Kate Plummer, owner of Katydid Inc., has been organizing camps for the Fairfax County Park Authority for 12 years, with the goal of reintroducing young children to the great outdoors and teaching them something without the little ones even knowing it.
Once again, Plummer will be organizing three of the four camps being offered over spring break, March 25-29, ranging from learning about a working farm at Frying Pan Park in Herndon, to learning about village life centuries ago at Colvin Run Mill in Great Falls or about the creatures and plant life found in nature at Burke Lake in Burke. A fourth camp at Lake Accotink in Springfield will give youngsters the chance to learn about the watershed by giving the children the opportunity to explore the creek.
"The kids actually go through withdrawal. They're not used to being outside that long and not used to not having air conditioning," Plummer said. "They enjoy the fresh air, and they go home tired."
Plummer said the first camp she organized for the Park Authority attracted 170 children. This year, she is expecting 3,000 day-campers. This is the first year Lake Accotink is offering a program.
"OUR PROGRAM IS PART of the Upper Accotink Creek Watershed Education Program," said Jim McGlone, assistant manager at the park and director of the education program. "We teach them about the land and land use."
But don't be fooled. The camp is hands-on learning. The campers will be catching the animals that call the creek home and exploring the watershed. Old clothes and a change of shoes are recommended.
"They will get dirty and muddy. They'll be chasing bugs," McGlone said. "We try to make it as fun as possible and hope they learn along the way."
The idea is for the camps to get a better understanding of how life and the watershed are connected by seeing everything first hand.
CAMPERS AT COLVIN RUN Mill will be transported back in time to the 19th century through hands-on demonstrations, games and arts and crafts.
"They'll learn the Virginia Reel, do a mill tour, get information on village life, do old-fashioned arts and crafts, have tool demonstrations," Plummer said. "The kids will get to try lots of stuff."
Some of the activities will include stenciling or making old-fashioned toys. The cooking portion is always a crowd pleaser.
"They end up finding they enjoy doing the activities. For example, the kids don't get to cook at home because their parents are too busy," Plummer said. "I have parents that rave. Their kids go back to school and know firsthand their Virginia history lesson."
Plummer said it is a good way to expose today's children to a more laid-back world, especially since they've become accustomed to fast-paced living.
FRYING PAN PARK GIVES the children an opportunity to see what life was like on a working farm in the 1920s and 1930s. The children will hike, do arts and crafts, have treasure and scavenger hunts where they have to find items in nature. But most importantly, they will get to see the animals.
"They will see the animals every morning," Plummer said. "The farm has plenty of baby animals to observe."
This year's theme is "Wild, Wild West."
THE CAMP AT BURKE LAKE is centered around one- and two-day themes. One day the campers might find themselves trying to catch reptiles, another looking for snake holes. Yet another day might consist of making plant rubbings. The whole idea is to get outside and explore.
"We just have a lot of fun outdoors," Plummer said. "We come up with different situations every summer."