Young children magically became trees during the first session of Cliffs of the Neuse State Park’s Park Pals program this week. They let their imagination go and acted how they thought a tree would act.

It was the first of four two-hour sessions to be held throughout July.

“It’s essentially a short day camp where the kids are going to come every Tuesday,” said ranger Autumn Hamm. “It will be the same group of kids coming back every week. We’ll build on topics and it will spill over into the following week.”

Park Pals is for children ages 5 through 8. Each session is filled with games, crafts and hands-on learning experiences. There’s even time for a snack, which is part of that week’s topic.

Park Pals

Harrison Hatch, 8, left, and Ashton Rarick, 8, show ranger Autumn Hamm some leaves they found during the Park Pals program.

“Within the theme, we do an activity, but it has a learning component to it,” Hamm said. “We talk about the topic and play games so the kids get to experience what we’re talking about. So they’ll learn a little bit and put it into action.

“That really drives it home, especially with those younger kids. They get to experience the idea, and hopefully it will stick with them a little better than if we just tell them about it.”

Trees were the topic of the very first Park Pals program. The children told Hamm the different uses for trees and what each one needs to grow and survive.

They went outside to take plants with their roots out of the ground and put them in paper cups with dirt. Back inside the classroom, they added water to some and took dirt out of some. They didn’t add water to others. They placed them in front of a big window where the plants would get sunlight, too. But Hamm placed a box over one plant so it wouldn’t get sunlight. The children wrote down the plants and what each didn’t get and also wrote down their predictions as to how they thought each plant would do. They will find out the results at the last Park Pals program.

The children also walked around the park’s visitor center collecting seeds and leaves then discussing each. Back inside, they made rubbings of their leaves in their composition books.

They also got to design their own tree using pretzels and grapes, which they ate once everyone had made one.

During another outside activity, Hamm assigned a different part of a tree to the children and they all acted out how that part would function.

There will be different topics for the last three sessions of Park Pals.

Park Pals

Participants in the Park Pals program at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park tell ranger Autumn Hamm the different uses for trees and what each tree needs to grow and survive.

Hamm said the children, at this age, are still rambunctious and super energetic and they have that inner sense to learn. She said they just want to be into everything. And Park Pals gives them that opportunity through exploring different environments outside that they might not necessarily get into.

“We want the kids to come out to the park,” Hamm said. “One of our big goals this year with the state parks is to get kids outdoors. We want to get them outside exploring different environments they might not necessarily get into.

“The county kids who are around this area come to the park a lot. Kids in Goldsboro might not have gotten out to the park. So, it’s a good opportunity for them to come to the park and have a guide with them. They get to explore with a group of their peers and a ranger who’s knowledgeable about the area to help guide them through.”

Hamm said the Cliffs benefits by having the children at the park. And she hopes the children benefit by being there.

“Then, as they’re learning, we hope to help make them into good stewards,” she said. “Stewardship is best learned early. If we can get that into their mindset early, hopefully they’ll be able to carry that on. We have programs geared toward older children and adults. So, if we get them interested in the park early, hopefully they’ll continue to come out and take interest in ownership inside the park and maybe one day when they’re old enough, maybe they’ll be volunteering out here.”

Hamm said a day camp such as Park Pals might just turn into a lifestyle for the children.