As I volunteer for the week at the beloved summer camp where I grew up, I begin to realize that my self-selected project assignment; of Re-vamping the “Nature Crafts” curriculum; was an effort that was nearly 33 years in the making. As a kid, I have always loved art, and had no shortage of school supplies from my school-teaching Mother, to entertain myself with as an only child. So the first year that I went to summer camp, I was thrilled with the fact that “Nature Crafts” was on the schedule. I recall the first counselor clearly imparting the camp ideology; that our craft be “made from nature,” but I also recall over the 8 years following, that there always seemed to be a shortage of other supplies, like paint and glue and scissors and brushes, with which we might artistically alter our rocks… or pine cones… or sticks.
As a counselor at the same camp in my 20s, I vowed not to suffer the same fate, of disappointing the kids who were craft lovers, so I worked hard to stretch my budget and research at the library for new and better ideas throughout the winter. I knew the scope stated that the items had to be “made from nature,” but I wanted to teach the kids how to do more than paint pinecones and rocks. I colored sand; soaked seeds to be strung; and dyed noodles to use as beads. I began to push the boundaries of the unwritten curriculum and scope. I began to question the curriculum when I found plaster molds, but no plaster… and scrimshaw cow horns, with no such tools to replicate the ancient art. I still wanted to learn, and was determined to know more so that I could teach more to the children. Natural objects and no tools… craft supplies and no nature…. picking up and collecting natural objects at camp… but seeing warning signs posted stating $100 or $1000 fines for doing the same thing at a State or National Park… the contradictions in the limited Scope of the Curriculum had perplexed me for decades!
As years passed, I moved away and began my teaching career, married and continued to work in art and recreation, but a few years back, something drew me home again from Florida to Pennsylvania, and I went back to visit Camp again, only to find the crafts lodge in its usual state of disarray. The responsibility and accountability for the program handed over to a short-term summer-employee each year, as a 7-week project, with little time to plan and limited access to any budget. It didn’t take long before I wanted to make a lasting change, and so I began my annual pilgrimage to prepare the crafts program for the summer. I started by making new signs for the lodge, with individual letters that could be repainted, but not “erased” over time…. A new scope that stretched the Nature Crafts theme to “From… With…. About… For… Nature” and a separate set of signs that read: “Reduce… Re-use…. Recycle…. Replenish” and affixed them securely to the wall. Inside the supply cabinet, new “Curriculum Posters” were hung, explaining the definition of each word, as well as “Tribal Arts… Heritage Arts… Fine Crafts…. and Decorative Arts” which raised the bar from “kid’s crafts” to Arts and Cultural Studies. But in order to support this new and expanded scope… I had to supply the resources to make it possible! I bought new supplies; made new laminated lesson and photo-idea pages; and provided new training times set aside with the summer staff. Together we began such advanced projects as feather quill pen making, candle dipping, mandala weaving, macramé, soap making, paper making, felt & suede sewing, leather crafting, colored pencil sketching, plaster casting, and decoupage…. all somehow still keeping a “Nature” focus.
The beauty of the long and slow “Scope Creep” that took place, at a tortoise pace, over decades of project and program evolution, is that from this process, came a new surprise: gone now are the days of budget-tight camp programs. Over the winter months, the Camp Leaders kept a surprise for me until my arrival: a brand new program area had been built! A “Frontier” theme program had been constructed in Honor of Fr. Larry who passed a few years ago, but not before coming to visit me as I toiled away in the craft lodge, and shared my decades-old dream and vision of being able to stretch beyond the “Nature Crafts” scope restrictions, and share with the children a love of the Heritage Arts. That evolution, and that blessed conversation, has now found a home! As leather & jewelry crafting is being co-taught with the skills of rabbitry, pioneer gardening, and mineralogy/gold panning …. It is now in a space that will have its own ability to grow and evolve over time: as a suitable home for the Heritage Arts and Pioneer Skills for decades of children to come (CND, 2013).
The Moral of the Story: Scope that creeps as slow as a tortoise – can evolve into hare-raising miracles!
CND (2013) Camp Notre Dame. Retrieved from http://CampNotreDame.com Facebook Photo Post: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=605101122842273&set=a.200562066629516.63251.200186030000453&type=1&theater