‘Into the Woods’ introduces local youth to the great outdoors

Ella Aube (right) and Mackenzie Koroll (left) pose for a photo at the Into the Woods outdoor day camp at Little Red on Thursday. The annual event is in its third year, and helps campers learn about the outdoors through hands on activities. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

It’s nearly noon at Little Red River Park, and roughly 90 youth ages 8-12 are giving the space a workout.

For the third straight year, Saskatoon-based outdoor learning team Wildernook Fresh Air has joined Prince Albert Playground leaders for a day camp that aims to help kids make friends, build confidence, and stretch their legs.

During a break in the action, playgrounds coordinator Janelle Scott says it makes for a hectic eight hours, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It definitely fills my heart with joy,” Scott says. “I love it. It’s probably my favourite day of the year. We’re very lucky with weather today, and it’s just great to see new faces, familiar faces too, just being outside and making friends and having lots of fun.”

Few groups, clubs, businesses, or organizations started during the first year of COVID-19, and even fewer thrived, but the Little Red River Park day camp, better known as Into the Woods, is an exception.

Camp registrations filled up the first day it was available in 2021, and that convinced organizers it had a long-term future in Prince Albert.

“Each year we’re really proud of the success,” says Claire Miller, the director of Wildernook Fresh Air Learning. “I think that first year we were like, ‘wow, this is awesome’, but we had to keep the groups small. We had to social distance. We had to do lots of hand sanitizing before eating, and then it’s gotten (to where) we’ve realized we have a great model that we can scale up.”

“I think it’s just a great opportunity for kids to have that outdoor education experience, make use of Little Red, and be here in the summer,” Scott says. “It also gives a chance for lots of kids from our playgrounds … just to come out and enjoy the space.”

Instructor Lynsey St. Germain (left) works with campers Loik Leachman (centre) and Sawyer Murphy (right) during a willow weaving session at Into the Woods. — Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Thursday’s camp featured a variety of activities, but they have one thing in common—hands on learning. Miller says all kids deserve to be outdoors during the summer, and it’s up to adults to help them learn and connect with meaningful activities.

That includes everything from learning how to read a compass, to creating art through willow making and weaving. Both of those learning opportunities are new this year, and Miller says they’re a great way to introduce local youth to the outdoors.

“We need to connect the dots so that they can be out (here),” she says. “I feel very joyful that they’re able to be out here learning, connecting and doing meaningful activities out in nature.”

Into the Woods aims to keep kids active while they learn, and that’s become even more important as video games, cell phones, and TV shows take up more and more time.

A recent study of physical activity and screen time found children and youth between the ages of five and 17 averaged around three hours of screen time per day. The recommended limit is two hours.

Miller says screens aren’t a bad thing, but too much time can displace outdoor activities. When children do get outside, as they are at Into the Woods, Miller says the results are positive.

“When we see them out here they’re engaged, they’re interested, they’re curious, they’re laughing, they’re playful, and part of it is it checks off a lot boxes for health and well-being,” she says. “It’s social play, it’s problem solving, it’s big body movements, it’s connecting to nature, it’s brand new scenery, so it can be stimulating and engaging for them, and meaningful as well for them on a lot of different levels.”

With another year of success under their belts, Miller is already planning for next summer. She says the goal is to keep bringing in new experiences so the youth can learn something different every year.

She’s also hopeful they’ll learn to appreciate Little Red.

“Little Red is such a gem spot close to Prince Albert and I think kids should grow up caring about it and knowing about it,” she explains. “I feel pretty satisfied that we’re able to pull this off, and I’m proud of the play leaders who are flexible and adaptable and keen to come out here with the kids they work with in the city.”