Without Trails

Nature Play Camp is the North Alabama Land Trust’s solution to late summer fun for kids.


Has the summer been flying by quickly for your family or are you counting down the days until school starts? My family is in time-is-running-out mode, with my son trying to savor the fun while I worry that I’ve made him a victim of the summer slide by not scheduling enough reading time or other learning activities. (It turns out my nostalgia for Pizza Hut’s reading program did not provide the motivation needed to reach the reading goals we set at the beginning of summer).

I’ve got a plan, though. I recently got a sneak peek at the Land Trust of North Alabama‘s upcoming summer camp, and it fits my family’s needs. And guess what, there are spots available because registration just opened!

What to Expect at Nature Play Camp

The kids will be out on the trail accompanied by knowledgeable adults to explore, learn about nature, and have loads of fun. Topics for the week will include water critters, fossils, being nature detectives, map reading, animal adaptations, tracks, scat, the magic of trees, and more! Along with all that exploration, kids will do puzzles, crafts, games, and lots of splashing in Fagan Creek.

All of the Land Trust events we have attended have been amazing, but this camp is especially exciting for my family because it is being led by a local environmental educator, Heather L. Montgomery.

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An Engaging Educator

Montgomery is an experienced environmental educator and one that I learned from when I was teaching twenty years ago. She is an author now, and my son and I adore her books. The knowledge and enthusiasm she has when teaching comes through in her writing. I have always remembered her amazing ability to hook students from the very beginning of a lesson or activity and keep them engaged throughout, and it’s no different with her books. When I learned that she was leading one of The Land Trust’s Tuesdays on the Trail excursions, I jumped at the chance to tag along to see her in action again. Her Tales and Trails hike this week was designed to get kids excited about nature and science but also reading and writing.

Learn more about the author and watch her videos at heatherlmontgomery.com.

The kids were encouraged to bring their favorite books to share, and Montgomery read her award-winning book Bugs Don’t Hug. The kids were sitting on large rocks around her and giving her their full attention. While hiking, she pointed out things to them like poison ivy and spiders, but the kids were encouraged to share their findings and ask questions.

Instead of just giving the kids answers immediately, Montgomery asked them questions to guide their thinking. She was helping them think like scientists. To help them investigate better, she gave each kid a loupe. A loupe is a small magnifying glass without a handle that can be placed directly around one’s eye. It is something jewelers might use, but I learned that day that it’s great for getting a closer look at insects underneath logs.

When someone spotted a slug, Montgomery told the kids that slugs are like taxis because mites catch a ride on slugs to get from place to place. She uses lots of analogies when teaching and writing to make concepts fun and memorable. She also provides the gross factor kids love. After reading from her book, she pulled out her journal and talked about how her writing helped her remember things but also how it helped her ask additional questions.

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Using a loupe to get a closer look at critters!

I know my kid will have fun at the Nature Play Camp, but with Heather Montgomery at the helm, he’ll be encouraged to pay attention, guided to think critically, inspired by nature and the language arts, and motivated to learn more – things that will help him prepare for the back-to-school transition. I don’t think the reading time they will do each day after lunch can count toward my son’s Pizza Hut Book It goal, but we’ll probably swing by and get a personal pan pizza after camp one day anyway.

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If your kids aren’t able to catch Montgomery on the trail, they can visit her website to watch a video of her reading Bugs Don’t Hug. She even has a video discussing analogies and how she uses them in her work.

Nature Play Camp Details

When: July 19-23, 2021 from 9:00 AM – 4:30 PM
Where: Monte Sano Nature Preserve (map)
Who: Kids ages 7-11
Cost: $250 for Land Trust Members, $300 for nonmembers (meals not provided)
Register Here

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Heather Morgan

Heather Morgan is from Enterprise, Alabama, but she traded the allergies of the coastal plain for the allergies of the Tennessee Valley. She is a former outdoor environmental educator who enjoys walking in the woods, splashing in creeks, and searching for insects, snakes, and other critters. When at home, she spends more time outside than in, especially in her pool or on her back porch where she can keep an eye on her bird feeders and her gardening fails. She and her husband moved to the Madison area 18 years ago after meeting at the University of Alabama. They, along with their 9-year-old son Luke and 13-year-old German Shepherd mix Anni, moved into Madison City proper in 2020. What Heather likes most about the area is the overall kid friendliness, the schools, and the abundance of natural and other green spaces. When she’s inside, she can be found cooking, reading nonfiction, daydreaming about international travel, and watching broody, British detective shows. She is a stay-at-home mom and Co-founder of I Vote Madison, a non-partisan voter engagement organization.

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