ORCHARD PARK, NY - This may look like a bunch of kids playing in the snow, but there's much more to it than that. These students are taking part in a recent winter camp prepared for them by Earth Spirit, a local environmental education service.
On this day, the group was building a simple snow shelter. Ryan Lohr, one of the students, describes what's going on. "Today we're making quinzees, which is a snow shelter. It looks much like an igloo, but it's not an igloo because it isn't made of ice, it's made of snow. We're also going to make a fire and have a cookout."
Kristin Santillo of the Orchard Park Recreation Department says it's a fun way to learn about some valuable skills that are quietly becoming lost in a blizzard of technology. "So much of our lives revolve around technology and being indoors and using the computer, which is great, but oftentimes they miss out on just being able to be a kid -- to explore the outdoor environment, to get outside and work with their hands, learn how to do things."
These aren't just skills kids can use in the woods; they're gaining important knowledge they can wield in every aspect of their lives.
"Skills out here can be applied to anything," says Jon Roth, one of Earth Spirit's dedicated educators. "You come out here and learn team work, team building, working with individuals, learning to resolve conflict with one another."
Santillo agrees: "The self-esteem, learning how to work with one another, and the teamwork and the conflict resolution, whether you figure out the design or how do we move snow from one place to another, they're all life skills that you don't learn when you're on technology, when you're using an I-Pad."
As they get older, many of these students will pass on the things they've learned to the next generation, perpetuating the health and stewardship of our planet, as well as the legacy of groups like Earth Spirit.
Jodie Kelly of Orchard Park is one of those budding stewards. "You can teach the kids and they'll learn from you, and they can do it," she said. "If the kids that we teach can take our places, that would be cool."
Ryan Lohr is also one of Earth Spirit's protégés." It feels good that we're helping to bring a new generation in and help the future in science."
Roth added, "It's like a little fire inside you, and once you get that fire inside you … you have to pass it on, you pass the torch onto somebody else, you spread that fire wider and wider, and pretty soon, the whole state will be in flames ... in a good way !"
Earth Spirit Educational Services offers a wide variety of outdoor programs for both schools and the public. For more information, visit their website at : www.earthspiritedu.org.