Prospect Park camp gets kids outdoors

The two-week camp separates kids from technology to connect with nature.

Campers are taught dance moves at All in the Circle Nature Camp at Prospect Park United Methodist Church on Monday morning. The camp, offered to kids in first through eighth grade, aims to connect children with nature and create a culture of kindness.

Maddy Fox

Campers are taught dance moves at All in the Circle Nature Camp at Prospect Park United Methodist Church on Monday morning. The camp, offered to kids in first through eighth grade, aims to connect children with nature and create a culture of kindness.

Raju Chaduvula

In a church hall, the sound of reverberating drumbeats cued the beginning of festivities at a new kids’ camp in Prospect Park.

Previously held in Wayzata and Minnetonka for the past seven years, the camp — Creative Arts and Nature Camp — made its Minneapolis debut on Monday, catering to youth with an all-day, two-week program Monday at Prospect Park United Methodist Church. The camp is run by Minnesota Interfaith Light and Power.

AJ Pratt, artistic director and founder of the camp, said she created the camp to help children connect with nature.

“There’s so much fear that kids can’t run free in nature … They stay inside [and] connect to technology,” AJ Pratt said.

At the camp, children camp-goers aren’t allowed to carry cellphones during activities and programs.

Erin Pratt, co-founder of the camp and one of its teachers, said the camp teaches kids social and communication skills through nature. Both AJ and Erin — whose background is in nature therapy — said research shows free-play in nature helps develop cognitive and social skills in children.

The camp’s leaders decided to expand their program by choosing an urban setting for a change, AJ Pratt said.

“We wanted to offer this model to other communities in urban settings … to give kids who might not have an experience connecting with the natural world an opportunity in their backyard,” Erin Pratt said.

AJ Pratt said students are taught music with instruments like xylophones and drums, so anyone can play regardless of skill level.

Another one of the biggest projects children will work on, she said, is large-scale puppetry by building papier-mache birds.

Douglas Freeman, a sculptor living in Prospect Park and one of the camp’s art teachers, said although he works mainly with sculptures, puppetry gives him the chance to teach children about transforming what they see in nature into something physical.

“I try to teach them how an artist thinks,” Freeman said.

The camp was also given access to the iconic Witch’s Hat Tower in Prospect Park.

AJ Pratt said taking the children up the tower not only gives them a bird’s-eye view but also helps teach them about how interconnected the urban landscape is.

Cathy Velasquez Eberhart, a board member with the Prospect Park United Methodist Church, said the church would be interested in continuing the camp, or something similar to it, if they can afford it.

Richard Adams, a board member with the Prospect Park Association, said PPA supported the camp and its efforts to access the tower.

“Youth-oriented activities, children-based programs are a good thing,” Adams said.

In addition, outdoor activities and arts and crafts are initiatives the PPA board supports in the community.

The camp currently attracts nearly 50 children from first to eighth grade and has nearly 10 high school students as counselors.