Eco-Friendly Camps for Kids

By Gail Condrick

This article first appeared in Natural Awakenings, March, 2011.

Remember summer camp? Chances are that camp evokes memories of communal living, challenges, and outdoor fun with bugs, swimming and nature up close. Today, camp offers those activities and more. For some kids camp is the only time to unplug and come in contact with the natural world.

Families looking for the perfect green summer camp will find many eco-friendly programs for budding biologists and environmentalists. Camp programs now include organic farming, green building programs, naturalist explorations, conscious living classes, and even sustainable living projects in exotic places.

“Camping today includes the traditional fun of being outdoors in a group and can also be an experience in eco-friendly living and practices,” according to the Sierra Club. Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association (ACA), agrees. “There is a symbiotic relationship between camps and the environment,” she says. “Camps have been introducing children to the wonder and beauty of the natural world for 150 years.”

Trends in Camping

Eco-friendly camps can be educational and experiential immersion programs for your child to live green values. Many camps mirror the sustainable practices you follow at home, like using energy saving devices, composting, and encouraging healthy eating and organic gardening on a larger scale.

Young campers from kindergarten to sixth grade can experience farm life at the Gwynn Valley Camp in North Carolina. Kids pick vegetables from the organic garden, milk cows, and gather eggs at this traditional “green camp” that grows 70% of their food and has initiated many energy saving practices.

In Maryland, at Camp Calleva’s sustainable farm, campers learn about environmentally friendly design with hands on alternative energy projects that change each year. The camp Build Green and Grow Green weeks have engaged campers in building a rain water collection system for crops and farm animals, a bio fuel project, and this year, a windmill alternative energy design. To make it even more fun, the Build Green program is the brain child of a former camper, now 24-year old LEAD certified architect whose camping experiences became his career.

Your budding naturalist may be perfect for the Green River Preserve in North Carolina, a non-profit camp offering environmental programs for the academically gifted, creative, and curious. Kids take daily hikes with naturalist mentors, learning the science behind their experiences and help harvest, eat, and compost vegetables grown on the Preserve farm as well as traditional camp adventures. The camp partners with Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics that encourages care and stewardship of the earth.

Teens aged 13-17 may enjoy the programs offered at the Omega Teen Camp in Holmes, New York. In addition to outdoor fun, the camp offers 50 class selections including dance, yoga, tai chi, meditation, and “face your fears” consciousness classes for campers. When it’s time for dinner, campers enjoy vegetarian and organic food selections, with most foods made from scratch.

Do you have a mature teen ready for travel and community service? BoldEarth Adventures summer camps include 6 to 40 hours of service in all of their experiences. Teens plant and harvest organic vegetables in rural Ecuador, rehabilitate wild animals at an Amazon Conservation project, and hike and help to rebuild trails in Colorado.

If you like your adventures closer to home, the Sierra Club has tips to turn your own backyard into an environmental camp adventure school all year round. Put up a tent, unfold sleeping bags and grab your flashlights for an evening outdoors looking at the stars.

Summer is not the only season for earth-oriented camp experiences. Check local parks and recreation programs, scouts, schools and churches who offer environmental programs for kids year round.

Benefits of the Natural World

Camp allows kids to unplug from technology, take a deep breath, and feel and sense nature. Studies show being close to nature can help boost a child's attention span to think more clearly.

Connecting to natures fights the “nature deficit syndrome” presented in “Last Child in the Woods,” by Richard Louv. “A kid today can likely tell you about the Amazon rain forest—but not about the last time he or she explored the woods in solitude, or lay in a field listening to the wind and watching the clouds move,” says Louv, an Audubon Medal winner, and the co-founder of the Children and Nature Network.

Whether your perfect eco-camp is educational, sustainable, in the mountains or under a tent in the backyard, the experience of just being in nature can be life changing for your child and for your family.

Contact Gail for more information.

Selecting an Eco-Friendly Camp

You can research many environmentally friendly camps for kids by region, special interests, activities, and age group at the or Camps websites state their mission and philosophy, camper/staff ratio, background of counselors, accreditation, and camp building choice to promote living green.

Other On-line Resources in Article

Copyright © Gail Condrick, 2011

Gail Condrick is a writer and lover of all things earth and ocean living in Sarasota, Florida. Write to Gail