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By Andrea Clemett

The Reserve at Rancho Mission Viejo kicked off the summer with a two-week day camp program with the goal of igniting creative learning while exploring the outdoors.

The first week’s theme centered on wildlife while the second week focused on how to survive the wild where campers aged 6 through 11 participated.

“During the first week, we were focusing on the adaptations because we’re talking about how animals are surviving in the wild,” said Laura Eisenberg, executive director of The Reserve and senior vice president of Open Space and Resource Management for Rancho Mission Viejo, LLC.

The camp captures elements of Esencia K-8 School’s curriculum that’s taught throughout the year in each grade and applies the themes in hands-on learning activities. The Reserve goes to the school and holds assemblies for students, giving an overview of information they will cover on their field trips. Each grade will study something different depending on what they are learning that year.

“Part of what we do today is take pieces of the school’s curriculum so we can teach it in our programs,” Eisenberg said, citing the study of how native plants adapt to survive in the local climate as an example.

Eisenberg said that their site has remained naturalistic and with the intention of being undeveloped but with a play area. Her staff wants to encourage the children to use their imaginations, such a building forts daily under the pepper trees.

The camp had roughly two dozen attendees depending on the week and day. Each day began with songs and stories followed by educational games and in the afternoon the campers delved into the themed activities.

“Part of our goals here are to introduce and establish a connection between the child and nature,” Eisenberg said. “You can’t appreciate something if you haven’t learned about it or cared for it. These kids that are here today will be the future naturalists and hopefully they will carry that connection with them for the rest of their lives.”

Inspired by the fourth-grade course “Native American Life,” children were encouraged to use their surroundings to construct natural resources. Such activities included lessons on creating shelters and solar-powered wells with rocks and plastic wrap to make a moisture enclosure.

Campers acquired fundamental skills of first aid throughout the program and concluded their studies with navigation, knot-tying and a visit from the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA).

“I moved into the area about a year and a half ago and got to know a bit about the program,” said Paul Hudyma, a volunteer with the school and summer programs. “I thought it would be something I really enjoy doing and a way to give back to the community. Now, I love doing it and the people I work with are super.”

The Reserve programs are all open to the general public where some will require pre-registration. Each program offers various discounted rates to those who qualify for the family-level supporter program.

Participants can refer to The Reserves’ calendar on its website for nature hikes, a fossil digging course that will investigate prehistoric life and a day of wildlife exploring in Orange County. For more info visit:

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