Oxbow Odyssey: From Curiosity to Confidence at Summer Camp

Dawn of Discovery

On the first morning of camp, nervous anticipation surges among kids like a rising tide as parents and guardians drop them off with a cheerful “Bon voyage!” Questions flood in: What adventures await? Who will join? Campers ponder the potential risks, possible rewards, knowledge to be gained, and epic stories to be told. Amidst it all looms the biggest question: Will it be fun?

Campers pause from playing on the “Oxboat” to smile for a snapshot.

From a kiddo’s perspective, summer camp may feel like an expedition into uncharted territories. Venturing into new relationships with unfamiliar people and places is often a mix of “Whoa, I’m not sure about this…” and “Wow, I’ve got this!”

In this new world of discovery, they’re not alone. At Oxbow’s Summer Farm Camp, kids are expertly guided by our experienced outdoor educators, who create a secure and welcoming environment where every camper is encouraged to follow their curiosity, engage with the vibrant life of Oxbow’s farm fields and forest, and forge bonds with fellow explorers.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Kids find interacting, collaborating, and learning much more fun when they have the freedom to make their own choices and blaze a trail together.

The Oxbow Summer Farm Camp experience begins with campers coming together in small groups of 12, each anchored by an educator who serves more as a facilitator than a director. Group names and rules are not handed down from above; instead, our educators encourage a collaborative space where campers are empowered to express their interests and play an active role in crafting their unique group identity. Through cooperative discussion, kids create a group name and design community agreements that reflect their shared priorities for safety and fun. This approach gives campers agency to articulate and decide on what matters most to them, establishing a sense of ownership over their experience.

Campers’ camaraderie grows with collaboration.


Oxbow Environmental Educator Momo Suzuki shares important insights into this process:

“When brainstorming sessions begin, there’s always a mix of enthusiasm and bashfulness: some kids are eager—even stubborn—about sharing their ideas, while others are more reserved and struggle to be heard over the bustle. The instructor’s role is to guide the group towards compromise, cultivate a dialogue where every child is heard, and instill excitement and encouragement that invite quieter members to contribute.

The goal isn’t just to decide on a good name; it’s to ensure that each kid feels like a valued member of the group, taking part in shaping their camp experience and feeling a sense of ownership over it.”

Momo recalls the energetic buzz and collective enthusiasm sparked by the “Resilient Rad-berries” group naming process:

“As the campers gathered to brainstorm a group name, ideas swarmed and thoughts meandered. I gently guided them by asking focused questions and echoing their suggestions, even repeating ideas that might have been overlooked, especially those from quieter kids: ‘I hear a variety of farm produce mentioned – is there one you all favor?’ ‘What’s an adjective that describes this?’ ‘Any tweaks to make the name resonate more with you?’ ‘That’s catchy alliteration!'”

When the group mutually landed on the name “Resilient Rad-berries,” they had built up an extraordinary level of excitement and commitment among them. They decided to illustrate their community agreements with raspberries representing behaviors and attitudes they believed would make the summer camp week safe and fun for everyone.  Raspberries wearing sunglasses became a symbol of the group’s shared identity. For the rest of the week, they grew closer and more excited as they found ways to infuse a raspberry twist into all their activities, whether they were playing games, creating art, or concocting homemade popsicles together.

Resilient Rad-berries Community Agreement

The camper-led farmers market has become a cherished tradition on the final day of camp. Together, each group member decides on their market contributions, ranging from freshly plucked flowers and vegetables to homemade teas, jams, pickles, and even handcrafted bracelets and trinkets. Campers team up to decorate their space  and decide on the value of their offerings, trading them for anything from a funny joke to a round of jumping jacks.


Momo reflects on the inspiring level of independence displayed by the “Resilient Rad-berries” during their farmers market preparations:

“The group not only decided on a theme but also proposed projects that played to their individual skills and past experiences, from folding origami containers for berries to braiding decorative streamers and illustrating signs. The support and encouragement they showed each other was truly heartwarming and surprising considering that it had only been 5 days. I think the group-naming and community agreement activity really set the tone for the week, where campers showed up to make intentional decisions about how they treated each other.”

