SPRINGFIELD — Handheld smart phones, tablets, computers and other electronics were nowhere to be found Tuesday at Dorris Ranch in Springfield.
Instead, children at the Whole Earth Nature School camp were equipped with knives and wands. The wands were former sticks that about a dozen elementary-age students had found on the ground and got to carve as part of wizardry day at the camp.
The weeklong spring break camp features a different theme every day, but Tuesday’s events included carving wands, staffs and broomsticks, playing Quidditch and casting silly spells — all of which took place outside.
Quidditch, a fictional game from the “Harry Potter” book series by J.K. Rowling, is a sport with a unique mix of elements from rugby, dodgeball and tag. The game involved two teams of seven players each. Team members play on hockey-rink sized field with brooms between their legs at times.
Sitting in the dirt with their legs crossed, several students worked diligently to strip bark from their sticks with sharp knives. Camp staff members, who had already gone over safety precautions with the children, reminded them how to hold the stick and knife, and how to use the tool without hurting themselves.
“I like carving pretty much anything,” said 10-year-old Lucia Schorz. “And I like being outside and doing Harry Potter stuff.”
Most of the wand crafting took place under a big-leaf maple tree, which some children were more interested in climbing into and around. The large, hollow tree, had enough room in the middle for the young children to fit inside and easily pop out of to “cast spells.”
Schorz, who said she’s seen every movie in the “Harry Potter” series and is about halfway through reading the second book in the series, said she loves to play Potter-themed games.
“I know lots of spells,” Schorz said as she repeated some of the spells featured in the films. “Sometimes my friend and I pretend that her chickens are hippogriffs. They’re a lot smaller though.”
A hippogriff is a mythical creature with the body of a horse and the wings and head of an eagle.
On-site camp director Terance MacKenzie said the camp serves as a way to get students out in nature without technological distractions.
“This gives kids something to do that’s not inside, and really the goal is to get kids connected with nature,” McKenzie said. “With all of the screen time that kids have today, it’s important to get them outside.”
McKenzie said children who attend the camp, even if it’s just for one day out of the week, leave happy and exhausted.
“Most parents tell us that their kids fall asleep as soon as they get home,” he said with a laugh. “We run them pretty hard, and they love it.”
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Each day camp costs $67 and run from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.