Reflections on Farm Camp and formative experiences

Reflections on Farm Camp and formative experiences

  • posted on: October 3, 2017
  • posted by: Robin Crowder
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By Marshall Leroy. Marshall leads our youth education program on the 21 Acres’ Farm.

This year was my first year running the summer camp program at 21 Acres and I can’t help but reflect on the wonderful six weeks of camp we had this summer. Camp was a whirlwind of activities, games, cooking and exploration. One of the memories that best sticks out in my mind is the image of my campers sliding down the hill at the 21 Acres Center on old cardboard boxes. My campers went down that hill so often in such a fit of giggles and laughter that I don’t think there is any way they could forget that experience.

For at least some of my campers that memory will stay with them for the rest of their lives.  Our summer camps were full of moments like these, ones that will hopefully stick with the campers as they grow up and help form them into their adult selves. Moments like these are called formative experiences and when first designing my summer camps, or any of my other youth programs, I set out to build in these experiences. 

Formative experiences are the building blocks which make up people. They are the critical moments in a person’s life which ultimately inform their decisions and dictate their life choices. I remember hearing a story of my grandfather hitch-hiking from Oso to Spokane when he was 11 years old and along the way seeing the Grand Coulee dam. He was so astounded by the dam that he dedicated his life to becoming a civil engineer. My Grandfather’s experience at the Coulee dam was a formative experience. We all have these experiences, and as an educator I set out to use these to teach valuable, lasting lessons.

Another lesson I remember happened in our second week of camp. We created bug terrariums and for the rest of that week I could not get my campers to stop hunting bugs! I still remember Jenny’s smiling face as she showed me her mason jar full of bumble bees and lady bugs. (She then gently returned them to the wild of the farm.)

There were other experiences too, which were more intimate. Austin was a camper who was with us for a few weeks this summer. When Adam arrived, try as he might, he could not tie his shoes. I worked closely with Austin every day for a short while and by the end of his first week he had mastered his shoe-tying abilities.  Another camper, Sky, was dyslexic and had difficulty with our written observation assignments. River and I worked on these assignments together and had great conversations about the natural world and the farm.

Summer camp is about creating a space where campers can experience their environment, learn valuable lessons, and create positive memories. Going back to our cardboard sliding story, I thought of that idea on my way up to the Center this summer after a day of camp. I was observing the natural beauty of the short brown grass on the hill and remembered how much fun I had sliding down Forest Park hill as a child on similar grass. Our cardboard slide this summer was inspired by one of my own formative experiences. In fact most of the activities we did this summer were inspired by my childhood memories of summer camp.  With any luck some of my campers will grow up to be an educators, farmers, and environmentalists. I am sure that if they do they will do so because of the formative experiences they had here at camp.

If you’re interested in receiveing advance notice about next year’s farm camps, please send an email to: We’ll be sure to email you as soon as the dates are announced.