By Jeff Franklin
Photo by Steve Patton
Many Kentucky students have the chance to learn about nature, natural resources, and their place in the environment in school—but not from books. Instead, they get to experience the outdoors through a two-day, overnight school trip to North Central’s 4-H Environmental Camp. There, instructors hope to instill an awareness and appreciation for the world through environmental education.
Environmental camps have been offered at the camp in Carlisle since the late 1980’s.
The program started when some 4-H youth development agents wanted to bring students and teachers from their county schools to use North Central in the off-season. Dwight Crum, state 4-H youth development extension specialist at the time, told agents he would create an environmental educator position and camping program if they used the camps enough in the off-season.
The environmental camps run through much of the school year. Most schools send fourth- and fifth-graders to the overnight program, with a few schools sending first- through third-graders. Some counties use the day-only environmental camps.
Among the activities students participate in are water studies, forest and field hikes, bird and insect studies, identification of Kentucky mammals, and plant and tree identification. The goal is to hit as much of the core content for Kentucky school curricula as possible, while trying to pack as many activities as they can into the schedule.
“Each program is tailor-made for that school,” said Jennifer Lynn, North Central’s environmental educator. “The teachers have input as to which classes they want their students to participate in, and the 4-H agent in that county works with the teacher to come up with a schedule.”
Even the night holds opportunities to learn. Lynn leads the young students on thrilling night hikes. She plays recorded owl calls, and the students wait quietly to see if a real owl answers. Often the eastern screech-owl, common in Kentucky, will reply—an eerie sound in the night woods. Lynn livens the mood by handing out wintergreen breath mints, telling them to chomp down on the candy. As they chew, electrons are ripped off the sugar crystals, emitting sparks in the dark.
“Wow, that’s cool,” can be heard over the din of crickets.
Donna Fox, who heads up the camping program for Kentucky 4-H, said the environmental camps offer a great experience not only for the youth, but for the adults who come as chaperones.
“Our environmental camps are a wonderful educational opportunity for the campers,” Fox said.
Lynn said there are many benefits to the environmental camping program, such as the strong professional bond that develops between 4-H agents and teachers as a result of planning the program together. Also, the students have experienced hands-on learning that teachers can build on when they return to the classroom.
“It’s a rare opportunity in today’s traditional classroom setting,” Lynn said.