BEAVER BROOK: A camp where it’s all about exploring nature

HOLLIS – The summer may be half over, but there are still some openings in August classes at Beaver Brook Association. With programs like Forest Forts, Nature Detectives, Can You Survive It?, Drawn from Nature, and Point, Click and Share, children of all ages can still sign up to spend a week exploring nature at Beaver Brook.

“Studies have shown that being in nature and having unstructured playtime is pertinent to fighting childhood obesity and the electronic addiction problems we have,” said Celeste Philbrick Barr, director of education and community affairs at Beaver Brook.

The Journal spent a recent Friday morning visiting Beaver Brook. One class was on a whale-watching field trip, so most of the time was spent with the second, third and fourth graders in the Water Wonders class.

Angela Craggy has been teaching elementary school for 30 years, and is a paraprofessional at Captain Samuel Douglass Academy in Brookline during the school year. This is her 14th year teaching summer camp at Beaver Brook, and it is obvious how much she enjoys encouraging the children to explore nature.

“I was here last year,” said camper Jack Fallon. “I liked it and wanted to come back. I remember most of the things from last year, and I like hiking.”

His sister Nova is in Water Wonders for the first time, and said her favorite thing was also hiking, because she found porcupine quills, and then went fishing for crayfish.

Today the class spends some time exploring near the Maple Hill Barn – noticing how some tree limbs have entwined themselves around a manmade gazebo, creating a protective roof for a great picnic spot, and observing plants in the garden that an animal has chewed. A cool, shady area along a rock wall is known to be a popular hangout for snakes, and they don’t disappoint.

The class gets very excited as a black garden snake slithers across the grass and ducks between the rocks.

A taxidermy display has been set up in the yurt, and the class spends a few minutes looking at the animals, observing features, deciding whether an animal is prey or a predator, and choosing a favorite.

“I’m really proud of you,” says Craggy as she rounds up the class to leave the yurt. “The more you stood here, the more questions you had. You made very good observations.”

Next up is a long hike along the Whiting Trail to get to Spatterdock Pond. Along the way, everyone looks for frogs, salamanders, evidence of animal activity, and mushrooms. Staff member Stephanie Doyle is the resident mushroom expert, and she identifies most of the species found, including the coral mushroom, Boleti and Indian pipes.

“I love walking in the woods and seeing the animals, red efts, frogs, snakes, turtles and crayfish,” said Casey Trimper. “This is my first year of camp but I’ve been here for field trips before.”

His brother Murphy was also in the Water Wonders class, along with several other sibling pairs.

“I like everything here,” said Murphy, “but the thing I mostly like is hiking through the woods, exploring new things, and learning about animals.”

The group pauses quietly at the edge of Spatterdock Pond – and we’re in luck as the resident great blue heron swoops by. We pass around the binoculars to zoom in on the tree where it has landed. The sunny pond is full of water lilies, and croaking bullfrogs – a perfect spot to rest and enjoy a snack.

Just around the bend is the area for the highlight of the hike – wading in the water and scooping up crayfish. There are nets for scooping and buckets to put the catch in, so everyone can admire the specimens before tossing them back in the water. The children unanimously agree that this is their favorite part of the program.

Upon returning to Maple Hill Barn, it’s time for lunch on the lawn. Music is provided every Friday, and on this day, Amy Conley of Milford entertains with her guitar, banjo, harmonica, puppets and songs about bats, flowers, campfires.

Ginnie Hoffman, another long-time teacher, has her Nature Play is A-OK class out for the sing-along. These kindergarteners and first graders have been looking at the plants in the garden, making structures with seeds, dried beans and toothpicks, going on scavenger hunts, and making boats to float in the pond.

“The thing that was the most fun,” Hoffman said, “is that we made a face out of clay and put it on a tree. We put all kinds of features on it. When the kids come for classes next week they will see it. I try to teach the kids to become one with nature, to go outside more and be comfortable.”

Coming up in August are classes where campers can build a fort in the woods, practice survival skills, and learn how sketch and photograph nature.

For details on programs and how to register, go to