Outdoor Education

The Dirt on Dirt

By Sara Davis, Outdoor Center Program Director

At the Camp Mason Outdoor Center, we have several opportunities to get up close and personal with dirt. Why would you want to? Dirt is beneficial to people, in many different ways. Not as just a substance used to educate, but as a substance that can be therapeutic, and bring joy to the hearts of young and old.  

Our Wetlands class involves hands on, down and dirty activities in order to learn about the characteristics of a wetland.  One special characteristic of a wetland is the soil. The students get to dig in the soil to get a sample, and then use their senses to gather information. They learn how to use color palettes and read flow charts to learn more about wetland soil.  

Now Archaeology is a class anyone could dig. Participants get to learn about the history of this area and unearthen hidden artifacts by digging in the sand pit.

Compost isn’t just for the worms! In our dining hall we encourage students to create as little food waste as possible and to separate their food waste from things that can be composted. Such things include apple cores, banana peels, brown napkins, and any fruit or vegetable matter that will be used in our compost bins to break down into healthy, fertile soil. In our Sustainability class, students learn about the compost itself and the insects, microbes, and plants that benefit from it.

Which brings me to our garden. Whether it is planting, weeding, or harvesting, there is always fun to be had done in the garden. Working in this dirt proves to leave one with tangible, and edible results.

Dirt matters

The benefits to people are great indeed. Education about our natural world through hands on experiences will help to ensure future generations caring about the health of our soil and our planet. Exposure to various bacteria in the soil has much needed immune boosting benefits in an ever increasingly sterile world. There are also mental health benefits. Certain bacteria in the soil can increase serotonin levels in people. This is the chemical in the brain that elevates mood.  

So whether it is exploring the wetlands, the archaeology dig site, the compost or the garden at Camp Mason or getting dirty in your yard or local park, take opportunities to get dirty and you will see and feel the benefits. The joy of playing in the dirt isn’t just for kids!

Find out more about our programs for schools here.

 

Teacher In-Service Day Training Programs

By Sally Wright, Outdoor Center Program Director – Groups and Retreats

Gather the faculty and staff at your school and come to Camp Mason for a teacher in-service day. Spend the day outdoors participating in a variety of activities that promote group collaboration and hands on learning. The group will leave at the end of the day with new teaching techniques and activities, as well as a better understanding of one another.

If you choose a teambuilding session your group will be lead through a number of teambuilding exercises by our professional staff. The exercises are designed to highlight the various aspects of teambuilding such as communication, leadership, and trust. After each exercise the group will have a chance to reflect on how they worked as a team, and discuss how they might improve upon any weaknesses. The group can also relate the discussion to how they work with one another throughout the school year. The teambuilding experience can continue by choosing to add a session of high ropes to the schedule.

To build upon the teambuilding experience, groups can participate in a session where they learn how to run teambuilding exercises with their students. The exercises require few to no props, and can be done within the space of a classroom. The group will also learn how to facilitate a debrief session to promote teamwork among the students.

We also offer academic focused sessions, in which our professional staff share interactive techniques to teach information in the content areas. Sessions may include questioning techniques, development of student’s observations skills, games that get students thinking about specific topics, and much more. The information in these sessions is best suited for teachers who teach 4th – 7th grade.

Scheduling is flexible and can be created based on the interest of the group. We are able to offer both full and half day sessions. If you have any questions or would like to book a teacher in-service day please call us on 908-362-8217.

 

The Leaves They Are A-Changin’

By Alex Loop, Outdoor Education Naturalist for the Mason Outdoor Center

And so is camp! The new pavilion is going up, leaves are going down, and cars and buses continue to roll in for the last few days of the fall season. With the constant countdown to summer camp posted on Facebook and Instagram, one would think that there is substantially less happening here at Mason over the fall and into the winter. This is not the case. We have had crazy weeks here at camp over the past few months. A different kind of crazy from the summer, but hectic nonetheless.

Long days with ropes setup starting at 6:30 in the morning, ending with night hikes lasting til 9. Days filled with back-to-back ecology classes, and hours of belaying. Sometimes we facilitate every activity for a group, from a structured course on sustainability to leading songs around a campfire. Other times, we are merely here in the background, as the group has (almost) free reign over camp. I have been lucky enough to experience Mason both in the summer and the fall. I could not tell you which season I prefer – these are two different camps that happen to be in the same spot, with their own kind of magic.

