by Richard G. Dawson, Naturalist, Kansas City, Missouri
Camping Magazine, April, 1965 (journal of American Camping Association)
Over the past 25 years, the Recreation Division of the Kansas City, Missouri, Welfare Department has developed eight different resident camping programs. They are carried out by a single staff hired for the entire summer, with assistance from various cooperating agencies in educational, civic, and medical fields. In the summer of 1964 we added a natural science camp for 50 youngsters in the fifth through eighth grades. Many of our experiences may be helpful to other camps planning natural science programs.
The site contained 200 acres of wooded rolling hills with temporary and permanent streams and a lake available to campers. The camp provided about $300 for purchasing additional natural science lab and field equipment. An additional $300 worth of collecting equipment, aquaria and cages was borrowed from the Shawnee-Mission, Kansas, high schools with the understanding that they would be used in procuring specimens the school could use in the fall.
We set up a 25 x 30 nature center in one of the camp buildings. Picnic tables and cabinets already owned by the camp furnished the center. A six-foot sink with five faucets was installed. About $400 worth of books were added for identification and leisure-time science reading.
Staff consisted of one other high school biology teacher besides myself, plus one graduate and three undergraduate students (only one of whom was a biology major) and five high school assistants. Senior staff members were paid by the city, so the $22 camper fee paid for food and supplies. If all costs, including staff---but not including camp site and buildings---were figured in, the per camper cost would run about $45 for 11 days. Science Pioneers, sponsors of the Greater Kansas City Science Fair, joined hands with us in this project and publicized the camp to the youngsters in the Science Fair. They also helped make contacts for outside speakers from the scientific community.
Before camp opened we prepared a mimeographed 25-page introduction to the principles and techniques of ecological study, the natural history of the camp and suggestions for research projects. We also developed a 75-page field guide; to the animals and plants of the camp, which the campers could purchase for $1.
When the session opened, staff teams led group studies of the natural communities of the woods and fields, streams, lowland and lake. A staff team conducted each camper group in turn through the assigned habitats. The program included a 3-hour morning field session and a 1.5 hour afternoon session to examine and interpret the excursions findings.
In the evenings there were general lecture, discussion, or film-slide sessions. Outside volunteer speakers from the local scientific societies often assisted me in leading such topics as geology and geologic history of the area, astronomy and telescope building, archeology of mid-America, seeing and using artistic elements in nature, animal behavior, life zones of the earth, and the care and treatment of laboratory and pet animals. General field trips were held to fossil exposures, the zoo, a historic far, and the nearby wildlife management area of the Missouri Conservation Commission.
During the nine half-day periods assigned for individual projects, each camper chose one or more areas for specialization. He worked under the supervision of a staff member assigned to a particular project such ads rocks and fossils, birds, insects, reptiles, conservation projects, woodland ecology, aquatic and microscopic life. Each camper displayed his work and described it briefly in our closing program the last night.
Next year we hope to have people from the scientific community come out to assist these project groups also. We felt more experts would have helped in this area of the program.
Recreational camp activities were available on an optional basis. These included daily before-supper swims, horseback riding, archery, cook-outs, folk dancing, and a camper-carnival.
Campers number 96 for the two camp sessions: 69 boys and 27 girls, ranging in age from 9 to 14. Forty-one had participated previously in science fairs. Eighty-one of the youngsters said they wanted to come back next year to science camp, and most of the others said they were glad they had come this year.
As a whole, the program drew campers who wee superior in intelligence and enthusiasm to any of our other groups of campers. A handful of individuals with little interest in science had also registered, however, and the staff recommended some sort of screening method -- such as teacher-recommendation forms -- to avoid hindering the majority group and wasting limited camper space.
We advise campers to bring plenty of clean clothes (field nature work soils clothes faster than regular camping), insect collecting net and killing jars, hammer or geologists picks, cigar boxes and trowel. We felt that certain items of natural science equipment and supplies, such as insect pins and spreading boards, riker mounts, nets, collecting bottles and so on should be stocked for sale to campers.
Equipment used last summer included: six Bausch and Lomb elementary microscopes , one Bausch and Lomb student stereomicroscope, 11 aquaria and seven cages of various sizes, 20 hand dip-nets, two long-handled dip-nets, two insect nets, a minnow seine, a double-beam balance, two soil test kits, four non-poisonous insect killing jars, four insect spreading boards, four geologists pick;s, an observation beehive furnished by the local beekeepers organization, and the usual supply of paper and posterboard, paints and marking equipment and so on.
In addition to continuing the two natural science camps next summer, we are organizing eight after-school nature groups to come to the camp once every two weeks for four hours, and a monthly Saturday natural science group for the school year. We will probably add either a third session of science camp for the present age range next year or set up a high school age science camp in that period.
We feel this type of program is especially well-suited to a resident camp situation and its setting surrounded by the woodland natural resources. We found there is a strong interest among the brighter children of our community in a science camp, and that scientific organizations are more than willing to assist once a location and resident staff are provided.