Vangie laying on bench at end of hot, long day
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What Camp Taught Me: Part Three

We Work Hard so We Can Play Hard

Full Disclosure: this is an HONEST post. Sometimes when I’m training a new nature educator they ask me some basic “housekeeping” questions and when I answer them eyes widen. I realize there are truths about this kind of work that I’ve come to accept because I honestly believe I’ve had worse jobs in my life. But there are parts of it that are harder than others. Today I thought I’d share some of those less-than-glamorous parts just in case you are wondering if I am trying to make this all too dreamy. So here are some of the “hardest” parts of the work in no particular order.

Hard Work Reality #1: You get HOT and tired.

I live in Georgia. There is no getting around what summer is like around here. Humidity of often 90% with temperatures in the 90-100 degree range. I have a friend that swears that under these conditions human lungs collapse and ceast to function, but I’m telling you like it is. Even under great tree canopy, we sweat a lot. At the end of the day, I am spent. I’m sure it didn’t affect me quite as badly during my 20s and 30s as it does now in my late 40s, but honestly there is no getting around this part of outdoor education in the South. So, part of my daily routine is lugging this big yellow water cooler filled with silicone ice bags and water for constant refills. It’s an extra step but I’ve found kids are much more willing to drink ice cold water then tepid. You have no idea how many problems I solved with a walk to the water cooler.

Hard Work Reality #3: COVID is still a thing

Like everyone else, I’m ready for this NOT to be a reality, but here we are. The great thing about outdoor education is that you do feel a lot safer without a mask in the wide open spaces we occupy. But taking an extra precaution, we took temperatures each day at check-in. (Cases spiked in our county mid-summer and every parent was complimentary of The Giving Garden and their precautions.) But occupying these Wild Spaces also means limited hand washing is available. I took additional precautions and made Re-useable Hand Wipes for use before snack and lunch. I chose something cloth and re-useable because I always want to model responsible sustainability practices with the children. But it did mean that I washed and dried a load of these each night when I got home from a 7 hour day. There were nights when I was dozing off waiting to get them ready for the next day, but I wanted to know that with all the tool sharing the kids had done they had more than just hand sanitizer on dirty hands. You can find the recipe I used on our Sparrow’s Nest Play Pinterest page.

reuseable wipes made from flannel baby blankets model sustainability for children

Hard Work Reality #3: The poop has to be buried.

Yep. You read that right. Poop.

With 30+ kids we were digging a hole and buring the contents of our makeshift compose toilet twice a week. This also necessitated that halfway through the summer, we clear a new plot for burying the waste because we kept digging up, well, you know. So into the brambles of spent blackberry bushes we went: me, a few of my besties, and my favorite machete. We cleared a 10′ x 12′ plot, drove the fence posts and hung fence to keep the kids out all on a hot, Georgia July afternoon. Because the waste wasn’t going to stop coming and this is the job. See my sexy shovel pic below.

Hard Work Reality #4: And “Other Duties” as Needed.

Every job I ever had – especially the terrible ones – had that clause in the job description. “Other duties as needed” always turned out to be things like playground maintenance, plunging toilets, standing on top of the trash in the dumpster to “smush it down” when they didn’t come so we could fit more in, and fun stuff like that. I have to say here that my “other duties” in nature education are way more tame as far as I’m concerned. Here are a few things you might want to know before you make this your full time gig:

Things to Know Before You Make Outdoor Education Your Full Time Gig:

  • the art of distracting a panicked child while you pull out a huge splinter
  • the name and species of all your local turtles
  • no less than 3 ways to transport a tooth home from the Wild Space
  • how to talk a child into using a steamy compost toilet
  • how to identify and use Long Leaf Plantain for mosquito bites
  • chicken whispering
  • how to remove a tick without ensuing panic
  • several games that require zero supplies and/or skill

Like I said, gathering this knowledge was far more pleasant than many of the things I’ve had to do in my tenure as a teacher and director of a traditional educational program. For me, the “hard work realities” listed above are indeed something I do with a smile on my face. Yes, it is hard work. But it is good work – meaningful work. And we work hard so we can play hard.

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