William Little can cross archery off his summer bucket list.
Little, who will be a fifth-grader at Trophy Club’s Lakeview Elementary School in the fall, last week shot a bow and arrow for the first time in his young life at Camp ECO, which stands for Enjoying the Challenges of the Outdoors.
The three-day summer camp at the Northwest school district’s Outdoor Learning Center introduced about 100 first- through fifth-grade students to a lot of outdoor activities and skills they’d never experienced before.
"Archery also that was new for me," Little said. "That was one of the things on my summer bucket list actually."
Little’s Lakeview fifth-grade classmate Jordan Nell didn’t mention if any of the activities at the camp were on her bucket list. But she did land a fishing line with a washer instead of a hook in a bucket marked as 250 points in a dry-land fishing reel casting competition.
"I got it farther than I usually do," Nell said. "I guess that means I’m getting better than at it."
For Nell, her enjoyment of the fishing lesson wasn’t measured in the distance covered by her rod, it was in the pleasure of learning by doing.
"In elementary school, you don’t usually get to work with tools," Nell said. "And I really like working with fishing rods."
It wasn’t just hypothetical fishing that camp participants did at this picturesque 193-acre site in Northlake. The ranch-style property had a stock pond where campers on the first day tried their best to hook catfish. Little got a bite from whatever he figured was a turtle.
"Everyone was fishing in the open and I knew the fish would get scared and go away," Little said of his near catch. "I found a place away from everybody in a tree’s shade and threw my line out."
CyLynn Braswell, curriculum coordinator of the Outdoor Learning Center, said the natural beauty and ranch-like buildings offer an ideal place for interdisciplinary learning all year round. During the school year, fourth-graders in the Northwest school district learn about Thoreau there, for example. And students from the district’s STEM program catapult pumpkins there during the science and engineering program’s fall festival.
"This is a beautiful place," Braswell said. "The facilities are phenomenal and the natural flora and fauna are phenomenal. Our kids get to see things they’ve never seen before."
The learning doesn’t end in summer. This is the first year for Camp ECO and it should return next summer with more days and an expanded list of activities. At the inaugural camp, participants learned how to make bird houses from old fencing materials and how to pitch a camping tent. They got to see a falconry demonstration up close, and campers even got to try their hand at rock climbing.
"I think I might’ve liked the tent most of all because it’s easy to make a tent," Nell said. "I always thought it was hard. But you attach this to the ground, connect this and then get in it."
Rebecca Stebbins, a fourth-grader at Hughes Elementary School in Roanoke, liked the putting up the tents, too. Her team won the competition to most quickly pitch a tent correctly. "I really don’t think we could’ve won without all of us," Stebbins said. "If we had been arguing or we had only done one pole at a time we wouldn’t have gotten last place and wouldn’t have gotten anything accomplished."