The summer camp season has come and gone here at Gilsland Farm, giving us a chance to reflect on all the learning and fun that happened. Across 8 weeks of camp, 165 campers spent their days engaged with the landscape and wildlife of Gilsland Farm. Coming from 18 different Maine towns (not to mention 6 other states across the country!), children aged 3 to 11 came together for endless summer fun, learning, and action to conserve Maine’s wildlife.
In our 8 different weeks of Pre-K, Abby Horrisberger and Meghan Macdonald led children ages 3-5 in exciting nature play, exploration, song, and art-making. Daily routines such as singing a morning welcome song, using a dichotomous key to identify or categorize wildlife, and reading story books allowed our youngest campers to become comfortable as they learned new concepts about our world and practiced many new skills.
For campers having completed grades K-5, activities combined learning with experience for a broad range of ages and learning styles. Educators Mallory Durkee, Julia Fetty, Tammy Heiselmeyer, Lucy Tabb, and Eric Walton led 7 action-packed weeks of camp around themes ranging from “Avian Adventures” to “Fantastic Forests”, from “Habitat Connections” to “Wild About Wildlife”.
Summer 2019 highlights include countless rounds of Mystery Wildlife; ecology-themed tag in the playfield (Maine Wild Animals was the favorite this year); insect catching in our many meadows; collaborative drawing projects like maps and murals; quiet, misty mornings watching turkeys strut; games of fox and camouflage in the forest; scooping for pond life and practicing nature sketching; sowing native plants in a Portland meadow; campers producing and performing their own creative plays during freetime; navigating new friendships, and together building a strong camp community.
The camp experience was made even richer by relying on the amazing folks from Maine Audubon’s staff, members, and local community. Inviting special guests or taking a field trip broaded who we learned from and the perspectives gained. During our visits to the Maine Wildlife Park, Kettle Cove State Park, Ferry Beach, East End Community Gardens, and Portland’s Forest City Trail, we experienced new landscapes and made connections to our learning back at Gilsland Farm. Special guests visits included Davida the Beekeeper; Maine Audubon Biologist, Sarah Haggerty; Maine Mariners’ mascot, Beacon the Puffin; and Maine Audubon Staff Naturalist, Doug Hitchcox. Being able to ask questions of experts and see the impacts of their work for Maine’s wildlife helps campers see themselves taking on those roles in the future.
Throughout the summer we all learned from a different type of special guest, too: the plentiful wildlife of Gilsland Farm! Visits from our resident turkeys (and later in the summer, their poults), groundhogs, osprey, squirrels, woodpeckers, butterflies, raccoons, song-birds, and snapping turtles brightened our days and brought the concepts of ecology to life around us.
This year we were lucky enough to have 14 amazing teen Environmental Education Assistants volunteer with us, spending either one or two weeks alongside our Educators. Their daily help, combined with the skills and unique personalities they each shared with our campers, added meaningfully to the summer. Learning from interested people of a variety of ages, and seeing an older example of engaged youth, are great gifts to our campers. Again – thank you, EEA’s!
We are so grateful to our camp families, Maine Audubon members and supporters alike, without whom such impactful summer programming wouldn’t be possible. If you and your family participated in our camps this year, please consider filling out the linked survey HERE to help us continually improve our programs. Your feedback is essential to making Maine Audubon’s camps the best they can be!