Outdoor summer camps curb nature-deficit disorder in children

Children spend six hours a day or more in front of a screen, according to a report by the BBC. They’re also “multi-screening” – using two digital devices at the same time. Screen time (i.e. watching TV, playing video games, using a cell phone, computer or tablet) has doubled among children aged 5 to 16 years old in the past 10 years, and led to a new childhood trend called nature-deficit disorder.

Described as a lack of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation, nature-deficit disorder is linked to obesity, depression and behavioural problems, says children advocacy expert and author Richard Louv.

“Children need nature for the healthy development of their senses, learning and creativity,” Louv writes in his bestseller Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Nature-deficit disorder can be curbed by exposing children to the outdoors and the healing qualities of nature; summer camp is one way to do this.

The City of Vaughan’s Recreation Services offers lots of outdoor options for kids this summer:

In celebration of its 25th anniversary, Camp Oradaca will feature exclusive programming, including a s’mores roast, visit by Reptilia, scavenger hunts, fishing trips, hikes, swimming and overnight camping. All registrants get an anniversary edition t-shirt and free passes to Toronto and Regional Conservation Authority parks and splash pads.


 The City’s newest summer camp – the sold-out Camp Compassion: Wishing Well Animal Sanctuary – demonstrates a demand for outdoor options. 

Camp Compassion is located at the Wishing Well Animal Sanctuary in Bradford – a scenic 51 acres that 70 rescued farmed animals call their forever home. There’s Norman, the bottle-fed 1,200 pound brown cow; Sadie, the pregnant pygmy goat; Pumba the potbelly; and Picasso (formerly known as Pablo) the donkey.

What can campers expect? Well for starters, they’ll be greeted (tails wagging) by the sanctuary’s dogs, Hershey and Quin. They’ll make a quick stop at the peace poll for morning meditation before getting to work grooming animals, mucking stables and weeding the organic garden (from which they’re welcome to nibble). But it’s not all work and no play! There’s an arts and crafts building, a playground and “wishing centre” – a wood-paneled studio ideal for yoga and rainy-day games like animal charades. There’s also cuddles and kisses therapy time, which involves brushing and petting animals.

sweet pea and penny

And there’s lots of story-telling. Children will hear about each of the animal’s personal histories. Such as:

  • Butter and Jam, two sheep rescued from the Ontario Veterinary College
  • Lightening the lama, adopted from Puck’s Farm before it closed
  • Sweet Pea, an OSPCA-adopted horse, mistreated by her original owner
  • Jewel the black sheep (literally), rescued by the OSPCA following a dog attack on her herd
  • Jinx, a partial-to-paper and once neglected goat who made a live appearance on CP24’s Animal House Calls – he chewed on Ann Rohmer’s script so much that she finally just let him eat it

The purpose of the camp is all in the name: compassion. Through empathy training, children (from 7 to 13 years old) learn that all animals, not just their pets, have personalities, says sanctuary founder Brenda Bronfman. Animals are individuals – they have favourite foods and even pick and choose their friends. Campers will learn the difference between a petting zoo and sanctuary (the latter doesn’t purchase animals; they rescue them and provide a home for the rest of their natural lives). Bronfman believes, “Children will leave with a greater sense of connection to all human beings and an enlarged sphere of compassion for animals.”


Parents are welcome to add their child’s name to the Camp Compassion wait list at vaughan.ca/RecOnline. Given demand, other sessions may be made available.

For over 30 years, Recreation Services has delivered high-quality, safe and fun summer day camps across Vaughan, offering:

  • 60 different indoor and outdoor camps for children and youth ages 4 to 16 years old
  • one- and two-week sessions
  • busing
  • extended day camp from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • recreational swims, out trips, theme days, special events and performances
  • one-on-one support for children with special needs

All camp staff are certified in Standard First Aid and CPR, subject to a police reference check and trained in High-Five Principles of Healthy Child Development as well as program planning, managing challenging behaviour and risk management.

The 2016 Spring and Summer Recreation Vaughan eGuide includes a full camp listing, conveniently categorized by areas of interest:  creative arts, culinary arts, leadership, outdoor adventure, performing arts, recreational, science and technology, sports, and water adventures. To register your child for a Vaughan summer camp or place them on a wait list, visit vaughan.ca/RecOnline or call 905-832-8500.

Andrea Gyarmati

Recreation Services, City of Vaughan

(Photography and videography: Nessa Mofidi)

Visit the City of Vaughan’s website at vaughan.ca.


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