Gross Out Camp
Whether hiking in woods, wading in the creek or learning to tend a garden, Gross Out Camp campers use nature as a laboratory to learn about their environment.
It’s an icky, yucky adventure into nature and, for the first time, Gross Out Camp is coming to the Hoover area.
Described as “it’s science but please don’t tell the kids,” the day camp is July 27-31 and for children entering grades one through seven. Campers are guaranteed to go home “tired, dirty, but having learned something,” according to Verna Gates, founder and executive director of Fresh Air Family, the host organization.
The camp offers another aspect that makes it even more meaningful for those taking part in the experience – it is intergenerational.
Set at The Oaks at Parkwood retirement community, it promotes the blending of youngsters and seniors that creates an environment beneficial to both, Gates said.
“Too few children today live near their grandparents, while too many seniors live in retirement homes where they rarely see children,” she said. “Grandparents and kids are natural allies and this summer camp offers the opportunity for kids to get a ‘grandparent’ experience and for seniors to hear that golden laughter of children playing in the sun.”
Created by Gates eight years ago, the award-winning Gross Out Camp uses science and a nature setting to stimulate critical thinking.
“We wanted something fun but at a high level of education, and this is basically field biology and self-directed learning,” Gates said. “We had some kids out walking and one little boy stuck his hand in compost and was surprised it was hot. So we spent the rest of the afternoon discussing biothermals because it caught their interest.”
Gross Out Camp is held at several locations in Alabama, but individual camp sessions are kept to about 20 participants “because learning is so much better,” Gates said.
“And we have kids who come over and over until they age out of the camp, but then return to train and move up to counselors,” she said.
Caroline Belrose, 13, is one of those campers-turned-counselors who just can’t get enough of Gross Out Camp.
The Saint Rose Academy eighth-grader, who lives in Hoover, said she first got hooked on the camp in 2014 because “I love science and love having fun.” Caroline said she enjoyed learning about polymers and ratios by making slime with glue, Borax and food coloring and also making compost buckets for the gardens.
“But my favorite was wading in the creek where we learn the proper way to flip rocks,” she said. “Then we look for the macroinvertebrates, which have no backbone – like flatworms, crayfish, snails, and dragonflies – and we can see them with the naked eye but make sure they’re back safe so they can live.”
While she outgrew the camper age range, Caroline is a counselor this summer and earning community hours for school while helping others in their own camp experience.
“It’s great watching the kids’ faces, whether they’re in the creek, doing experiments, or looking at snakes and turtles, birds or even a hedgehog,” she said. “And being outdoors, it’s just so beautiful.”
Beautiful is the word Carol Knight uses to describe The Oaks at Parkwood and the experience campers and the retirement community’s residents will have at Gross Out Camp.
“Our campuses are large with plenty of acreage, woods and streams that allow everyone to become part of nature,” said Knight, vice president of senior living at Nolan Health Services. “There’s such a special connection between the children and the older adults whether they’re fishing together, exploring the creek or just telling stories about their own adventures. The seniors didn’t grow up with cell phones or video games, but the knowledge that’s imparted is amazing.”
While electronics play no part in Gross Out Camp either, campers will be engrossed in what’s happening around them, Gates said.
“We think our kids are so sophisticated but they still love to get into the creek bed or dig for worms,” she said. “Biology is kind of gross but kids love that.”
For more information and registration information about Gross Out Camp, go to freshairfamily.org.