Words and pictures by Amy Androff for Dunes Learning Center
A cacophony of laughter, squeals and joy spills from the banks of the Little Calumet as Mighty Acorns campers participate in Hoosier Riverwatch on a hot Tuesday afternoon. Water sloshes over the tops of each student's rain boots, all caught in the moment of exploring the river’s ecosystem. Crayfish wiggle between excited campers’ fingers as they compare who caught the largest, while another group use a portable lab kit to test the chemical properties of the water. Through the mud, splashing, and found critters, kids learn firsthand the importance of local watersheds and why they need protecting. Most importantly, learning has a lasting impact through jubilant interaction with the environment.
This five day, four-night stewardship sleep over party welcomes a mix of students from Chicago and Northwest Indiana. Children from a spectrum of backgrounds are brought together to hike, learn, and play in the outdoors. The camaraderie, ecological discoveries, stewardship and, most importantly, fun, camp provides are made possible through generous donations that keep it accessible for all participating students.
Mighty Acorns Nature Camp is not only a time for outdoor adventure but is five days of immersive study through play. When asked what the best part was, Gabrielle, a student from Hobart, IN, enthusiastically said, “My favorite part is the games. We learn a lot more here than we do in the classroom. The games make it so much fun!” Jimmy, Gabrielle and Lynsey all agreed the best game to play is “Coyote.”
“A big part of the appeal of this activity is that it gives kids the unforgettable (but rare) opportunity to run through the woods for an hour,” explained Madison Gallegos, Dunes Learning Center Lead Naturalist. “It also, however, gets kids thinking about predator and prey relationships.” Underneath the game’s entertainment is a critical thinking lesson that helps students understand ecosystem dynamics and vulnerabilities—it’s play that makes learning tangible and develops advanced problem solving skills.
“Childhood exposure to natural settings is associated with a greater interest in environmental stewardship—and ultimately with pursuing professional careers and adult hobbies connected to nature and the environment.”
This environment connects kids to their present and future. Mighty Acorns Nature Camp offers more than just a chance to learn and play in nature; it bolsters students’ scientific acuity, preparing them for their school year. Outdoor play also endows kids with a lasting enthusiasm for nature, creating our next generation of conservation leaders and problem solvers. Dr. Lawrence Rosen, integrative pediatrician, found that, “childhood exposure to natural settings is associated with a greater interest in environmental stewardship—and ultimately with pursuing professional careers and adult hobbies connected to nature and the environment.”
The enjoyment of camp is not limited to the students attending. Madison says her favorite part is “simply being outside with the kids. The sound of kids laughing and having fun as they explore the outdoors never gets old.” Walking out of the campground under the waxing July Blue Moon, laughter gilded by moonlight rings out through the trees as campers head back to their cabins. The excitement about the night hike and not “really” being scared can be heard in bursts of giggles and boasts across the grounds. Madison couldn’t be more right. Mighty Acorns Nature Camp creates unforgettable moments and prepares students for the classroom by combining two of the most fundamental elements of all: joy and learning.
Mighty Acorns Nature Camp is made possible by ArcelorMittal, BP, Dr. Scholl Foundation, Enbridge, Foundations of East Chicago, Kainz Family Foundation, Learning by Giving Foundation, Legacy Foundation, Porter County Community Foundation, Safety-Kleen, United States Steel Foundation and contributions from parents and individuals. Funding for this program was provided in part by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Lake Michigan Coastal Program. Major funding for the Northwest Indiana Mighty Acorns Partnership is provided by ArcelorMittal.