KEEN Teens Explore Washington State!
Venturing into the wilderness can be cathartic and exciting! For kids, it can be life-changing.
Every summer, KEEN's Education Director, Carlyn Saunders, organizes week-long adventures for kids ages 10-16. Each week, she takes them all over Washington State to go backpacking, caving, kayaking, rock climbing, and more. The truly incredible part of each trip is seeing the changes each child goes through in five short days.
Fear of heights is a common ailment amongst humans. And rightfully so! Being afraid of injury or worse is a survival technique humans have honed over millions of years and it helps keep us from doing dangerous things that could cause harm. But in today's world, children are often sheltered from risky activities. It's a more dangerous world to wander around in and many kids don't have access to safe neighborhoods to just run around and play.
At camp, acceptable risk is something that we pride ourselves on facilitating. We give kids opportunities to test their fears, their limits, and push the boundaries of their mind and body. At the beginning of camp, a child might be terrified of heights, having never gotten to challenge themselves safely. And by the end of the week, they are scaling 80 foot walls of rock or zipline across mountain gorges. They barely hesitate to jump off the platform, because they have learned that the reward far outweighs the risk involved.
Making friends as an adult is always a challenge. It seems daunting to simply walk up to someone and say, "You're cool, let's be friends." But to kids, it's natural. They only need an opportunity to find connection with someone and suddenly you would assume they've known each other for years.
At camp, kids often come knowing no one else and some come from completely different cities or states! They load up their gear into the camp van, sit down next to someone they've never meant and five days later, they're exchanging phone numbers and planning after school hangouts. They're asking each other for help pitching their tents, they get excited when they spot marmots running around the meadows, they take selfies together at waterfalls, and they sing Hamilton to pass the time on long paddles. Bonded by common experiences, they all become fast friends.
We are very lucky to live in a state like Washington with so many different environments. You could drive from one side of the state: arid scablands, grassy prairies, amongst tall ponderosa pines, through snow-capped volcanoes with their slow-moving glaciers, to rocky coastline and thick mossy rain forests. Each landscape as dramatic and awe-inspiring as the last. Most of the time it takes until well into adulthood for people to venture beyond their counties borders. But imagine the sense of adventure we could have if that was fostered at a younger age. What if children got to experience the magic of our natural world?
At camp, kids get to feel small in this big world, dwarfed by massive trees and mountains that touch the sky. They get to see the colors of their crayons displayed in our wild places; the way glacial till turns lakes green or the vibrant neon green of lichens or the fire reds of fungi. They get to experience hard work to see an amazing vista, appreciate their bodies for getting them through an underground cave, and welcome a helping hand moving kayaks into the waiting tide.