Thoughts From Our Naturalists in Training

Ian, (NIT) playing cards with campers

At The Environmental Center, our Youth Education Team offers a variety of summer programs to enrich the minds of children, and teach them about sustainable living with hands-on activities in the classroom, the outdoors, the gardens, and beyond. 

We believe it’s important to foster future leaders in sustainability. That’s why the team also provides mentorship opportunities for teens and young adults. Our NIT (Naturalists in Training) program is a great example!

The NIT program creates an opportunity for young teens to gain skills for their first job such as leadership, communication, and risk management. It includes training at the beginning of the summer to prepare our hired NITS for minor first aid incidents, risk management, and opportunities to lead group activities and games. Then, the students help out with a few of the Youth Ed Programs through the summer.

This year we worked with an amazing team of NIT’s, and hired a few interns who were older teens and adults to help run our programs and learn new experiential education skills. One intern, Fiona Schader, interviewed each of our NITs and interns to find out about their experience…

Insights and Experiences from this Year’s Naturalists In Training

Ian, (NIT) playing cards with campers

Ian is going into 7th grade, and found that having new responsibilities during his job was a good learning experience. Keeping kids on task was a challenge, but keeping it relaxed and allowing the campers to shove grass in his face was fun and rewarding. 

Luke, a rising 7th grader, found that keeping kids listening to directions was the most challenging aspect of the camp. However, explaining and teaching games was rewarding, and the game “toilet tag” was one of the most fun things for Luke.


Diego, a 7th grader who is hoping to gain Spanish fluency and learn Mandarin in high school, talked about the difference between verbal directions and visual examples when it came to playing games or changing behavior. Working with young kids was new for him, but he enjoyed how each camper brought a different personality to the group. 

Olive (NIT) and camper chatting

Olive, one of our interns and a junior with an interest in marine biology, really enjoyed fostering the love of the outdoors in children. She found balancing learning and fun to be difficult but also educational. Olive noticed that some of the campers nicknamed log bridges “sketchy bridges,” and made up an accompanying song. The enthusiasm for “sketchy bridges” was so high that one camper took an unplanned swim!

Mateo is going into 6th grade and enjoys math—specifically the feeling of getting the answers right. Mateo felt that the 2nd graders in his group were even more knowledgeable than he used to be and was impressed with their ideas. He mentioned that it was sometimes challenging to work with campers who need more help paying attention or receiving directions without getting frustrated. One funny thing he noticed was the arguments that broke out—to Mateo, the topics of discussion were not that important and not worth arguing about! 

Nora, a rising 8th grader, really liked being looked up to as a role model. She found kids missing their parents or bickering to be challenging, but the general enthusiasm and humor of each camper made up for it. 

Iris is a 9th grader with her eyes set on an IB diploma, was challenged when she took care of a camper who needed more help and attention with being safe and having fun. The key? Having patience and being able to balance safety standards and letting kids be unstructured. Iris really enjoyed helping campers build an impressive log fort.


Hill Helping campers find their wayHill, a schoolteacher from New York, was drawn to his career after being a camp counselor. He loved seeing the kids get their hands dirty outside and mentioned that teaching in a new environment was sometimes difficult (the flora and fauna in Central Oregon do differ from the East Coast). A favorite theme of the camp was seeing the campers’ creativity as they invented backstories and mythology around forts, games, and activities.

With summer coming to a close, the Youth Ed Team is beginning to wind down for the summer, but you can check out our website to get updates on programs and other youth activities.

See you next summer!