Keep campers engaged with nature during your winter camps and retreats. Winter brings a completely different landscape and stage for outdoor learning, observation and play. Here are some activities that will help your camp programming embrace winter and the many gifts it offers.
Create a sundial. Pick a central area at camp that campers will pass by regularly during their stay. Have the kids divide into equal groups. Each group needs to find a long stick. Set it in the snow and create a ‘clock’ in the snow around it. As the campers walk by their sundials between meals and activites they will be able to tell time throughout the day. Remember that at high noon there will be no shadow.
Icy Art: You can turn snow and ice into arts and crafts! Create a cold canvas out of freshly fallen snow. Colour water with food colouring and freeze it in ice cube trays. The children can create structures with the coloured ice cubes or use them as frozen crayons, colouring the white snow as they melt.
You can also create simple ice sculptures without breaking out the chisels and chainsaws. Collect items around camp that you can fill and freeze like cake molds, buckets or fun shaped sand toys. Fill them with water and put them outside overnight. In the morning bring the items inside for a few minutes to melt the outside edges. Go back outside and let the kids slip out their ice molds. You can be creative by having each group of campers create a mini winter village with their ice molds. To do this, provide each group with multiple containers and the option to colour the water with food colouring for extra creativity. You can also encourage them to create roads in the snow, and to bring other natural items into their winter villages like branches, bark and rocks.
Learning about animals and trees: Go on a nature walk after a snow fall to identify animal tracks. The best time to go is in the early morning. You can search for foot prints from Deer mice, Jack Rabbits to Mule Deer, Moose and Chickadees. Again, take out a guide from the library to help you or use the “Animal Tracks of Alberta” guide. These books should help you teach the campers more about identifying species, stride patterns and animal behavior. Take it a step further and have the children sketch and label the tracks. When you get them back inside, have them draw a picture of the animal(s) they tracked.
Identifying trees in the wintertime can be a very awarding experience for campers. Beyond the benefits of a nature walk, the campers will remain engaged as they learn about the different characteristics of trees in their immediate environment. Use a guide from the library or the Government of Alberta’s “Guide to Common Native Trees and Shrubs in Alberta”.
Star gazing. Little can compare to a bright starry sky in the country in Alberta. Before you head out on your star gazing mission, break the kids into smaller groups and have a staff member show them the different constellations and planets on a poster or in a book. Make a list of constellations for each group and have them complete a ‘star gazing scavenger hunt’, searching for and checking off each constellation on the list. Use the “Winter Sky Tour” guide from the Canadian Astronomical Society. This guide provides names and descriptions of constellations visible in Alberta during the winter, as well as a sky map to mark out their location in the sky.
Do you have any ideas for natural winter learning? Please share them with the Alberta Camping Association and other camps in Alberta by emailing email@example.com.