending summers outdoors and coming home exhausted and covered in dirt? For many parents, one of the draws of outdoor camps is that they provide kids with the same camp experience that we had as children. One such camp is Redwood Grove Camp in Los Altos. Recreation Coordinator Zach Silva cites this as one of the reasons that parents register their kids for this long-running camp. “Many of the parents, who bring their children to camp now, have shared that they themselves have fond memories of attending the camp as children.”

Nestled in a neighborhood a few blocks from downtown Los Altos, the camp has been held at Redwood Grove Nature Preserve for more than 30 years. Kids as young as 3½ experience nature up close by, for instance, seeing how bees have built a hive in one of the park’s trees or learning songs about the animals in the park.

According to Silva, the camp experience can be transformative for even the youngest campers. “On day one, we usually have some younger children who don’t want to sit near or on the dirt, or who are wary of picking up leaves for a craft. However, by the last day, they are comfortable on their own and can even identify several of the plants in Redwood Grove.”

A World Outside Our Four Walls

Got a kid who wants to be the next Bear Grylls or Survivor competitor? Before your next family camping weekend, send the kids to Camp of the Wild at the Tilden Nature Area in Berkeley. There, kids ages 9 to 12 learn how to make cordage and containers, cook over an open fire and discover edible plants (skills which most adults have yet to master).

The Santa Cruz Mountains provide the perfect location for WilderSkills, a Saratoga camp where kids ages 7 to 13 learn primitive survival skills like shelter building, knife safety and animal tracking. When kids learn how to use rocks and sticks to make useful items, boredom fades and the imagination is awakened.

A similar program can be found at nearby Walden West. The program offered for kindergarteners and first-graders is designed to improve socialization skills while fostering a love of the outdoors, two skills that cannot be gained while staring at a computer screen. Older campers work on teambuilding while learning about the redwood forest ecosystem. Two different challenge courses are offered where campers develop self-confidence and physical skills by navigating through a maze of ropes and platforms.

According to Monte Sereno mom Julie Templeton, the experience that kids gain from these types of camps is invaluable. “A week at a camp like Walden West can really expand a kid’s mind. They learn to see life beyond their four walls. The world they experience when connected to an electronic device is someone else’s world. When they come home from an outdoor camp, they are much more drawn to exploring their own outdoor world and not someone else’s tech world. Give them a cardboard box or a pile of wood and see what they will create. The mind is awakened.”   

Take some time to research all of the outdoor camp experiences that are available for kids in the Bay Area. We have two great resources to recommend: The Bay Area Parent online Camp Guide at www.bayareaparent.com/Directories/Camps-Guide and two in-person camp fairs being held in March.

Silicon Valley: BayAreaParent.com/Events/index.php/name/Bay-Area-Parent-2017-Camp-Fair-Westgate-Center/event/11168http://BayAreaParent.com/Events/index.php/name/Bay-Area-Parent-2017-Camp-Fair-Westgate-Center/event/11168.

Peninsula and San Francisco: www.bayareaparent.com/Events/index.php/name/Bay-Area-Parent-2017-Camp-Fair-Serramonte-Center/event/11169/

By connecting kids to nature through these camps, you are engaging the next generation of environmental stewards.

Kate Loweth is the Silicon Valley calendar editor of Bay Area Parent.

Bill’s Backyard: Bridge to Nature

This summer, the Children’s Discovery Museum will be expanding in a big way – with a 27,500 square foot outdoor learning environment called “Bill’s Backyard: Bridge to Nature” that combines elements of a nature park and playground. This outdoor expansion doubles the museum’s exhibit space while connecting kids to nature – right in the middle of downtown San Jose. Ten new exhibit areas will include a Jr. Ranger Station where kids can explore fossils, skulls and maps, as well as a Fort Building Station where kids use reeds, grasses and branches as building materials.

The goal of this new project is to introduce children and families to the wonders of nature and propel them on an inquiry-based adventure of discovery and exploration. Museum officials hope that with experiences like these, the dirt digger of today will become the environmental engineer of tomorrow and the plant waterer of today will become tomorrow’s drought-management expert.

– Kate Loweth

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