Being a YAV at Ferncliff has been an amazing opportunity for me to grow creatively and professionally. The staff and camp community are very supportive and encouraging so we all get to try things that are new to us. Plus, the work dynamic can be engaging and fun. The YAVs are given quite a bit of autonomy and responsibility over our own projects since the year-round staff is small. Because of all of this, we can create new programs in our respective areas of interest in addition to facilitating ones that already exist.
One of the greatest projects I have been able to work on this year as a YAV in conjunction with Ferncliff has been Taproot Tuesday. Designed to provide upper elementary students an opportunity to get outside and explore nature during the school year, Taproot Tuesday is a great program to get kids more actively engaged in the environment.
Definition of taproot
noun | tap·root | \-ˌrüt, -ˌru̇t\
- a primary root that grows vertically downward and gives off small lateral roots
the central element or position in a line of growth or development
The program began as a comment from Joel, something he had said he would like to see put in action. After some time, I just ran with it. As such, it was pretty much up to me as to how TRT played out.
Will it be held at camp or at a park? What time will be best? What activities will we do? What games will we play? What ages are welcome? How many participants can be there? What will it cost? Will we provide snack?
Since the program was meant to be exploratory (for me as the creator and for the youth as participants), there were neither wrong answers nor right answers to many of these questions.
So I thought about everything, did some research, and I made up the answers:
TRT will be located at a park, one that is centrally located with a lot of green space and does not require a group reservation. It will start once schools let out with time for parents to drive, so 4:30. Activities will centered around a weekly theme: plants radish and carrot seeds to talk about actual taproots, hiking to learn about and identify native plants and trees, “kickin’ and pickin'” (collect and observe macroinvertebrates in the creek) so we can talk about the Biotic Index and water quality, playing woodland bingo to encourage active observation of nature, identifying cloud types and making tornadoes in bottles to learn about weather patterns and the sky. Games were pretty easy: learn one another’s name and have fun and engage all youth. The age range was based on grades, so I just picked a group that would be old enough to understand our activities. With myself and another facilitator, there could be up to 12 kids enrolled. I researched other after school programs and what they charge for extracurricular or after school activities, wrote a budget, and eventually decided that ours would be an opt-in pay system. Obviously there would be a snack.
Eventually I would like to see Tap Root Tuesdays become an outreach program throughout the academic year so it can be taken to all public elementary schools that provide aftercare. With that sort of approach, more children and youth would be actively engaged in exploring nature and better understand the importance of protecting our environment.
Yesterday, two campers who participated in the inaugural session of Taproot Tuesday were here as summer campers at Ferncliff playing basketball by the lake . They waved and smiled, told me “Hi!,” and asked if we’d do some other nature studies while they were here. It was incredible to hear them talk about hikes and activities we did outside during April and May for Taproot Tuesday.