Everyone has a favorite season in Santa Fe. Some folks love the cool fall and golden aspen leaves, while others like our wintry, snow-capped mountains. My favorite, though, is summer. This is my tenth year of being involved in summer camp programs, and my sixth year at the Randall Davey Audubon Center. Despite the busy chaos, long days, and hot sun, I love the energy that comes with groups of kids getting to explore our trails and gardens.
Our Education Team at RDAC has been busy over the past three months, serving hundreds of youth and providing hands-on learning opportunities to our Santa Fe Community. Our Education Coordinator and Summer Camp Director, Meghan Baker, pulled off her first season with us. She and a team of four seasonal summer camp educators were able to host 8 weeks of camp at RDAC, serving over 280 campers ages 5-12. We are grateful for the hard work by our camp educators, Gabriela Garcia, Isabel Rodriguez, Monchie Curliss, and Theo Kutsko.
In addition to our on-site programs, our Outreach Coordinator, Kanah Waltman, was busy meeting folks out in the community and providing programming all around town to other camp programs. As part of our commitment to equitable access to high-quality summer programming, we have partnered with the City of Santa Fe, the Santa Fe Community Educators Network, and Santa Fe Public Schools to provide offsite learning opportunities for the past five years. Kanah worked with students from Ramirez Thomas Elementary, Nina Otero Elementary, El Camino Real Academy, Native American Student Services, teens at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center, and more. Some of these students were able to make field trips up to the Audubon Center, while others investigated nature out in the schoolyard.
Summer is a special time for learning, when the formality of school lessons, standards, and assessments gets put on hold and kids get the opportunity to return to studies through hands-on exploration and inquiry. Summer is the chance for kids to embrace their curiosity, explore their interests, and just play out in nature.
There’s also substantial evidence that providing fun and high-quality learning opportunities during summer breaks is an important part of equitable education models, including developing language skills and creating real-world connections. Plus, giving kids (and adults!) the chance to relax and play is an important part of brain development, social connection, and more.
Summer Camp 2023 Reflections
The stories and photos from our camp educators reflect this intent. Days spent playing in the river and engineering out in the forest are often the highlight of the week, despite the simplicity of the activity.
Isabel: I really loved our river days. It was so much fun exploring the river with all the kiddos, searching for water striders and worms and building damns. Really just enjoying ourselves out in nature.
Monchie: I also really loved river days. It’s just so much fun getting in the water with the kids and they always have a great time.
Theo: A great moment was with the 8-12 year-old group. It was river day, and Desmond had an idea to build a dam at the main "waterfall" area of our river stop. When we got there, Desmond got to work, and pretty soon all the kids were helping! Either by collecting rocks and sticks, stacking the rocks, collecting mud and other building materials, or just finding a way to get the water of the upper part to flow elsewhere. Some of the kids dug a route for the water to flow into the main area. The dam was functional, and it rivaled that of actual dams built in the world! The best part was, we went back a week later, and the dam was still holding! The water had completely re-routed in the area the other kids dug out- it was so crazy cool.
Gabriella: I think some of my favorite activities were the crafts we did. The kiddos just got so creative and made so many different things. I really enjoyed seeing them all explore art and nature.
Connecting with Nature, both on the trail and in the schoolyard
As kids experience nature less and less each year, providing experiences to learn and connect with wildlife is increasingly essential to their full development. We had special opportunities like visits from the Santa Fe Raptor Center, as well as intimate moments with wildlife and local habitats.
Isabel shared, “On our last week of summer camp, we were out on a bird walk. We saw all kinds of critters from Spotted Towhees and House Finches to rabbits and deer. It was a wonderful morning and it was so great to see all the campers excited to observe the animals out in nature doing their thing.
Theo also shared, “I think my favorite of the activities would have to be the fort building and nest building activity. I'd walk around and see these elaborate, unique structures that utilized actual elements of architecture as well as balancing/taking into account survival tools. A lot of the forts are still standing, and I'm in awe of them.”
Kanah’s work out in the community also helped kids connect with nearby nature. Bird walks through school campuses, learning how to use field guides, and sensory explorations in school gardens were all part of our partnership with Santa Fe Public Schools and Santa Fe Recreation Department this summer. Kanah says of her outreach, “Even though it was a really hot summer in Santa Fe, the students still loved getting outside. They were excited to draw their observations in the nature journal, especially some of the small things they noticed outside.”