Riverbend Environmental Education Center Exploration Camp: Stacy Carr-Poole
From time to time Sign Up For Camp conducts interviews with camp directors to collect advice for parents looking for unique experiences for their kids. We recently exchanged emails with Stacy Carr-Poole of Riverbend Environmental Center in Gladwyne, PA. Stacy has always loved the outdoors and working with children, so environmental education seemed a perfect career choice. She believes that spending time in nature is one of the most important things for children, and knows that there is a growing body of research that says the same thing. This love of nature brought her to Riverbend about nine years ago as Camp Director. Since then she has become the Director of Education and now oversees all of Riverbend’s education programs, from school field trips to outreach programs to summer camp. She is assisted by Camp Coordinator, David Lowe (affectionately called by kids “Nature Dave”), who oversees a lot of the day to day work of camp. She says she loves working at Riverbend, especially in the summer when she really gets see the impact that nature has on children.
With so many camps available, how can parents find the right camp for their child? Any specific advice on selecting an environmental education camp?
I think the most important thing is to know your child, not only what they like, but also the settings in which they are most comfortable. For example, do they really need a lot of structure or do they do better with more flexibility? I also believe that it is very important to visit the camp, if at all possible. This is particularly important with environmental and nature camps; you really need to see where your child will be spending their time. Riverbend’s 30 acre site is open to the public from dawn to dusk year round. Parents and children can visit often, so they are comfortable when they arrive for camp.
What questions should a parent ask a camp?
I think it is really important to find out about the staff. What are their qualifications? At Riverbend we hire two levels of staff: educators, who are college graduates, and interns, who who are college students and assist the educators. Although we use teen volunteers to help with our groups, they are never put in charge of the children.
Parents should also find out what a typical day is like at camp; this will help them to better understand the structure of the camp and whether or not it is a fit for their child. At Riverbend, we have a very low-key, child-centered approach. The children spend most of their time with their individual groups and the activities are tailored by the educator to match the interests of the group.
Some kids attend as many as 10 weeks of summer camp. The summer can seem long. Any tips on preventing camp burn-out?
Riverbend runs sessions all the way through the Friday before Labor Day, so we see a lot of camp burn-out. Many children come to us at the end of the summer having already been at camp for 8 or 10 weeks. We find that what these children need most is some down time; time to just play and be kid. This is one of Riverbend’s overall camp philosophies: we keep our programs very child-centered and flexible, so that our staff can adapt what they are doing to the needs of the children.
My recommendations to parents to help prevent burn-out: Choose two or three different camps. Children tend to get bored if they are at the same place all summer long. Consider mixing up the types of camps. Be careful about over-scheduling your family time. Kids often want to just spend time having fun and relaxing with their parents in the summer, so consider how much you try to fit into evenings, weekends and vacations.
How should parents help kids prepare for camp?
Visit the camp ahead of time if possible and meet the staff, especially if you have younger children. Most camps offer Open Houses, Orientations, etc. that will give you the chance to show your children around and get them familiar with the site. Riverbend offers a Camper Orientation Open House on Saturday, June 11th from 1:00-4:00, but everyone is also encourage to visit at anytime during the year. Riverbend also offers other programs that families can participate in, including weekend family programs and year round camps on school holiday, including spring break. These types of activities can be a great way to introduce your child to camp.
Tell us what is special about Riverbend Environmental Education Center’s Exploration Camp.
Most adults can remember, usually very fondly, spending lots of time outdoors as children. It was usually exploring the woods down the street, a local stream or other similar “wild” area. Unfortunately, because of many issues in our society, including lack of time, decreased amounts of open space and increased parental fear, children today are not spending as much time outside exploring those “wild” spaces. So for many children and families in our community, Riverbend has become their “wild” space. In particular, our camp gives children the opportunity to be kids, to explore and discover the natural world, and to gain the benefits that time in nature can provide. These can include decreasing the symptoms of ADHD, reduced stress, better physical fitness, and even increasing in their problem-solving skills. Of course, the kids just think that it is all for fun.
Riverbend is also very aware of the needs of our working parents. We offer weekly sessions, to aid in scheduling. We offer a long summer, June 13th to September 2nd. In addition, we have an extended day option from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. for children ages 5 and up. We know how important it is for parents to have a fun and safe place for their children to be while they work, so we try and be as flexible as possible.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I highly recommend coming out to Riverbend, either for a hike and picnic or for a program. And even if you don’t choose to come to Riverbend for summer camp, I hope that you and your family get outside this summer to explore and discovery the natural world. You won’t regret it!