Barefoot Kids Brings Back Love for the Outdoors
By Rachel Bosworth
As local schools draw nearer to breaking for the summer, parents are looking for something to keep their kids active and occupied during those long, hot days. With a new generation born into a digital era, bogged down by electronics and the internet, the idea of spending time outside for some is a strange luxury. Fortunately, the East End affords those who live here, and those who travel hours to get here, the opportunity to become one with nature in so many ways, getting back to the times past of good old fashion neighborhood play. In an effort to bring back those simpler times, Barefoot Kids summer camp is opening for its fifth season.
“This is with first generation of kids being raised solidly on electronics, without the freedom of playing in neighborhoods, and alongside the birth of this new incarnation of helicopter parenting, something horrible is happening to childhood,” shares founder Victoria Kuss. “I decided it was a great time to do something, to offer kids a glimpse into the way we all grew up, and give them that experience.”
Children ages two to ten years old are invited to spend their summer days, or weeks, immersed in nature and imaginative play, while learning about the area’s history in interactive ways. “We have three basic elements to the rhythm of our day; learn, play, and be,” says Ms. Kuss. “We always start the morning with learning and a skill. We want [the kids] to have the information for curiosity to discover or create. They might learn about the original settlers in East Hampton, and then make soap, or learn about the Long Island Native Americans and make beaded items or wampum.”
The rest of a typical day includes neighborhood style outdoor play, with four to ten year olds working as a group to enjoy different themed activities each day. A giant homemade slip and slide with soap and bubbles and shaving cream is favorite among campers (don’t worry – Ms. Kuss says they’re all cleaned up before they go home), and other activities like gardening and cooking.
“We try to really drive home the idea of ‘clean eating’ here,” Ms. Kuss says. “We put these big pots of lettuce around, and let the kids peel off leaves, and everyone gets to roll them with the stuffings. We all sit in a circle and just talk, laugh or tell our favorite Grimms’ fairytales. It’s simple and sweet, but more importantly the kids really get more out of that quality time. Isn’t that what eating together is about?”
Outside of the main program, Ms. Kuss offers a traveling adventure program where students ages five to twelve are encouraged to explore. Studies include marine science, naturalist education, history, and survival skills. All of the children also have the opportunity to enjoy activities that best suit their individual needs.
“What’s unique about our philosophy, is that we gear the curriculum to the kids and it’s a breathable thing,” says Ms. Kuss. “If we know [a child] likes sharks for example, we’ll find really cool shark ideas to scatter in class throughout the week. We know these kids well by the end of the week, and they know they have a voice with us. They are connected and engaged, not just running from one scheduled thing to another.”
Possible outdoor adventures with the traveling program this year include a trip aboard the Long Island Aquarium’s Atlantis Explorer or a lesson at the Mashomack Preserve on Shelter Island. There are half and full day options for campers as well. Those who stay the full day may enjoy fishing, surfing, kayaking, and other water-based activities after lunch.
As the needs of every child differ, Ms. Kuss aims to provide those who attend Barefoot Kids some flexibility. Whether it be rescheduling days as a child gets sick or family comes to town, or offering extended day options like tutoring in math, English, history, French, and Latin, each program can be tailored to the individual child. New last year is a babysitting service.
“This is the second year of offering the Babysitting Club for our families; it’s super perk!” Ms. Kuss says. “It’s a relief too because all our sitters are CPR/AED/First Aid certified, and background checked of course, but they know your kids. The best part is that parents can request someone for the hours they need only, and they don’t need to have full time live-in help or send for someone in the city.”
2017 enrollment is open now. Camp runs from June 12 through September 1 this summer. Learn more about getting your kids outside this summer in a fun and healthy way by checking out thebarefootkids.com.