What is TimberNook?
TimberNook is a brand of nature-based, outdoor children’s camps started in 2009 by pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom. Angela noticed that her children’s friends seemed to have poor balance and coordination, showed reduced physical strength, and had trouble thinking in creative ways. At the same time, it appeared that very few children were playing outside anymore.
Angela observed local schools and found that her suspicions held true even in this broader arena. In addition, teachers were complaining that children were getting more aggressive on the playground, and modifications had to be made to the classrooms to get children to pay attention.
Using her roots in occupational therapy and her background in kinesiology, Angela created TimberNook: a program which placed children outdoors while enhancing and fostering child development.
Not your typical camp experience
TimberNook is not your typical nature program. TimberNook intricately weaves the therapeutic aspects of nature with its unique understanding of child development to create an outdoor program that supports every aspect of the growing child. This is done by skillfully using the environment as inspiration for creative play opportunities that challenge the mind, body, and senses.
Each TimberNook program begins with an experience which is unique to that location, provider, and group of children. Often the journey begins with a story which relates to, explains, or expands upon the experience. For example, children might be read the story Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, and then encouraged to use found objects (natural items, recyclables, toys, or craft items) to make a project like the ones made by the character in the book. Or, having read Jack and the Beanstalk, children may be encouraged to build castles, create and climb beanstalks, or make giant feet and stomp around.
Childhood creativity: unleashed
TimberNook is unique in that, while the experiences are adult-led, there are no firm requirements and the goal is to unleash the children’s own creativity, not have them make a rote copy of a demonstration craft.
The children are provided with “loose parts”, which can be anything in the environment from foam disks to rope to inflatables to feathers to scraps of fabric to pieces of wood or stone. Campers are given a suggestion as to what to do with these items, but they are then allowed to engage with the loose parts and the environment in any way they desire. Through this process, the experiences move into an activity called “free play”, which is as empowering as it sounds: within certain rules (be within sight of an adult, and respect each other), children can do anything they want, with anything they want.
It sounds like a recipe for chaos, but children will surprise you: working together (and developing vital social skills such as empathy, cooperation and negotiation) during free play, children build bridges and costumes, make soup, have parades, create and run stores and villages, explore castles, design and build machines, and explore the universe in a safe and creative space.
Even children who choose to “just run around” are still growing, challenging their physical limits and improving balance, coordination, visual and auditory processing skills, physical strength and confidence.
The natural spaces of TimberNook expose them to things they’d never encounter indoors: tree limbs, bodies of water, insects, wildlife, rocks, sand, dirt, and mud, glorious mud. Adults who grew up prior to the rise of electronic toys may be surprised by how little exposure today’s children have to simple things like mud and getting dirty. Do you really want your child to miss out on the delightful experience of coming home covered in mud, with bugs in their hair and rocks in their pockets? (Your washing machine will probably survive the experience, and so will you.)
Children also meet and engage with kids a little older, or a little younger, than themselves. “Multi-age groups” of kids used to play together all the time, but now children are often locked into class and group experiences with only children their own age.
TimberNook camps allow children to interact with playmates of differing sizes, shapes, mental development and physical ability levels – vital skills which will be required to interact with friends at school, coworkers in the workplace, or people in the neighborhood. Older kids may take on leadership roles, guiding the younger ones. Younger children may challenge themselves more if they see older kids performing an activity they would like to enjoy too.
There are adults available if the unforeseen occurs, but they do their best to stay out of the way and let kids be kids. The kids don’t seem to suffer much for the lack of grown-up oversight, and safety is still maintained: TimberNook has no greater a rate of “boo-boos” than any other gathering of children, and in some cases much less.
TimberNook camps are run all over the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, with more providers becoming certified each year. Camps vary in length from one to five days, and “experiences” vary from location to location, but all are designed to inspire learning and creativity, a love of the outdoors, and a sense of custodianship for nature. In part to encourage creativity and truly free play, TimberNook is a “parent-free zone”, but you will hear all about what happened from excited campers after camp is over!
Click here to find a TimberNook provider near you. For our Orlando-based readers, head over to TimberNookOrlando.com to learn about all of the fun and educational programming we’ll be offering throughout the year!