Emily Binford’s reflections from leading her first bilingual camping trip with Families in Nature
This fall, I taught nature lessons from our new Ecologist School Curriculum at TA Brown Elementary School. Mid-semester, we took a group of their families out to McKinney Falls State Park to camp, fish, hike, and enjoy some Texas beauty. It was my first time leading a camping trip for Families in Nature, and I learned just what it takes to lead a successful camping trip.
Here are some tips based on that experience.
1. Remember what it means to lead.
As the leader, you set the tone of the trip with your attitude. If you are relaxed and enthusiastic, your families will be too. If you express a sense of wonder about the world (“come look at this bug!”), so will your families. Make sure to check in with everyone to make sure they are comfortable and see if there is anything you can do to make the trip more enjoyable for them. Sometimes, your campers’ needs can be very simple and unexpected—especially with the young ones.
On this trip, one of the young girls was anxiously cleaning the dirt off the bottoms of her shoes, and her aunt was telling her not to bother because she was just going to get dirty again. But she said, “I don’t want to be dirty and get my house dirty!” I said, “it’s okay to be dirty when you’re camping! When you get home, you can take a shower and get clean.” Then, I showed her my sandy feet and said, “See, it’s fun to get dirty sometimes!” She smiled and, to my amazement, visibly relaxed. Later that day, I saw her sitting in the dirt playing with some blades of grass, perfectly content.
I was actually very surprised that this tactic worked! It was amazing to me that all she needed was permission to be dirty for her to be okay with it. Sometimes, all children (and adults!) need is the permission from the leader to feel comfortable.
2. Plan to be flexible.
Every leader is different, but in my opinion, having a schedule that is too packed can take away from a camping experience. We live in a world where every hour of our day is planned for, and that’s part of the beauty of camping—to be able to step away from all of that and be present in our physical world. That being said, I think it is nice to have a loose schedule with a few activities planned to keep everyone entertained.
You have to feel the group. On our full day on Saturday, we essentially had two day activities: playing in the water in the morning after breakfast, and fishing in the afternoon after lunch. A couple families wanted to go on hikes together on their own. I respected that, and made sure everyone had my number in case they needed me.
Our volunteer, Adam, taught all the families how fish, including how to bait the hook with our worms, then cast the line. One of the girls, 6 years old, had never been fishing before. She was a little nervous about it at the beginning, but once she got a hold of the process, she became so focused. She pulled fish after fish out of the water, hitting 9 total by the end of the afternoon! It warmed my heart to hear her mom tell her, “We’ll buy a rod for you when we get back! Now that I know that you like it, we can do it all the time!”
For first time campers, the activities that we do during our trips can be very formative, and it is an absolute joy to be a part of that. Having good options for fun outdoor activities is a must, and you can let your families decide what they are most interested in doing!
3. Take care of your volunteers.
I was fortunate enough to have two amazing volunteers, Adam and Claudia, during this trip. Without them, the trip wouldn’t have been nearly as fun or successful. Adam taught the families how to fish and look for fossils, and Claudia led some families on a “color hike” with paint swatches to entertain the kids, along with so much more throughout the trip.
I was nervous my volunteers would feel overworked or underappreciated, so I put a lot of effort into gauging how they were doing. It is probably a testament to Adam and Claudia, but they were so joyful the entire time. There was something very fulfilling about working with them, and I felt our bond grow over the common goal to help these families learn about the outdoors and have a good time.
One of my favorite moments of the trip was making sandwiches for Adam and Claudia. It was a simple sandwich, but delicious after a long morning. There was something very special about taking care of my volunteers in that way, and I think it created a sort of bond that carried through the rest of the trip.
I later had a realization that volunteers are there for a different reason than those just there to camp. Volunteers want to make an impact by helping families learn new outdoor skills and enjoy their time in nature. And ultimately, as leaders, we are there for the same reason. This shared purpose is very fulfilling, and if you can help your volunteers be more useful for that common goal, they will be happy.
4. Speak Spanish—even if it’s not perfect.
We live in Texas, home to millions of native Spanish speakers. When you lead a trip for Texas families, you are bound to have participants who are not as comfortable speaking English, or maybe don’t speak it at all! It can be intimidating to speak Spanish if you are not fluent, but your effort to connect on that level can make all the difference.
If you can muster, “como está?” or “necesita algo?” or “que delicioso!” when you try their food at the potluck, you will make Spanish speakers feel more welcome. If you can learn a little Spanish and be willing to speak it with an imperfect accent, you will make your Spanish-speaking guests feel more comfortable speaking English imperfectly. It is incredibly community-building to make an effort to speak a person’s native language.
It’s not only those that don’t speak English well that you will bond with, but also Spanish speakers that have grown up speaking English. One of our families was 100% bilingual, and when the mom heard me speak in Spanish to one of our families on the phone, she wanted to engage with me about it and ask where I had learned. We had never met before this trip, but we could build a relationship based on this mutual respect.
Having a bilingual trip, where everyone flows in and out of Spanish and English depending on the topic, is an incredible cultural experience. Texas is truly a bilingual state, and it’s amazing to have a campout that reflects that. Just by maintaining a bilingual environment, you help encourage native English speakers to get out of their comfort zone and practice their Spanish. This helps build strong communities across language barriers and helps everyone feel more comfortable and connected to one another.
These camping trips we have at Families in Nature can be formative experiences for both our participants and for us as leaders. With the right balance of preparation and flexibility, these trips are incredibly fun and help us bond as a nature-loving community. I hope these tips help you feel empowered to lead your own camping trip! If you need support, Families in Nature will be here to guide you.
Written by Emily Binford