It’s inspiring to learn that many of the young professionals who work with local programs that connect kids with nature were themselves hooked on nature when they were kids.
“My aunt and uncle used to have this property north of Pikesville, and their property backed up to endless woods,” recalls Susannah Waldman, an educator with the Annapolis Maritime Museum. “I would get to run around and play and explore and find little waterfalls and moss patches—it felt like magic. As early as early elementary school, the woods were a playground of mystery and wonder.”
Finding a Spark
Starting in about middle school, Waldman started going to Quaker camp in Virginia. “We would go backpacking and kayaking and rock climbing,” she says, “and even though it was tough, and as miserable as the rainy days were at the time, they always made for the best stories, and that’s what sparked me wanting to be in that industry, knowing what an impact nature had on me as a kid.”
That spark led Waldman to the University of North Carolina Asheville and then to a degree in geography and environmental science at UMBC.
Nick Shearman, who serves as a Resource Conservation Ranger with the Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks, got his spark exploring the Loch Raven Reservoir with his dad. “When I was a kid, my dad would take me out to the reservoir and we’d explore the trails and just see what’s out there,” he recalls. “I didn’t know what I was looking at, but liked what I saw. I got involved with Scouts in middle school and learned how to interact with nature.”
Now Ranger Nick shares his awe of nature with kids of all ages, helping them get wet and muddy as they explore our local rivers and parks.
“My favorite place was always outside,” says Sarah Kempfer, Education Coordinator & Naturalist with Anne Arundel County’s Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, a 1,500-acre nature preserve along the Patuxent River near Lothian. Her inspiration as a kid led her to a career protecting the environment. “I felt it was important to be a part of the solution, so I went to undergrad and grad school at the University of Michigan to study environmental policies to learn how to change peoples’ behavior for the better.”
Sarah worked at the EPA for a while, then had kids, then returned to the field through environmental education. “Now I get to help kids play outside, a pretty good deal,” she says. “It’s important for kids to be connected with nature, to find joy and peace and a place for reflection, a place for fun and a place to challenge their bodies. It’s something they can enjoy their whole lives. I think getting kids to experience nature is important to a happy life, and it helps them become environmental stewards, too.”
A Summer Outside
“Our philosophy is to get kids immersed in nature,” Kempfer explains, and likely it’s a philosophy that all of these programs share. “We want kids to explore, to catch a frog, to muck through the marsh, to be on the river, to do fun, basic outdoor nature things, whether it’s going to look for tadpoles or using the seine nets to figure out who’s living in the river. We’re trying to help kids love nature and protect it, and find ways they can help, perhaps even step into a career to help find solutions when they grow up. There are lots of different ways to help protect our nature.” Returning your kids to their natural habitat this summer is one of them.
Here’s a sampling of just some of the many summer camp programs geared to connecting kids to the environment. Of course, any of these programs could be impacted by the evolution of the recovery from the current pandemic, so do your homework and contact the organizations for the latest updates. Don’t forget to check our Camp Directory online at CheaspeakeFamily.com/campdirectory for more opportunities to get your kids out and playing as nature intended this summer.
River Adventure Camps (Level I July 12–16; ages 10–12; Level II July 26–30, ages 13–16) These Adventure camps run out of Jug Bay, where kids get to experience the Patuxent River each day by canoe, kayak or paddleboard. They’ll even get to team up to build a cardboard boat. In River Adventure II, older kids will take an unforgettable field trip to paddle among the sunken ghost ships at the Mallows Bay Marine Sanctuary.
Park Passport (August 9–13, ages 9–12). Kids take day trips to a variety of different parks. One day they’ll fish in the ponds at Beverly Triton Nature Park, explore the historic battery at Ft. Smallwood Park, learn about honey bees on the B&A Trail, take a hayride at Kinder Farm Park, and go kayaking at Quiet Waters or Jug Bay.
Annapolis Maritime Museum & Park
The museum’s summer camps allow children to play and wonder as they explore the world around them. Campers will get their hands wet and feet muddy while exploring the museum’s 12-acre nature park campus with wooded-trails, a secluded cove, and marsh habitat on the shores of Back Creek. Kids will play in the woods and water, discover local maritime heritage, and become inspired environmental stewards.
There are special summer camp sessions for campers entering Kindergarten through 6th grade. Activities are specifically designed with each age group in mind. The youngest campers will enjoy hands-on animal investigations, water play, arts and crafts, and stories, while campers in 4th-6th grade are challenged with water-based adventures including kayak and boat excursions, standup paddleboarding, and fishing.
Marshy Point Nature Center
Marshy Point Nature Center is Baltimore County’s pristine waterfront nature center on the Chesapeake Bay, and is part of the U.S. National Park Service’s Chesapeake Gateways Network. In addition to regular programs, Marshy Point offers a variety of fun, affordable summer camps for kids ages 4–12. All camps are open to the public. This summer’s offerings include:
Chesapeake Camp In Marshy Point’s Chesapeake Camp, Kids can hike through marshes and coastal forests, explore local waterways by canoe, and even get on a real workboat to do some wildlife research.
Bay Explorers Kids ages 6–9 will wade into freshwater wetlands, creeks and more, and get muddy along the way!
Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum
At Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum, campers in grades K–10 can explore the outdoors through archaeology activities, learning about the history of Native American tribes in the area and their survival skills, hands-on history, and exploring the local rivers around the park.
Archaeology Camp (grades 6–8) Kids excavate for artifacts and work to preserve artifacts at the MAC Lab.
Native Skills Camp (grades 6–8) Camps will learn to build fires, make shelters and learn about tools Native Americans used.
River Life (grades 2–3) Explore the Patuxent River by exploring the forest around it, and get muddy doing it.
Stewards Camp (grades 9–10) Campers will build a wigwam frame, help with the village garden and create a personal project to stay on display at the park.
Irvine Nature Center
Irvine’s summer nature camps offer children excellent opportunities to learn about nature in Maryland by exploring and playing in 211 acres of woodlands, meadows, wetlands and streams at Irvine.
Saplings (ages 3–4) Campers will investigate through nature walks, hands-on animal experiences, games, and crafts.
Discovery Camps (ages 5–6) Themes for the summer include Dino Days, Animal Olympics, Imagineers, and Space Cadets. All camps include nature hikes, arts and crafts, and hands-on fun.
Explorers (ages 7–9) Get more in-depth learning about nature with wetland discoveries and water encounters, environmental games and art in nature.
Adventurers (ages 10–12) Up their game with water-quality testing and natural sciences experiments, and survival skills.
Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary
Jug Bay, in addition to supporting the county’s Patuxent River Adventure Camps, is expecting to run three camps out of the Wetlands Sanctuary in Lothian.
Forest Pre-School (ages 4–6) Stomp in a creek, squish through the marsh, and experience the quiet of the woods.
Wild Discovery Nature Camp (ages 7–9) Catch frogs, build a fort, seine for fish, walk in a stream, and squish your toes in the marsh!
Into the Wild (ages 10–12) Squish through the marsh, paddle the river, catch some fish and learn about the Native Americans that used to live here.
Want more camp options?
Register for our Virtual Camp Fair on April 20th at 6:30 p.m. Live reps from camps will be available to answer any questions you have!