I was just at a conference on teaching and learning in Chicago, IL (July, 2010). The keynote speech had a profound and urgent message. The message was that “play,” not as a concept, but an actual act, especially imaginative/creative play, is vital to our well being. The speaker said, “There are consequences of play deprivation…” and cited some truly disturbing examples that I won’t get into here. I think the fear-based culture has ultimately led to a decline in play. TrackersPDX offers some innovative and unique summer camp programs that will take your kids on wonderful journeys both in their minds and on their feet (usually at the same time).
We enrolled our son in “Magic Camp” and “Welcome to Middle Earth,” which uses JR Tolkien’s books as a theme for a week of self-discovery, kinship, confidence building, and downright fun through some bold adventures. After witnessing some of the action first-hand and listening to my son’s experiences, I’ll go on record as saying TrackersPDX is hosting some of the most exciting, creative, and kid-friendly summer camps in the Portland area. Where else would a kid be walking with a container full of “Dragon’s Blood” that he insists “…wards off evil spirits?” He even handed me a piece of paper with the potion’s ingredients and asked to make it at home.
In the camps, the kids made cloaks, magic wands, potions, salves, medallions, wizard pouches, etc., and used these various artifacts for collecting treasures, ingredients, specimens, and a myriad of playful adventures. You don’t expect a kid to be practicing “stealth techniques” without the proper cloak, right? During “Welcome to Middle Earth,” the group even visited the Museum of Contemporary Craft, so they could learn about how gems are fashioned and rings are made. One thing about the Trackers – they are always on the go! Here is a slide show of some of the action.
I think what I really admire about the Trackers’ is the fact that their programs have a holistic approach. They incorporate books, folklore, art, crafting, science, physical activity, creativity, imagination, problem solving, and so much more! They take all of these elements and try them out in authentic learning environments such as Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, Sellwood Riverfront Park, Latourell Falls, Washington Park, Kelley Point Park, and so many other locations in and around Portland. It’s amazing how much these folks get the kids out on REAL adventures. Here are a couple short video clips from each camp experience.
Welcome to Middle Earth
Caveats: The curriculum for summer camp is so varied that I find it hard to believe that you won’t find a good match for your child. However, these camps are not a good fit for all kids, so make sure you’re familiar with their policies and read “A Good Fit?” on their website. I think they’ve done a good job of clearly outlining characteristics of children who do well in their programs.
The camp has a schedule of where the kids will be during the day; however, this is subject to change! Make sure you check with their instructors at drop-off and confirm where they will be headed. While I think it’s fine to make adjustments, it would be nice to receive updated information on actual destinations.
The drop-off/pick-up space is a busy area in SE Portland. If you park in the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge parking area, PLEASE be very careful when crossing the street. It’s tempting to just dart across Milwaukie Avenue, but the Trackers strongly advise using the crosswalk just north of the entrance. I think that’s some solid advice.
Distance from Portland: 5040 SE Milwaukie Avenue, Portland, OR This is not their mailing address but the location of their classroom space and summer camp pick-up and drop-off.
Recommended Ages: The summer camps range in ages from 4 to 18 with excellent options for aftercare until 5:30! This is such an incredible age span, and I’m compelled to take classes through TrackersPDX myself at age 41. I think that’s one of the main attractions at Trackers – the programs are interesting and applicable to practically all ages across the lifespan. They even offer some whole-family programming, which also may be of interest to your family.
Parental Stress Factor: Personally, especially after observing the camp off-site, I felt very comfortable and at ease with the Tracker’ format and explorations. This will vary greatly and depend on the age of your child/ren, and how confident you feel about their independence. I know some parents would probably be close to a heart attack if they knew their child was riding a mini-school bus to explore a waterfall in the Gorge. It’s not just about the child, but you must think about your own trust and comfort level.
Physical Difficulty: Both camps my son attended demanded a fair amount of physical fitness. They hiked considerable distances (between 1/4 mile and 1/2 mile) with their packs. If your kids are not used to regular exercise, this may be a rude awakening. This was absolutely no problem for my son, and he loved the hiking. If your child has physical limitations, please contact Trackers PDX directly to discuss accommodations.
Family Fun Factor: TrackersPDX offers plenty of opportunities to interact with other families. Read Tony Deis’ blog entry on Family Camps here. Also, here is a page on their website that lists upcoming community events.
Weather Considerations: The summer camps are rain or shine, and your children should come prepared to get dirty and wet! Our son carried a full change of clothes each day in his pack.
Insider Info: The camps are very popular! I recommend signing-up well in advance, or your kids may miss out on an incredible learning experience. While I did not observe all the camps, I highly recommend both “Magic Camp” and “Welcome to Middle Earth.” I liked the creative aspects of the camps, and I heard only positive things from my son.
Family Tips: If your child needs sunscreen and are concerned they won’t put it on themselves, make sure to mention this to the instructors. We dropped-off our son with a fresh coat of sunscreen already applied, which worked quite well for him.
Make sure you pack a hardy lunch and plenty of snacks. Our son would eat pretty much everything we put in his lunch box. Also, you’ll want to make sure that they have plenty of water.
Finally, due to the traffic influx in SE Portland, I recommend car pooling, if you can swing it. I wish we would have taken advantage of this more while in camp.
Other Posts of Interest...
Playground Gym - Grand Opening Party! on January 15th, 2010
Lava Lands Visitor Center on August 12th, 2010
Canoeing at Browns Ferry Park on July 11th, 2009