News / Ottawa

Summer camp combines wilderness fun with outdoor philosophy

Local summer camp teaches kids fort-building, farming, risk-taking and the outdoors: naturally, it's a good time.

Camp leader Alister Augé explores life in the greenhouse with campers.


Camp leader Alister Augé explores life in the greenhouse with campers.

What can you learn by getting dirt on your hands and pine needles in your hair? A whole lot, according to the organizers of a local summer camp that promises to take kids where the wild things are.

“It’s basically about getting kids into nature,” said Brittany Boychuk, who runs summer camp Nature Connections with her partner Alister Augé and a range of Ottawa partner organizations.

The summer day camps operate out of the Just Food farm, a large green space about a 20 minute drive from downtown Ottawa. The day is spent outside – no matter what the weather – and focuses on farming, survival skills and outdoor wisdom.

Boychuk said the accessible location (there’s a bus stop out front) allow even children living in the most urban parts of the city a chance to return home with a new perspective.

“A lot of our philosophy is that nature is all around us, even in the city,” she said. “It’s growing from the cracks in the sidewalks and it’s rummaging through our garbage cans. There’s always nature to observe and interact with.”

"The average urban child can name well over 100 brand names, while they may struggle to identify an animal track or a single edible plant," she said.

Boychuk said there’s time for practical skills like fort-building and growing food and also time for pondering big questions like the role of humans in the natural world.

The programming is timely: this month national non-profit ParticipACTION released its annual “report card” looking at children and youth. 

The report gave Canadian students a low grade for a lack of physical activity and warns of the "protection paradox" that has parents keeping their kids indoors to try and keep them safe.

Programs like Nature Connections, and similar efforts to get kids outside across the country, are pushing back.

“People seem to be afraid of nature, but we need to look at the idea of risk,” she said. “Kids are often not allowed to take very small, calculated risks in the city. It makes it more likely they’ll hurt themselves later in life if they don’t have a sense of self and know what they’re capable of and what they’re not.”

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