Sarah Ney, The Wildlings Camp
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I started in Molecular Biology and Genetics, went into Environmental Sciences and then completed a diploma in Environmental Engineering. I worked with Environment Canada for a little bit and then worked in Germany for a while. I always ended up getting frustrated because changing an adult’s mind is very difficult. I decided that I love being around kids and I love teaching so I should focus on that. I then started teaching skiing in the Alps and once I got home I started this mind map in my head. I really wanted to do this, it just took me a bit to get the confidence. When I launched it, it was really scary, but I’m so happy I did it.
What makes this camp so unique is that we focus on independent learning and we strive off each of our instructor’s backgrounds. For example, Leigh has been a lifeguard since she was fifteen, so we focus on all the first aid she can teach the kids. Bianca is a yoga instructor and she is good with breathing exercises to calm down the kids and do yoga with them. For me, I have been in the scientific area for a long time (Aquatic Biology) so my main focus is teaching the kids how to respect nature and remember we’re not on top, we’re a part of it and it’s our job to take care of the earth.
Why do you think there is a need for a camp centered around outdoor experiences in South Georgian Bay?
For South Georgian Bay, it’s important because we live in nature’s playground. It’s important to get the kids outside and for them to have the confidence and the independence to go by themselves; and for their parents to know that they’re safe. We teach the kids about water safety, how to use a compass, what to do when you get lost, and what happens if your friend hits their head. Everything like that so if the parents want to drop them off at a hiking trail when they’re twelve years old, they’re going to be okay. They need to go back to the classroom, school is super important, but they also need to be outside and using their imagination and being with one another.
What are your favourite programs you offer?
We have a skateboard camp which is really cool to see five year olds have no fear and send it down a ramp. It’s the craziest thing to watch. Also, I started off with Adventure Days which are 4 hour programs where we go and hike and learn specific wilderness skills. For example, how to start a fire with flint and steel. They also learn things about the cedar tree which offers so much for us health-wise. It’s been shown if you walk in a cedar forest it drops your anxiety about 30 percent. So, we have been teaching the kids about that and how it’s the tree of life for many Indigenous backgrounds. We focus on specific skills and lessons.
Tell us about your fall and winter programming.
We decided, with the pandemic, to launch a Wilderness School. The Wilderness School is basically getting the kids outside and taking their minds off the pandemic. The school takes their minds off masks and being worried and stressed out and allows them to be outside and enjoy time with their friends and other campers. It also will be more structured than our summer programs. It’s going to be mostly science based, they’re going to learn how to use a microscope, how to filter water (we’re going to make our own filtration systems), and they’re going to draw their own maps by using a compass and treasure maps. So, it’s a bit more structured, but it’s still kids running around the forest being wild and free.
What age group is the programming targeted at?
It’s 4-12 years old for the age groups we have focused on. We are offering a leadership program which is for 13-15 year olds and that’s going to be every Wednesday in September. That program is going to be a bit more hard core. They’re going to learn basic skills like how to change a tire, how to check the oil in your car. Also, we are hoping if we are able to in the winter, to take them camping.
Who would be interested in these camps?
I know this answer sounds funny, but everyone. Even kids who are very shy and don’t like the outdoors. I’ve had parents drop them off and say “they don’t like getting their hands dirty”. By the end of the day, they’re covered in mud or soot from the fire and they smell like campfire and they enjoy it. That’s because we instill confidence in the children that they are capable of doing anything if they put their mind to it.
Why is it important for children to have outdoor experiences and develop wilderness skills?
You can take the confidence and independence that you learn in the outdoor environment to anywhere these children are going to go. Such as the job market or going into school. If they can start a fire with flint and steel or a bow drill, I think they’ll be able to learn how to handle a bully. That’s giving them the confidence to say, “I may be five, but I just did that”. It’s important for them to believe in themselves and believe that they can do anything they put their mind to. Also, they need to know that just because they’re little doesn’t mean their opinion doesn’t matter.