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Summer fun at unique camp

Inside the giant, hollowed out trunk of an old-growth tree, children gather to listen as camp director Becca Hall weaves an imaginary tale of animals, monsters and howling coyotes.

The children call the tree the "story tree." About seven of them can fit comfortably inside the moss-covered cave. They seem to eagerly flock to this place where imaginations can run wild.

Story time at the tree, located on the outskirts of the 14-acre Snoqualmie property that Hall's family owns, is just one of many nature-centric, creative activities Summer Winds: Creative Nature Camps offers.

"A lot of the activities are what I feel like kids should get to experience," said Hall, the creator of the day camp, which opened six years ago at her family home. "It's a supportive place where acceptance, cooperation, creativity and [realness] are encouraged."

The idea for the camp came into play when Hall left for Stanford University in California to study English as an undergraduate in 2000. Her mother, Patti Pitcher, immediately began to think of ways to get her daughter to come home for visits.

One suggestion she had was for Hall, who had prior experience working with children, to operate a day camp at their home in the summer.

Hall agreed, acquiring a business license soon after. The camp has helped her pay her way through school.

Since then, each summer she returned home from school (she earned her bachelor of arts in 2003 and just completed her master's in environmental writing from the University of Montana) to be with her family and operate the camp.

She is currently writing a novel and will work at her camp until the fall, when she will then look into other employment; she plans on living at home for the time-being.

The camp has seven week-long programs from which to select for youth ages 5 through 11 including "Woodland Elves," "Nature Scouting," "Forest Animals," "Crafty Critters," "Happy Farmers" and two sessions of "Medieval Merrymakers."

"I like the wings and I like the wands and I like outdoors," said Emily Anguilo, 5, who took part in the Woodland Elves session, in which children were able to make fairy wings, magic wands and elf houses in the forest.

During last year's Medieval Merrymakers session, the children held a "medieval fest," Hall recalled.

They made period-appropriate food, including bread and butter, from scratch. They also made music and oil paintings and learned about edible plants that may have been used during medieval times.

"They really like things that real," Hall said.

In addition, they built forts that eventually became an entire village where the children traded slugs for rocks.

"I think it's important to give them time to just play," Hall said. "The three things I am really interested in is involving kids and education, being in environments where the children are treated like whole human beings and creating a relationship with the natural world."

Many of the ideas for activities come from Hall's own interests and curiosities, she said.

"I like that you can do projects and that it's on a farm and that there's a woods next to it," said Fiona Krattinger, 5. "There are a lot of things to do."

The property also has 12 sheep that the family raises commercially for meat, chickens and a sprawling forest of undeveloped land.

The children - whose parents sign a waiver upon enrollment - are able to pet the sheep, collect the eggs and travel into the forest on adventures. (Hall is legally allowed to have eight children under her supervision and 12 children with an assistant present.)

"I think the camp gives them a sense of accomplishment," Hall said.

And they get to be children, she added.

"They kids are going to get dirty and play outside," she noted. "They just have a real, outdoor camp childhood experience. This is a place for kids to be kids."

Summer Winds is still accepting students for its summer camp; programs run weekly now through Sept. 1. The camp is located at 39819 S.E. 60th in Snoqualmie. For information about the programs or to register, call (425) 831-5360.

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