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Y: Outdoor Exploration Creates Kids Who Care

on April 21, 2013 - 9:05am
Kids at iCARE summer camp share their animal tracking journals. Photo by Sylan Argo
 
By SYLVAN ARGO
Community Programs Director at The Family YMCA

The Family YMCA’s iCARE programs are about letting kids play outside and get dirty while helping them learn about and appreciate the great outdoors.

A few years ago, the Y adopted an internal philosophy of sustainability called “iCARE” - a philosophy that engaged youth to think about their impact on the earth. 

At the same time that the Y’s national iCARE philosophy was taking form, parents needed a Wednesday-only program here in Los Alamos. We created a unique program to fill parent needs that would also share our global view of social responsibility.

Another parent told us she wanted her child to be outdoors playing all summer; she gathered requests and needs from other like-minded parents. We expanded iCARE into a summer-long program for children, and we staffed it with environmental educators who could help kids learn while they enjoyed themselves playing.

Every kid has a different ideal way to spend a summer.  Sometimes summer is about taking on that adventure that the school year never had time for – whether reading a new book, learning a new artistic form of expression, honing a particular sports skill, or exploring the beckoning backyard woodland  (including building a few forts, mud pies, or exploring trails.) Sometimes summer is all about getting lost in the shapes of the clouds or sitting on a stream bank with your toes in the water, daydreaming …

The Y’s iCARE programs offer adventurous, exploratory, curiosity-encouraging experiences that engage and connect kids to new ideas, to our community, and to our wider ecological systems. With a staff-to-participant ratio of 1:7 that caters to high-quality guidance, activity facilitation, and motivational supervision while the kids are out exploring, we offer three different iCARE programs throughout the summer.

iCARE Adventures runs weekly/monthly June through July, and iCARE Camp is offered Aug. 5-9. We are introducing a new themed program, iCARE About Gardening, which will be offered the two days (Aug. 12-13) right before school begins in the fall.

Next fall the Y will be continuing the iCARE program on Wednesday afternoons in partnership with Pajarito Environmental Education Center PEEC.

A typical day of the summer with iCARE Adventures starts at Mountain Elementary School, where from 7:30-9 a.m., the kids might participate in gardening activities or games to start their day.

After circle time and group check-in at 9 a.m., the group heads out via local transportation or by foot to a nearby canyon, trail, or other outdoor location to set up camp for the day – where the kids get to play and explore until it is time to return to Mountain School by 4 p.m., where they will have a chance to process the day’s experiences and learning through recycled art projects, games, gardening, or other group/individual reflection activities.

These reflection activities run 4-5:30 p.m. this is also pick-up time. Parents/guardians are invited to participate in any of these activities, and there will be special themed days and guest visitors throughout the summer.

Registration is open now at the Y; the registration drive (registration fees waived for all summer and fall after-school programs) runs through April 30.


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