For Kids Who Love the Wild…

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Runny noses, scrapes and scratches, stinging nettles. Sounds like fun, right? Trust me; it is.

Since the very first Discovery Camp in 2005, this program has profoundly impacted my appreciation of the world around me. From the ages of 4 to 12, I spent one week every summer in Decorah attending Discovery Camp at Luther—exploring, adventuring, and learning all sorts of new things.

This year, 16 years after my first Discovery Camp endeavor, I was given the opportunity to be an assistant for the camp. And although COVID-19 precautions altered some of the normalities of camp, this experience was beyond fruitful; we spent days at Twin Springs catching and surveying macroinvertebrates, searched Dunning’s Spring for fossils, and hiked many trails at Van Penin.

As a camper—years ago—my annual week of Discovery Camp had equated to meeting new friends, playing lots of games, and exploring new things about the outside world. I was surprised to find that as an assistant this year, my experience with Discovery Camp had hardly changed. This year, however, camp was an especially impactful and influential experience for me.

Vocational Direction

Working at Discovery Camp served as positive reinforcement for my growing interest in environmental education as my vocational path. I was given the opportunity to teach children about Decorah’s geology, about different plants and animals, and how to build boats and shelters from what the Earth has provided.

Not only was this an amazing field experience that allowed me to prototype my future career in three short weeks, but this also was a wonderful opportunity to meet new people. And just the same as when I was a camper, I emerged from camp with countless new friends. Only this time, I had also created new connections and been handed new opportunities for further career exploration.

Camp prompted growth in me; I met countless new mentors and found a love for working with children. Who knew that making friends with 3-12 years olds could be so fun?

The educators I worked with taught me countless new things from wild edibles to conflict management, but I think the most valuable lesson I learned from my time at camp this year was from the children.

Endless Exploration

There’s something special about watching a child’s eyes light up when they see something spectacular, and during my weeks of camp this year, I witnessed so many awestruck campers revel in the beauty of nature—the marching ants, the tall prairie grass, the holes that a woodpecker left in a tree. The whole world is fascinating for younger children.

That was my biggest realization during Discovery Camp: the world is wonderful. And too often do we find ourselves going through the motions of life without stopping to appreciate (or even acknowledge) the incredible intricacies of life on Earth—how so many creatures can live harmoniously together.

Camp served as a strong reminder for me to appreciate the little things in life—the shade of a large oak tree, the quiet babble of a stream, the vibrant colors of cardinals and wood sorrel. Life is just sweeter when you pause to look and listen.

Just as it happened when I was a young camper, I came out of Discovery Camp this year with a stronger love for the world around me, new friends, and a desire to keep exploring. Who said you have to be a kid to love the wild?

Camp Assistant Adrienne Clefisch molding a raccoon track with a camper.

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