From Camp T Director Jill Teegardin

Family Nature Club events usually provide an opportunity for participants to experience Camp T with their families while enjoying the outdoors, practicing independent living skills (ILS), and making new friends. Due to the pandemic, however, this year’s Family Nature Club events had to be planned differently. There were no in-person hikes along Camp T’s trails, no cooking in the ILS kitchen, and no greetings with handshakes or hugs. However, participants hiked their local trails and explored their own backyards. They practiced cooking skills in their home kitchens and were able to greet new friends with waves and smiles.

Family Nature Club Kits

After brainstorming options for Family Nature Club events during the pandemic, we established a two-fold approach: Creating kits for families to engage in activities on their own, and then hosting a virtual wrap-up event for families to share their kit experiences with other families across the state. Each kit includes activities within the following categories: a craft; a project related to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM); a cooking experience; and an outdoor activity.

After we determine the kit format, we decide on a theme for each event, such as Fall Frenzy (October), Giving Thanks (November), and Winter Wonderland (December). Each month’s activities focus on the theme. For example, when planning the “Giving Thanks” kits, we thought about ways to incorporate Thanksgiving. For the cooking activity, we decided on a recipe for toast with cinnamon, sugar, and homemade butter, with the hope that campers would make butter for their own Thanksgiving meals. The STEM project challenged campers to use pipe insulation tubes, cardboard tubes, cups, and tape to build a structure that would help squirrels gather acorns for the winter. For the craft activity, families received a no-sew blanket kit to make and donate a warm blanket to someone for whom they were thankful. For the outdoor activity, families practiced independent living skills while raking leaves—and picked up a few ideas for having fun with leaves in the process!

Assembling the Kits

Each kit requires a lot of behind-the-scenes work. After determining the theme and activities for each event, we research and write out the instructions. Then, each activity is reviewed to ensure it is adapted to accommodate students who are Blind/Visually Impaired (BVI).

While we are in the process of preparing the written materials, we are also purchasing kit materials online and in-store. Each kit includes almost all of the materials needed to complete the activities. The supplies are also labeled in written text and braille so campers can complete the activities independently.

After the supplies arrive at camp, large-print items are printed, boxes are purchased, and shipping labels are prepared. Kits are assembled based on the number of participants registered in each family and delivered to the local post office, where employees often greet Camp T staff with a smile because they know campers will soon be enjoying their kits.

The Virtual Event

While preparing the kits, we also plan a virtual Family Nature Club follow-up event for families to play games, have fun, and connect with each other. Each event includes at least four activities, each one matching the kit’s theme. Past activities have included mini scavenger hunts, telling jokes, riddles, dancing, singing, animal identification, and show-and-tell opportunities.

These virtual events are the most rewarding time because we enjoy interacting and engaging with students and their families. On the day of each event, MDE-LIO staff welcomes families and guides them through each activity or game. At the end, we have a prize drawing, and the prize is sent to the winning camper soon after the event.

Continuing to Connect With Families

“Fun,” “engaging,” and “educational” are all terms that have been used to describe both in-person and virtual events at Camp T. Although nothing can fully replace in-person opportunities at camp, Camp T staff do their best to bring a fulfilling Family Nature Club experience to each family. The kits have provided hands-on learning opportunities that are engaging and fun through STEM projects, crafts, cooking, and outdoor experiences. Families are encouraged to spend time together both inside and outside. Virtual follow-up events allow families to interact with each other while having fun. In these trying times, it is important for families to have fun with each other—and having fun is what Camp T is all about!

March Family Nature Club Event

Our next Family Nature Club event will be held in March. Register for Family Nature Club: Bird Bash by February 22.