You've most likely had an article written by Angela Hanscom, OTR/L come across your Facebook feed. Two of her posts, Why Children Fidget: And what we can do about it and Kindergarten and the Big Divide, have seen wide circulation.
The common thread in her writing is that spending time in the outdoors can be a powerful, natural way to foster healthy development in children. Her message is hitting a national nerve, as occupational therapists around the country, and literally around the world, are seeing evidence on their caseloads that kids do have not have the same opportunities they once did for unstructured, risk-taking outdoor play and that this is impacting their physical and psychological health.
Identifying a problem is one thing, but being part of a solution is on a whole different plane.
Six years ago, Angela founded a local summer camp called TimberNook, to meet the need of her local community. The concept was simple: 1 week, 20 kids, outdoor creative play in the form a day camp. The response from the individuals who participated and the resulting growth of the program is evidence that her programs are meeting a national need.
What really sets TimberNook programming apart is the therapeutic underpinnings. For instance, on the surface children might be building giant houses out of bricks, hay, and sticks to reenact the story of the 3 Little Pigs, but the programming is chosen very specifically for the heavy work, fine motor components, attention requirements, sensory opportunities and overall just-right challenge it provides. With these foundational skills activated, the camps provides a ripe opportunity for also fostering higher level social, cognitive and creative skills.
TimberNook camps are now in New Zealand and soon to be in Australia. There are 6 locations licensed in the US, with 7 more providers being trained this summer. The program has expanded from summer camps to include after school programs and birthday parties.
If, as an OT, you are seeing a similar need on your caseload and/or in your community and you've had an itch to do something about it, TimberNook is a great avenue to explore. There are several ways to join the TimberNook community and be a part of this movement.
Thank you to Angela for taking to time chat with me and helping me flush out the below options!
One way to dip your toes into nature-based therapy programming is to simply follow what is happening at TimberNook through Facebook, the newsletter and the blog. By following the site, I have been exposed to new language, research and articles to help quantify and define the value of outdoor, unstructured play.
As someone with an in interest in summer camps and a toddler of my own. I am personally at this stage, with the possibility of becoming more involved in the summer camp scene later in life.
Observe/Volunteer/Work at a TimberNook camp
If you live in New Hampshire, California, Ohio or Florida— or you're willing to travel— spending time at a TimberNook camp is the best way to learn about the offerings. There are several options for what capacity you could be involved in programming. Many of the programs are relatively new and I’m guessing the best way to get involved would simply be to give them a call about volunteering, observing or working at a camp.
Here is a one prospective occupational therapy student’s experience with volunteering at a TimberNook camp.
Apply to be trained as a TimberNook Provider
A TimberNook provider is someone who is licensed to start a new TimberNook camp in their geographical area. Essentially, it is starting up a small business— but with marketing, planning, email, logo, IT, and curriculum support.
Approximately 75% of current providers are occupational therapists or speech therapists. "Therapists make strong candidates because they already understand the underlying therapeutic piece," Angela explained.
Providers are selected through an application process. After submitting an application, prospective providers go through an interview process to assure goodness of fit. “We are looking for people who have a leadership or business background, in addition to a background in working with children: they have to be a good match,” said Angela.
The provider also needs access to land, as this time outdoors an essential part of programming. Many of the current providers rent their land.
After being approved through the application process, providers travel to Barrington New Hampshire to train for a week at TimberNook Headquarters. During the mornings, the providers get immersed in the TimberNook program, in the afternoons the training is focused on the business aspect and processing the events of the morning.
When a new provider is ready to launch their site, someone from the core TimberNook team will travel to the launch to help them kick-off their program for the first three days to ensure there is good carry over.
After the initial training and launch there is ongoing support and ongoing training. This year the first TimberNook Conference will be held in New Hampshire. “There is a lot of support and collaboration when you train with people from all over the US," said Angela. "You are in it with other people.”
Host a camp through your pediatric clinic
Some pediatric therapy clinics are licensing TimberNook as a prevention program for their communities. The idea being that the natural opporunities for exercise, social skill development, sensory integration, may help prevent some children from being on a therapy caseload. Granted a week alone may not do this, but the camp is about more than one week in the outdoors. TimberNook is about igniting a new mentality about outdoor play and cultivating the play skills that children need so desperately, but can easily be neglected.
- The TimberNook website.
- AOTA members can access the Dec. 2014 Sensory Integration SIS Quarterly: Using Occupational Therapy Principles in Developing a Nature Camp for All Children
- Scott Harmon interviewed Angela on his podcast. You can listen at Start a Therapy Practice for an even more in depth conversation about the business aspects of TimberNook.