Nature-Deficit Disorder isn’t a medical condition. It’s a term that describes the trend that many children today have become detached from the natural world. The term was coined by author Richard Louv, in his book Last Child in the Woods – Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. According to Louv, kids who don’t spend enough time playing and exploring the outdoors can be more likely to experience attention difficulties, and have higher rates of physical and emotional illness.
So what’s the cure? Summer camp is a great antidote to fight Nature-Deficit Disorder. In 2017, camp plays a more important role than in the past in fostering children’s connection to nature. Kids have fewer opportunities than ever to organically be outdoors. Attending a summer camp advances the outdoor learning environment, especially a sleepaway camp like Camp North Star.
We are fortunate to sit on 200 picturesque acres in Poland Spring, Maine. Campers wake up every morning to the crisp Maine air and beautiful views of our 55 acre private lake. The North Star program places a strong emphasis on your typical outdoors activities. There are options in ropes course, rock climbing, outdoor living skills, campfire cooking and sailing. North Star’s staff also take advantage of bringing arts and enrichment classes outside. It’s typical to see a creative writing class meeting in our picnic area. Guitar classes are frequently held outside the jam factory, overlooking the lake. Art teachers enjoy using a shaded patch of grass as their classroom.
In his book, Louv sites an amazing array of studies linking nature experience and healthy child development, and concludes “I believe that offering children direct contact with nature— getting their feet wet and hands muddy— should be at the top of the list of vital camp experiences.” We couldn’t agree more at Camp North Star.
North Star campers are given countless opportunity to see what they’re missing during the school year and form connections with the natural world they may have never experienced before. We are proud to be a technology free camp. There’s rarely a complaint from campers about being “unplugged” from technology. The opposite is frequently true. Campers tell us they often enjoy their time at camp more because they are no electronic distractions, and that allows them more time to be outside.
Nature-Deficit Disorder can be fought during the school year too. Head outside as a family for a walk instead of turning on the TV. Go to a local park and play your favorite game. Find something outdoors that interests you and spend some intentional time with nature.
The health and welfare of our campers are always the number one priority at Camp North Star. Our experienced health center team keeps a watchful eye on our campers and staff. But it’s not just the responsibility of our nurses and doctors to ensure the health of our North Star community. Counselors, directors, support staff and food service staff work together to create a healthy environment every day. Here’s a few simple things we do daily to keep everyone healthy and happy.
Drink lots of water – It’s water that’s the key, not a sugary drink. With ice water stations throughout camp, it’s easy to stay hydrated. Whether it’s a hot day or typical mild Maine weather, we ensure our campers take lots of water breaks at every activity. In the Dining Hall, we offer fruit-infused water during meals and to fill up water bottles during the day.
Sleep – The benefits of sleep for children are well documented. Sleep protects their mental health, helps build up their resistance, gives them energy, and helps them grow. We have curfews that are age appropriate to give all of our campers the right amount of sleep so they are well rested for the next day.
Hand washing – It’s camp. We love it when campers get dirty. But after each activity and before a meal or snack, our campers wash their hands. We prefer our campers to use the old-fashioned technique of soap and water.
Sunscreen – We want our campers to enjoy being outside as much as possible. Whether the sun is shining or it’s a cloudy day, our campers wear and reapply sunscreen throughout the day. We also recommend our campers wear a hat when they participate in activities such as soccer and tennis. Extra sunscreen can always be found at the waterfront and athletic fields.
Healthy Diet – It’s crucial for our campers to refuel their bodies throughout the day. That’s why our food service staff prepares meals that are kid-friendly and healthy. There’s always options for protein at each meal along with fresh fruit. In between meals and snacks, campers can stop by the Dining Hall for a piece of whole fruit.
Proper Clothing – Campers want to dress comfortably. That’s important. It’s also essential they wear clothing that will help them avoid injuries. Sneakers and closed-toe shoes are proper footwear. Sprained or strained ankles are the most common camp injury. Wearing proper footwear can reduce the risk of an injury. Proper clothing is more than just footwear. Being covered from the sun and wearing light-colored t-shirts and shorts are important too.
When we keep our campers healthy, it means they are also happy and able to fully enjoy their activities. The steps we take to promote a healthy lifestyle isn’t just limited to the camp season. We hope our campers continue these habits back home.
Delicious meals, filling snacks and the overall food service experience is an important part of the camper’s day at Camp North Star. We go to great lengths to provide a healthy menu that is also kid friendly. But what constitutes a healthy menu for 7 – 17 year old boys and girls who are following an active schedule seven days a week?
For guidance we turned to the experts at Team Nutrition, an initiative of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service who define “healthy eating” in terms of five behaviors:
1. Eat a variety of foods.
2. Eat more fruits, vegetables, and grains.
3. Eat lower-fat foods more often.
4. Consume calcium-rich foods.
5. Be physically active.
This definition provided a foundation communicated through the My Plate Program.
With the help of a certified health coach, Camp North Star strives to provide meals and snacks that meet the USDA’s criteria. We did this by lowering or eliminating foods and drinks with high amounts of sugar, trans fats, food dyes and high fructose corn syrup. Instead, our camper and staff enjoy a salad bar featuring a wide variety of fresh vegetables and lean protein choices (low-fat cheese, legumes, eggs, and chicken) at every lunch and dinner. Chicken and other meats are grilled or baked instead of fried. Fruit infused water and 100% fruit juice are served instead of sugary punch drinks. Fresh fruit is available at every meal and throughout the day as a snack on the go.
It’s important for us to allow campers to create or continue to develop healthy eating habits while they are at Camp North Star. By offering so many nutritious choices, it’s common for even the pickiest of eaters to expand their palates during the summer with items such as Greek yogurt, hummus, guacamole, and falafel. And the benefits of healthy eating habits are well documented – mental well-being, ability to learn and concentrate, strong bones and muscles, good energy level, and the ability to fight off sickness and drive. Our number one responsibility at camp is the health and well being of our campers and being healthy includes a proper diet.
In 2016, Camp North Star became a nut-free camp. We do offer Sun Butter and Wow Butter which are allergy-friendly alternatives to peanut butter. There is one chef dedicated to campers and staff who have food allergies or intolerances. We are now able to accommodate those who need nut-free, gluten-free, and lactose-free food. There are also vegetarian options at every meal and snack.
Food service at Camp North Star is more than just about the menu, it’s about the whole experience around the meal. That means music, dancing, singing North Star songs and chants, and traditional hand clapping. Every meal is a chance for our community to come together as one and to spend quality time with fellow campers and staff while enjoying nutritious meals.