October 4, 2006 | By: Carol Lea Spence

Roy Turley stands before fourth graders, two animal pelts in his hands. 

“Anyone know what these are?”

“Weasels!” comes the enthusiastic response.

“Right. Why would the one be white entirely?”

“Maybe it’s getting older,” reasons one child.

Turley shakes his head and says, “Not so much getting old.”

“Maybe it blends in with the snow?” is another child’s thought.

“Ah-hah! Very good. And what is another word for that?” asks Turley.

“Camouflage!” rings out in a chorus of young voices.

For Turley, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension agent for 4-H youth development in Clark County, this is just one of many classes he’ll teach to students over the course of the 2006-2007 school year. But these children find it all new and, more importantly, exciting because of where they are – camp. 

That’s right. Even though the school year is in full swing and memories of summer vacations and activities are quickly fading, these children are in camp – 4-H Environmental Education Camp. And that change in their own environment – from the classroom to the great outdoors – seems to make all the difference in the learning experience for many of them.

Tammy Fultz, Boone County’s 4-H youth development program assistant, is spending six weeks this fall bringing children from her county’s schools to North Central 4-H camp, one of the four camps that are home to the program. The others are Feltner 4-H Camp in Laurel County, Lake Cumberland 4-H Camp in Russell County and West Kentucky 4-H Camp in Hopkins County, all of which are owned and operated by UK. Fultz thinks the program is “fabulous.” 

“The 4-H way is the experiential learning process and we’re really keen on that,” she said. “This is the place to learn about the environment. Because you can see it, touch it, 
feel it, smell it. Sometimes you can even taste it. It’s totally different than being in your classroom every day.”

4-H Environmental Education Camps offer teachers opportunities to build on standard classroom curricula by exposing their students to hands-on learning situations. Youth get their hands dirty quickly during courses in animal tracks, pond and wetland studies, soil, insects, wild plants and forestry. And when students return home, they carry with them an appreciation for more than just the natural world. Camp instructors also wrap the humanities into the curriculum by connecting the natural world of today with things the first settlers experienced. History is easily absorbed when tales of Daniel Boone mingle with the sparks of an evening’s campfire. And when they return to the classroom, writing skills are honed as students condense their experiences onto paper.

Camp classes are designed to augment Kentucky Education Reform Act’s core content and are the result of a cooperative effort between teachers, 4-H agents and camp directors. Jennifer Lynn, director of the North-Central 4-H Environmental Education Camp, said “information is shared all the way around,” which accommodates a wide variety of subject matter.

“If they (teachers) have a particular thing that they want to hit in the core content,” she said, “then we try to come up with an instructor and a lesson to go with that.”

In the case of a recent visit by Turley’s Clark County group, 12 separate courses were being taught over a period of a day and a half. In a situation like that, Lynn said that instructors would be drawn from all quarters, with teachers from the school teaching some of the classes, volunteer leaders teaching others, and Extension agents and staff from the camp and the Kentucky Division of Forestry taking on the rest.

Schools have the option to send students for one day or longer. Lynn says she has seen a difference between groups who spend a few hours and those who stay overnight.

“In my opinion, the glue that seals it is spending the night here. When they spend the night, they seem to care more about the environment. It carries over into stewardship more because this is now a place you’ve lived,” she explained. “We don’t ever focus on that, but it is what happens. I have day groups that come here and for them, it’s just like another field trip. They come here, they go through a couple of classes, they go home. And it doesn’t seal it in their brains and hearts. But when they actually spend the night here, there’s something about that that makes it a whole different experience. Because now they’ve stayed here, they’ve lived here. Even if it was just one night, it makes a huge difference.”

To Lynn and to the others involved in this type of experiential education, that difference can have a far-reaching impact.

“Basically, we’re just trying to make children better stewards of the environment,” Lynn said.”

According to Boone County’s Fultz, it won’t take a generation to see the results of their work.

“If we work through the children, they’ll go home and teach their parents,” she said. “We don’t even have to wait for them to grow up to really reap the benefits. I’ll bet there isn’t a kid in here who will stand by and let their parents pour used oil on the ground. Not one. I mean, it’s awesome.”


Jennifer Lynn, 859-289-5308, Roy Turley, 859-744-4682, Tammy Fultz, 859-586-6101