When Carleton students Bruce Ambuel ‘74 and Craig Sargent ‘74 received a grant to study birds in the Carleton College Arboretum in 1975, they had no idea that their study would give rise to Prairie and Wood (PAW), the summer-long, outdoor day camp for kids ages 5-12 on the Carleton campus. When Ambuel and Sargent started their study, they would often invite professors’ children to accompany them as they explored the Arboretum.  By the end of the summer, they had spent so much time with the kids that the bird study was never completed and they were forced to return the grant money.

Nowadays PAW is one of Carleton’s longest running community outreach programs (nearly forty years). The camp focuses on fostering an appreciation and understanding of the natural world in young children while being a fun, exciting, interactive experience. Starting in the summer of 2009, PAW started collaborating with the Northfield YMCA. The YMCA provides training and oversight for the Carleton students working as camp counselors over the summer. Additionally the PAW lead counselor meets with Arboretum Director every week to help plan the camp activities that make use of the Arboretum. Example camp activities include:

  • exploring  ecosystems including wetland, prairie, forest and lakeshore
  • learning about rocks, trees, animals, and other natural phenomena
  • creating environmentally oriented arts and crafts
  • conducting experiments with natural ingredients
  • looking for wildlife signs in the Arboretum
  • having a fun and educational summer!

At PAW, children interact with nature and each other, having fun, meaningful experiences that help shape their views of the natural world. Time spent outside, away from screens and surrounded by growing things is precious, and may be crucial to child development. In the long term, studies have shown that children who interact with nature from an early age are more psychologically resilient to trauma and negative experiences. Appreciation of nature learned through childhood experiences has life-long value, and helps produce well-rounded, educated adults who can better understand their environment and their impact on it.

Besides all these positive attributes, what better way for children to spend the summer than exploring the beautiful Carleton Arboretum with new friends?

“My appreciation for the arboretum has grown throughout my four years at Carleton.  I’ve been out there for every reason from exercise to schoolwork.  Planning and carrying out expeditions in the Arb for children this past summer at PAW gave me another valuable perspective.  The Arb has a huge capacity to inspire wonder and teach us lessons about our local natural world.  It’s an incredible resource, and it’s a lot of fun to explore, especially with tiny little 5-12 year old balls of energy.”

Drew Chambers ’10 (in red shirt at right foreground) worked as a PAW camp counselor in the summer 2009