Studies show that adults who have been routinely exposed to the natural world as a child are more likely to engage in daily habits that protect it. In an effort to strive towards a cleaner planet, this summer from July 1st to August 9th, NECS took to the woods with our pilot Nature Connection Camp. Partnering with a dynamic team of environmental scientists, food system educators, artists and storytellers, we produced a curriculum of activities that included art & science projects, stories, journaling, games, hiking, swimming, kayaking and paddle boarding, and community service.

The concept behind Nature Connection Camp is simple but profound: if we not only educate the next generation about the planet but also— and more importantly— allow them to develop a love for it, then their stewardship will ripple outwards to affect systemic change. Thus, the program structure was twofold, focusing on understanding biological and environmental principles while also cultivating an emotional connection to nature. 

Each day, our staff and counselors led the students in a daily reflection process to promote mindfulness. Activities such as art, creative writing, yoga, and creative games were designed to foster students’ care for the well-being of the participants and community, and to encourage an understanding and respect for the interconnectedness of all living things.

Our goal was to create a safe, community-based space for children and youth to become leaders of their own intellectual and moral development based on an understanding of themselves as agents of positive change. NECS’s partner and curriculum collaborator Emily Tancredi-Brice Agbenyega, whose had piloted this program in Maine for three years prior was a key player in helping us design a dynamic program in Peekskill.

Through hands-on opportunities to explore nature, conduct science experiments and test their hypotheses, our campers develop their skills as scientists while also viewing themselves as artists and community builders.

The camp itself was wildly successful. Over the course of the program, we had 27 youth ranging from 11 – 17 years of age (campers and counselors) participate. Students hiked, spent time at a farm learning about sustainable living practices an where our food comes from, cooking and trying new foods. The created art, wrote poems, did yoga, danced and drummed, did theatre improv all related to nature. They also got to learn about the health of Hudson river through some science exploration, seining, and paddle boarding. 

We successfully offered 5 full days of activities for 6 weeks with all of our students expressing deep satisfaction with the program. NECS was able to offer all of the students who demonstrated a need, scholarships to attend the camp. Several parents even mentioned that they saw a noticeable change in their kids’ attitudes towards nature following the camp. 

This camp would not have been possible without the following people to whom we offer a heart felt Thank you! Robin Hayward for her direction, commitment to and love for our youth, Laura Perkins for sharing her vast knowledge of all things related to trees and plants, Jason Angel and Jocelyn Apicello for helping us become more mindful consumers and educated about the food system and sustainable practices, Nicole Crane for sharing her passion for all things science, Pola Martinez from Mexico for sharing her love of stenciling, writer/poet Rashaun Allen for leading us in creative writing, artist Tamarah Bridgewater for introducing the students to art in a way that considers the environment, Karen Seepersad Faulkner who brought a calm energy to our camp and for helping us create a space to look inward through yoga, the HVH20 team Ian Berger, Dan Novak, Mary Foster, and Jim Crookston for reintroducing the students to the beauty of the Hudson River in a fun and educational way through paddle boarding and river studies. Finally, Belle Torres and Natalie Arneson for stepping in last minute to add the joy of dance drumming and drama to an already dynamic program.

We look forward to repeating this program again next summer!