Just as summer staff were challenged to “Make Magic,” we make magic here at the Outdoor Center with every new or returning group that visits us. Whether we are explaining the science behind the changing foliage that lights up camp with its dazzling splendor, or guiding a nervous 8th grader through the full high ropes course, Camp Mason continues to impact the kids that come here. The Outdoor Center is much more than a plug for summer camp – it is its own entity. In a span of a few hours to several days, students learn about themselves and the natural world around them. I have never visited Mason with my school. I am a naturalist who lives and works on camp seasonally, however, like my coworkers and the participants I teach, I too, am a student who constantly learns and grows in this unique, magical place that has so much to offer, no matter the season.

Fall is here at Camp Mason!

By Sara Davis, Senior Naturalist at the Mason Outdoor Center

As the sounds of children playing and the bugle blaring dance through my ears and the scents of sunscreen and insect repellent waft through the air, memories of crisp spring mornings linger.  Only a few weeks have passed since the end of the spring season for the Outdoor Center, though it feels like just yesterday I was working with school groups, girl scouts, and family camp. I successfully ended my first season as a Senior Naturalist at YMCA Camp Mason and celebrated ten years of experience in the field of Outdoor Education. I’m rather fortunate to have the forest, fields, lake, streams, garden, and ropes courses as my “office.” I have the opportunity to study the natural world around me and instill inquisitiveness in children and adults alike.

The passion for outdoor education and a love of nature is something that is shared amongst all the Outdoor Center staff. And although many of the Outdoor Ed. staff are fully engaged in this crazy, magical thing called Summer Camp, there are a few of us who keep the Outdoor Center in the forefront of our minds during the summer. Summertime affords the opportunity to reflect on the past season, and to scout out the trail that lies ahead. Taking feedback from our schools and groups, we are working very hard to make improvements to our programs and supplies, update curriculums, and prepare for staff training.  Many may wish that summer will never end, but when it does and the children resume their role as students and parents once again become homework helpers and school chauffeurs, the Outdoor Center staff will be ready to guide all towards new discoveries through experiential education. 

Spring Training: It’s a Knockout!

By Nikki Reiff, Outdoor Center Program Director

Though this is my second spring working at Camp Mason, it will be my first spring training, and my first spring as a Program Director. After a week and a half of leading and participating in it, I can tell you that—much along the lines of spring training as it pertains to baseball—it allows new and returning team members to enhance their skills and serves as practice before the season begins.

This season, our naturalist and per diem team is made up completely by returning staff with the exception of two new faces. However, this didn’t stop us from re-training in all the different activities that we offer here at Camp Mason year round. Thus far, we have covered a majority of our science education, high rope elements, and team building initiatives. So what does training look like for our outdoor center staff?

We have hiked a few miles through a foot of snow to study native wildlife and their adaptations.

We have climbed the firecracker, vertical playpen, climbing wall, and zipline. And we have belayed… and belayed… and belayed.

We played laser tag because a group that belays together, plays together! And a team that plays together, stays together! (Or rather we did this to help unite us as a team outside of a work setting)

We have been through team building ourselves to share new ways to challenge groups and debrief participant interactions.

We have refreshed our CPR and First Aid certifications, as well as run through emergency procedures.

We hit targets through riflery and archery, and then set targets for what we as a group aim to achieve together.

…All this, and we are just getting started!

Looking at our full time seasonal line up—We have three new senior naturalists; Sara, Rebecca, and Michael all looking to expand their skills from seasons prior. We have got Mark and Chris, who are taking on new coordinator roles of high ropes and the ranges, respectively. We’ve got Christian a seasoned day-camp counselor who is working his second OE season, Carly who was previously a per diem but has chosen to take on more responsibility full time, Leighann who is working on developing new ecology curriculum for our school groups, and Erik who is tackling our garden and sustainability here at Mason. Combine this team with Co-Program Director Sally, Senior Camp Director Anna, and myself, and I can confidently say this spring we’ve hit a homerun.

Weekends at Camp Mason!

By Sally Wright, Outdoor Center Program Director – Retreats

Have you ever wondered what goes on at Camp Mason on the weekends? Saturdays and Sundays can be two of the busiest days of the week here at Camp. We often have Girl Scout troops and school groups here on the weekends, but Camp Mason also runs some specialty programs that anyone can come to. We offer programs such as Family Camp Weekend, Women’s Wellness Weekend and Volunteer Work Weekend. You can find more information or sign up for any of these weekends on our website.

