Summer is here and I’m loving every minute of watching the kids play outside. I grew up exploring the woods in my backyard, wading in ponds, and climbing trees with my sister so naturally I’m a huge advocate of independent outdoor play. And after the Winter we had in Boston…we all can’t get enough of it. Recently we came across what I thought to be a truly innovative nature program for kids called TimberNook: The Ultimate Sensory Experience. I sat down with the founder Angie Hanscom (entrepreneur, author, pediatric occupational therapist, and mom of two creative children) to ask a variety of questions about understanding Play… the TimberNook way. It was really neat to hear her methodology; and it got me excited to sign my daughter up next summer…
MIM: Hi Angie, can you tell us a little about TimberNook?
ANGIE: Sure! TimberNook is the first developmental nature camp to spread internationally. When we speak of “developmental,” we are talking about a program that looks at every aspect of the growing child and fosters those skills. We want to encourage the building of strength, coordination, sensory skills, social skills, and even higher-level problem solving and creativity. It is also a chance for children to simply be kids in a world that lets fear often get in the way of development.
MIM: Can you talk more about the ways you use the environment as a 3rd teacher? In what ways is it integrated into play?
ANGIE: The environment inspires the child to play in different ways, depending on if you are near a creek, immersed in the woods, playing by giant mud puddles, or in a rock pit. The children will naturally bring elements of the natural world into their play. For instance, if children are playing by the brook, they’ll be much more likely to pick up sticks near by and build a dam. If they are playing in the woods, you’ll see children be more inclined to build forts and create their own little worlds. The environment plays a big part in setting the scene for children’s play ideas and schemes.
MIM: What does a typical camp day look for the kids?
ANGIE: We never repeat curriculum, so there is not a typical day for TimberNook. However, each day follows a similar flow. Often there is a morning “meeting” or circle, followed by a unique TimberNook experience that gets the children thinking in new ways. This flows into free play in different environmental settings.
MIM: I loved the way you encouraged campers to feel moss on a log barefoot. In what ways does unrestricted outdoor play help create a more confident, capable child?
“Balancing while wearing shoes is like playing the piano while wearing mittens.” – Katy Bowman, Biomechanics Expert
ANGIE: In so many ways! In fact, the developmental benefits of play outdoors are so numerous that I’ve written a book on the subject called, Balanced & Barefoot to be coming out with New Harbinger May of 2016. Unrestricted outdoor play develops the sensory and motor skills in children through healthy risk-taking and challenging their neurological system. It is beautiful to watch.
MIM: Can you discuss the safety measures in place to keep the campers safe? How far does “unrestricted” really go?
ANGIE: Good question. The children will naturally regulate their own abilities and most won’t challenge that until they are ready. However, there are many kids presenting with sensory issues these days that have less body awareness. We keep a close eye on children without them even knowing it and step in when a child is in need or at real risk.
MIM: What is the cost for a child to attend and what are the available time slots? Is it an overnight camp?
ANGIE: TimberNook is considered a program that typically runs during the day or in the evening hours. It can be in the form of a summer or seasonal camp, after-school or during school program, and even birthday parties. The cost varies depending on where TimberNook is located. Camps in California will cost more than camps in New Hampshire simply based on the market. We are very comparable to the prices of other day camps in the region.
MIM: Right now it looks like camps can be found in California, NH, Florida, North Carolina and Cleveland. Do you plan on expanding to other areas?
ANGIE: We are also in New Zealand. We are expanding all the time. In fact, we’ll be training more providers from different regions this October of 2015.
MIM: You call your camp owners/directors, Providers. How does one go about getting approved to be a Provider? What are some of the skills you look for in a Provider?
ANGIE: We look for people that have skills working with children, that are passionate about getting kids back outdoors, and those that show very strong leadership skills and/or management skills since TimberNook is also a business opportunity. We tend to attract a lot of therapists since more and more therapists are seeing the need for this type of program as prevention of the growing epidemic of children with sensory issues.
MIM: I enjoyed watching the video on your Facebook page of a child holding a provider’s hand as she walked on a log because she wanted to take the risk. Can you talk more about “regulated risks” for kids, why it’s important, and how we can encourage it while still keeping them safe?
This little girl wanted to take a risk. No one said, “be careful” or “that isn’t safe.” Instead, a staff member held her hand and said nothing — letting the little girl regulate her risk.
ANGIE: A child’s neurological system will naturally seek out the sensory input it needs on his own. For instance, if a child is spinning in circles, it is likely that he needs that sensory input at that time. If child is jumping off a small rock over and over, she is practicing that skill in order to get to the next developmental level. If a child is climbing a tree to a certain height, it is because he is strong and capable. My suggestion is the first time you can set limits if you feel uncomfortable and see how your child does. Then slowly phase yourself out and let them set the limits. However, it is important that you do place the trust in their hands for your child to develop the know-how on how to regulate their own risks.
MIM: What is your retention rate? Do TimberNook kids love it so much they ask to go back?
ANGIE: TimberNook kids not only thrive in this environment, but they are often sad when the week is over. One time, I was walking behind a little girl and her older brother as we walked back towards where the parents were waiting. The little girl said, “That was the best week ever! Wasn’t it?” The boy said, “Yes. I wish this camp was every week! We have to go to winter camp!”
Our retention rate is really high. At least 90% of campers come back year after year. One mother said to me, “TimberNook comes first when we plan for the summer months. Everything works around that.” Numerous parents have told me, “My kids would be devastated if they didn’t get into one of your camps.”
– MIM –
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