Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
For the JG-TC
MATTOON — The forest smells of recently fallen rain as children of the Storytime Safari Camp stomp through the muddy trails of the Douglas-Hart Nature Center on Wednesday.
For ages between 5 and 7, the Storytime Safari Camp chooses a different story to be the theme of the day, according to Jennifer Tariq, education director at the Douglas-Hart Nature Center. This year, a total of 13 campers spent the day participating in various activities like creating arts and crafts, exploring the nature center, and reading.
“If I start them on the right foot with exploring and inquiry, then it sets them on the right foot for the future,” Tariq said.
As Tariq takes them toward a pond off the Woodland Loop, numerous campers come up to her and ask questions about fossils and composite rocks. One even asks if he can feed incoming geese, to which Tariq says to wait for the geese to reach the shore.
“For the most part (the children) do really well. It is just minor things, and we would like to keep it that way,” Tariq said.
Sometimes, the children can be feisty, according to Addy Diener, a second-year volunteer at the nature center.
“Yesterday we were playing a game and a girl just started yelling,” Diener recalled.
When a camper is disruptive, they are usually taken aside in order to make sure whether there is a cause for their actions, according to Diener.
For Diener, there are rewards that make the job worthwhile.
“I like it when the kids come and hug me because it makes me feel loved,” Diener said.
After the campers finish feeding the geese, they run off toward a floating pond dock where they can see turtles of different sizes in the water.
A few ask if they can see a particular snapping turtle named Fluffy, who was nicknamed four or five years ago by campers because of the moss growing on his shell, Tariq recalled.
“He’s our unofficial mascot, but he should be our official mascot,” Tariq said.
The campers point and shout at the smaller snapping turtles, but Fluffy does not make an appearance today. Usually the campers do not leave until after they have read a story, but Tariq wanted to avoid the rain.
Planning activities for the campers can be incredibly difficult, according to lead program educator Charlie Jaques.
“When you are planning for a camp, you have to plan for four hours. Kids run around and can be difficult to work with.”
Jaques said planning for the camp is a lot like creating a lesson plan for his science class at Charleston High School. While it keeps him busy, the job can be very gratifying.
“Making sure the campers have a good time is really rewarding. Also, the camp is a really good resource for families and educators,” Jaques said.