This story underscores how giving kids a say not only boosts their confidence but also ramps up their enthusiasm to share and engage in activities. Cultivating an affirming culture where campers feel comfortable speaking up, collaborating, and showcasing their unique talents is what makes Oxbow not just a fun place to be, but a place to belong.

Play With Purpose

“Play is how we learn. It’s how we investigate the world around us, explore our potential, test our boundaries, and practice all kinds of mental, emotional, physical, and social skills.”

-Kent Chapple, Oxbow Education Program Manager

The “Resilient Rad-berries” are just one example of how a group can chart its own course of fun and collect new concepts and skills on a learning journey that feels more like play than education.

Oxbow’s magical maze of vine tunnels, vibrant edible garden, enchanting forest, and peaceful lake offer a dynamic landscape for exploration and discovery that intrigues children’s various interests. Our educators practice an inquiry-based learning approach that invites kids to follow their unique curiosities through questions and sensory prompts that engage all 5 senses and deepen campers’ awareness of their environment. Kids often want to know the names of plants or get straightforward answers, but our educators nudge campers toward insightful observations through questions like, “What do you notice about it?”, “What might that mean?”, and “Why do you think it’s like that?”

By redirecting focus towards sensory exploration and thoughtful analysis, campers become fully immersed in their surroundings, unlocking prior knowledge to construct new ideas and decipher the world on their own terms. This hands-on, minds-on approach turns learning into a fun, full-bodied adventure! For example:

  • Eating produce they personally plucked from the fields not only opens campers to fresh flavors; it sows curiosity and connections about food and ecosystems, from underground allies like worms, to pollinating partners like bats and bees, all culminating in a greater understanding and gratitude for each tiny seed’s path to the meals we enjoy.
  • A simple activity like wreath-making offers a playful way to weave more than just branches—it can intertwine practical lessons about plant identification, understanding life cycles, fostering resourcefulness, and celebrating the changing seasons, all through the delight of handmade craft.
  • The communal creation of “Stone Soup” by campers is more than a culinary hodgepodge; it’s a tangible expression of both storytelling magic and the spirit of sharing, illustrating that even modest offerings can create something rich and fulfilling.


Relationships Bloom When Cultivated with Curiosity

The more courageous, comfortable, and curious kids (and adults, for that matter) become in exploring the unknown, the more connections they make between themselves and their environment. They learn to appreciate and care for the web of life that includes everything from their own place in the ecosystem to the fruits and vegetables on their plates, and the tiny birds who help pollinate plants and balance insect populations, including Bartholomew.

Bartholomew, a Brown-headed cowbird who quickly won the hearts of campers, was found during Opening Circle with his feet ensnared in twine. Following the bird’s rescue by Oxbow’s Site Team, a wave of curiosity swept over the kids. Throughout the entire day they were overheard pondering: “I wonder how he’s doing?” “Do you know what kind of bird he is?” “Does he have enough to eat?”  “Did he come to Opening Circle for us to save him?” The campers’ concern turned into a heartfelt quest to understand how to care for and protect their new feathered friend.

Gratitude for Bartholomew’s guardians.

Instead of simply answering the campers’ questions, Oxbow’s educators encouraged the kids to think like scientists and discover Bartholomew’s story through their own imaginative hypotheses and deductions.

During this process, and others like it, our educators focus on the excitement of inquiry and the spontaneity of outdoor learning. They emphasize that every guess, right or wrong, contributes to a deeper and more meaningful relationship with their environment.

Returning Home

After their summer farm camp adventure at Oxbow, as campers settle back into their daily routines, home may feel different. They might be more involved in dinner preparations, eager to share a pesto recipe straight from the farm’s bounty, or they’re buzzing with ideas to transform the backyard into a home for bees with native, pollinator-friendly plants. Their backpacks could be filled with oodles of squash and a slew of stories detailing personal achievements like crafting a fairy house, finding a beaver dam, magnifying a bug up close, and sharing inside jokes with new pals. When asked about the impact of camp on home life, Duy Tran, father of two campers, responded:

“The outdoors are an important part of our lives, and Oxbow’s Summer Farm Camp has reinforced its importance and introduced a new level of empowerment for my kids. For example, we have three garden beds at home and the kids are so much more eager to not just participate but take ownership of deciding what our Fall garden plans will be.”

Ready to discover the stories and skills your child will harvest?
Join the journey!