As a teacher in Brooklyn, New York, I plan to take my students camping at the Ecology Village Program on Floyd Bennett Field. Last weekend I attended a training that would allow me to bring my students camping. The training entailed a three-day experience. One day to become familiar with the logistics, equipment and rules and regulations of the National Park Service and the camp ground, and the other two days included a sleepover at the campsite.
Friday was the first day of the training; I was one of fourteen people participating. Most of these trainees were taking the training in order to bring out their own summer camps. The campground is used during the summer for summer youth groups and during the school year for educational groups.
The day began with introductions from Rangers Justin, Carol, Shalini, Jennifer, Leah, and Doug who all assisted in leading the training. Ranger Justin explained the history of the National Park Service and Ecology Village. Shalini continued with an icebreaker called "my favorite ice cream" and "where have your shoes been." These activities were helpful in providing personal introductions to all the individuals participating in the training. The rangers reviewed a guide called Ecology Village Gateway National Recreation Area: A Teacher's Guide to Camping at Floyd Bennett Field. There was also review about the rules & regulations, cooking & other equipment, food & its storage, trash & compost, and the challenges of camping.
The training continued on Saturday, at the Ecology Village Building. Shalini took us outside the building, where we were introduced to the team-building activities. These activities were fun; the one game involved a large and small Hola Hoop. We created a circle by holding hands and the hoops were looped around two individuals' arms. The object of this activity was to allow each hoop to go around the circle in different directions and end up where it started without breaking the human circle. Each person was to step through the hoop and move it along. The second team building activity involved two logs with rope attached to them. Five people stand on the logs with one foot on each log. Each person holds a set of ropes in that position. Everyone was to face in the same direction and the person in the front was to give instructions. The object of the activity was for each person to make a step in the same direction on the log together, similar to paddling a canoe. We then collected our camping equipment and went to Camp Cottontail, one of the four campsites in the Ecology Village camping program. The site included six platform tents which were elevated off the ground, a fire pit, outdoor fire stoves, and table & bench combos that included a shelter covering.
After we became familiar with the campsite, we were introduced to some environmental education activities. Leah began with the Who Done It activity which included: identify hard-parts left from animals and identify animal movement. The first activity involved animal hard-parts; we were given several different specimens and asked what they were. The second activity was associated with animal tracks, first we had to identify animal footprints. When we were finished, we went to an area close to the campsite looking for animal footprints, markings, or movement. After we were finished, Carol presented the Bird Adaptations andBird Watching program. The activity involved bird beaks and what birds eat. The bird beak activity was great; it involved tooth picks, tweezers, cloth pegs, pieces of yarn, marbles, small beads, and bird food. The object of this activity was to show how the shape of a bird beak, represented by toothpicks, tweezers, and cloth pegs, determines what birds will eat. The Bird Watching activity involved using binoculars. This activity was great, because some people had never used binoculars before and they were able to see a variety of birds. All of these activities involved critical thinking and a higher order of understanding about nature.
Later, Justin showed us how to make a campfire correctly. With some assistance from Doug, Justin showed us how to light the outdoor stove and campfire pit. During this time, Shalini was making a pizza to be cooked on the outdoor stove. After the fires were built and the food was hot, we ate supper and relaxed around the campfire.
After dark, we walked through the campground trails and imagined that we were nocturnal animals. When we returned to the campsite, we sat around the campfire. Shalini cooked brownies and some of us toasted marshmallows. As the night went on, slowly everyone went to their tents and went to bed.
Sunday, we were up at 7:00am for breakfast and at 8:00am we packed and cleaned the campsite. Later, Shalini weighed our garbage (recycled (paper/metal/plastic/glass), garbage & compost) and Doug assisted her. While we were at the EcoVil building, we visited the outside garden and compost bin. Once inside, Shalini led a composting activity. We viewed the compost material through a microscope and had to identify the consumers and decomposers. We observed and identified decomposers in the composting sample. The training ended with a camping quiz and each person was given a certificate of completion.
I enjoyed this training very much, because during every step of the training the rangers were helpful and modeled camping techniques. At the beginning, the icebreaker activity was a great way to get to know everyone. The team building activities allowed us to observe what can be accomplished by working together. I thought the environmental education activities were just perfect. It is most important to know how to use fire in a non-urban setting and this modeling was handled very well. Finally, we could not have ended on a more positive note with the trash and compost activity. This type of activity is needed daily for a healthier earth. On the whole, the Ecology Village Camping Training was superb and I do plan on using the activities in my classroom.