Bring your family and prepare for a weekend packed with fun family oriented activities, during our family camp weekends. Depending on the season, you can race down the zip line, learn how to cross country ski, enjoy one of our off- site hikes, or just relax on the porch of your cabin. We have also made some improvements to our high ropes course that you may get to try out. Family Camp weekends run four times a year, and are one of our most popular weekend programs. In fact, our Memorial Day Weekend Family Camp (May 26th – 29th 2017) is already sold out. You can register for our Fall Foliage Family Camp (October 6th – 9th 2017) on our website at any time. Registration for our Labor Day Family Camp (September 1st – 4th 2017) will open on May 3rd 2017.

Yoga for Women’s Wellness Weekend

Another great weekend program is our Women’s Wellness Weekend for all of the ladies. This is a relaxing weekend with the opportunity to get in some exercise if you wish. Activities for the weekend may include mountain biking, yoga, aerial silks, and meditation just to name a few. You can bring a friend or come alone and make new friends while you’re here. We run two Women’s Wellness Weekends each year. You can register for a two night stay May 5th – 7th 2017 or a three night stay October 6th – 9th 2017.

We also hold an event here at Camp called Volunteer Work Weekend, where you can come to camp for free, and help us prepare camp for either the winter or summer depending on the season. This is a great opportunity for students who are looking for community service hours or people who just want to volunteer some time. There are projects for all ability levels from raking leaves and painting to construction of docks and benches. Registration is open for both the spring weekend May 12th – 14th 2017 and the fall weekend November 3rd – 5th 2017.

Please feel free to contact Sally with any questions by email at sally@campmason.org or by phone at 908-362-8217.

Meet Our Team: Sally

allyBy Sally Wright, Outdoor Center Program Director

My dream of working at camp began at a young age as I watched my camp counselors sing silly songs, play crazy games, and create camp magic. I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to spend my entire summer in the woods creating unforgettable experiences for my campers. When I was finally old enough I applied to work at the summer camp I grew up at and was hired! I spent the next 9 summers working at the camp in a variety of roles such as Counselor, Adventure Specialist, and Assistant Camp Director. In between my summers at camp I attended Shenandoah University and earned a Bachelors in Biology and a Secondary Teaching License, with the plan of becoming a high school science teacher. At that time I didn’t know that I could make a career of working at camp; and I figured becoming a science teacher would combine my love of science with my passion to have a positive impact on people’s lives. However, leaving camp just didn’t seem like the right decision for me and that’s when I found Camp Mason.

I came to Camp Mason thinking I would spend a season or two here before starting my teaching career, but instead I found a home. My co-workers became family and teaching science using experiential education techniques aligned perfectly with my passions for teaching and the outdoors.  I’ve had a couple of different roles here at Camp Mason working seasonally for both Summer Camp and the Outdoor Center, and now I’m excited to settle into my new role as one of Camp Mason’s Outdoor Center Program Directors.

In true camp fashion we are going to play two truths and a lie so you all can get to know me better. Below I will list 3 facts about myself. Two of the facts are true and one is false. You will have to decide which fact is false and then check YMCA Camp Mason’s Facebook page on Monday December 12 to find out if you were correct!

  1. I am a girl scout
  2. My favorite color is blue
  3. I don’t have any siblings

I Notice…

By Maddi Green, Naturalist at the Camp Mason Outdoor Center

In my first month as a Camp Mason Naturalist, I’ve asked question “What do you notice?” of my students often. Sometimes, they notice the painted turtles sunning themselves on a fallen tree in Lake Mason. Sometimes they notice that looking up at zip line from the ground is a very different perspective than looking down at the ground from the top. And sometimes they notice that their teammates need to pause and really hear each other if they are ever going to complete their team building challenge.

From hiking with families across the cable bridges of the Yellow Trail to the abandoned Christmas tree farm, to guiding middle school students through righting a flipped canoe, to encouraging high school peer leaders to engage with their fear of heights, being a naturalist gives me many chances to make some observations of my own. Fifth graders will stop to discuss, at length, a slug sunning itself on a rock on the trail that we adults already walked right past. Kids on the rock wall who are willing to try, even if they are unsure of themselves, usually can reach the top, with a little encouragement.

The most effective leaders are the ones who are willing to seek out ideas from the people around them. Best of all, I’ve noticed that Camp Mason gives everyone (naturalists included!) who comes through a chance to really stop and notice the world and the people around them. And once we’ve started noticing all of the turtles and slugs and great ideas from our teammates, we start to notice what our place is in it all.

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YMCA Camp Ralph S. Mason
23 Birch Ridge Road
Hardwick, NJ 07825
Phone: 908-362-8217
Fax: 908-362-5767
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