by GP Bantug
The children laugh as they wade through the creek, showing off their dip nets, being careful not to lose what they've caught.
"I think I've caught a fish!" exclaims one girl, as her friend beside her eagerly peers into the net.
It's refreshing to see these kids playing outside with each other, without their eyes glued to a screen or their hands on a phone.
"Look at what I've caught," says a boy as he approaches me, in his hands a container filled with all sorts of small minnows and water striders.
I'm their group's leader, and they are all campers at Maison Tucker House's summer camp program, Country Fun Nature Camp. Held at the historic Tucker House estate in Rockland for over 40 years, Country Fun has provided a chance for children from all over Ottawa to spend time in the country, away from the hectic buzz of the urban landscape.
As an environmental ecumenical Christian camp, a love for the Creator and all Creation is celebrated and encouraged, from our fellow neighbours to the beautiful Earth we were given.
It's easy for me to say this time and again, having been involved as part of the administrative and leadership team for over eight years. Yet I can tell you the camp's vision has never wavered, as I was a camper many years before that.
Our days at camp consist of nature-themed Bible stories, crafts, nature walks, swimming, and of course many fun games and activities. Our eco-activities make great use of the diverse biomes on the 30-acre property, and teach children about the impacts our choices have on the environment.
Country Fun also supports children with many different needs, from behavioural to financial, providing them with a safe space to learn, make friends, and have fun.
Having grown alongside the camp, I've realized it's become the responsibility of my peers and me to help educate the next generation, not just to leave it to the schools. Times have definitely changed from the last time I led a group, let alone from when I was a camper. Lunchtime banter is held over what shows to watch on Netflix, video games to try next, the latest internet memes -- a constant reminder of what they are exposed to every day.
In a culture where sedentary behaviour is encouraged, and with a plethora of content to be consumed, it's no wonder these children are shuttered indoors. Our society is concerned, yet most of the commentary comes in the form of memories and nostalgia, parents and teachers reminiscing of fun in the sun in days past. Yet, why should the next generation care?
Due to technology, the ways we entertain ourselves and socialize have changed drastically. What I understand now is that programs like summer camps have a great impact on the behavioural development of a child through influence and true human interaction, and by allowing them to disconnect from the hyper-connected world for a moment.
As a camper, I admired the attention I got from my leaders and the passion they brought to our games and activities. They were inherently "cool" to me, in their enthusiasm for the environment and their faith--and they were teenagers! I wanted to grow up and be just like them, as the saying goes.
I can't imagine the person I'd be without my Country Fun experience, a place where I could run free in nature, meet lifelong friends, all while discovering more about myself and who I was meant to be.
Country Fun is a youth-run program that is looking to continuously grow its network of partner churches and organizations. If you would like to become involved, or for more information about the camp, please visit www.maisontuckerhouse.ca.
GP Bantug is a staff member of Country Fun Nature Camp.