Nature camp gives Fort St. John youth freedom to be themselves

·2 min read

If you've taken a stroll through the Fish Creek community forest recently, it's hard to miss the many stick forts amidst the fall foliage. They are the handiwork of kids involved with Camp Wildlings, which celebrated its fourth year this summer.

Susan McGarvey, education co-ordinator for the Northern Environmental Action Team, oversees the program and says it’s been a great opportunity for youth to become grounded in nature and giving them a space where they can be themselves.

“I will tell you that this forest heals people. We see kids come out who are a handful and by the end the week they’re not," said McGarvey. "This forest is a place to come out and really connect. And nature grounds you in all of those things, it is 100 per cent true."

Camp participants, or 'wildlings' as they are called, were out on the trails last week equipped with shovels and hand tools, creatively digging for what they dubbed "diamonds" – chunks of mica and gypsum embedded in the clay hills of Fish Creek.

The kids came up with the idea on their own and are given free rein to develop activities. McGarvey says the program has seen great outcomes for children exhibiting problem behaviours in school and those on the autism spectrum.

“We’ve had kids who’ve been kicked out of a lot camp programs for behavioural issues, but here we’ve seen great success, which is always shocking to people,” said McGarvey. “They know what the rules are here, it’s really laid out for them.”

She added the program originated as part of NEAT's food security initiatives, which saw youngsters out in nature to begin with.

Fall camps are open to youth from grades Kindergarten to six on Pro-D days, with sessions running into November.

The number one rule is to be kind to one another, and safety is close behind, says McGarvey. She added newer generations are more likely to be closely monitored by their parents, a stark contrast to the latchkey kids of generations past.

“We live in a bubble wrapped world right now, so the concept of letting kids do whatever they want is strange for some people. We let them climb trees and build forts, and play with saws and hatchets in a safe environment,” said McGarvey.

The program originated as part of NEAT's food security initiatives, which saw youngsters out in nature to begin with. Fall camps are set to continue into November, and open to youth from Kindergarten to Grade 6 on Pro-D days.

Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative, Alaska Highway News

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