Environmental Explorers Summer Camp

July 3-7, 2019
Koan School
Denton, TX


This week-long summer camp was a collaboration between UNT doctoral, graduate, and undergraduate Art and Philosophy students, the Onstead Institute, and the local Koan School. With support from faculty, the UNT students developed a camp curriculum infused with Philosophy for Children, art and environmental education, and place-based activities. This was a very unique project, connecting university students and elementary age students with their environment through critical, creative, and caring engagements. Learn more about the ongoing Environmental Philosophy for Children (EPWC) project at UNT here.

The camp took place at three different locations, the Koan School which resides on a small farm, the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area (LLELA), as well as the Dallas Zoo. All three organizations were crucial in supporting the implementation of the camp, offering free or discounted access to spaces and staff. These three sites diversified the students’ sense of place in critical, creative, and caring ways. At LLELA and the Dallas Zoo, students were able to meet and talk with researchers focused on conservation projects for elephants and box turtles. Students spent time discussing local critical issues related to particular forms of human settlement and their impact on non-human life. For example, campers listened to a native Kiowa story about the passing of bison during white settlement in the area, in order to be aware of the history of our place. The discussion following the Kiowa story was very powerful, and many students painted or drew pictures of the bison imagined in the stories. Some students directly questioned their own ancestors’ roles in this tragic history, and we attempted to critically examine our places in the narrative.

Daily activities at all these locations were grounded in “intellectual safety,” a concept borrowed from p4c Hawaii, which was discussed together with the students on the first day and referred back to throughout the duration of the camp. This helped build a respectful and inclusive community among campers, who shared intimate philosophical dialogues with each other. During these discussions, students focused on questions such as: “What does it mean to collect things with care?” "What is a map?" and “How can we make a map caringly?” These initial questions provoked more questions, such as: “How can we ask non-human animals whether they mind being collected or not?”, “Do we collect inanimate things because they do not have feelings?”, “Our regular map does not seem to tell anything when you touch it. How do blind people understand these maps?”, and “What would a turtle map look and feel like?”

Through the incorporation of collaborative art-making activities such as texture-mapping, treasure-mapping, and painting from the perspective of a native box turtle, the philosophical activities extended beyond dialogue and internal thought into material expression as well. In one instance, after close observation and drawing the animals that live at the school, students embodied the gestures of these animals and discussed their experiences. As the week went on, students who initially had an affinity for frog collection began to question their actions and ultimately decided to start leaving the frogs be. The students ended the week by making and sharing sculptures that represented important moments to them during the camp. Their artworks included sculptures of the Koan School outdoor area, bald eagles, gorillas, elephants, frogs, plants, and spiders to name a few.

Presented in partnership by

Funded in part by the the Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization

Image gallery (click to enlarge)

Campers creating a community ball together with yarnCampers sketchingCampers sketchingCampers making a treasure map togetherCampers sketchingCampers hiking at LLELACampers looking at the insect house at LLELACampers learning about LLELA's turtle conservation projectCampers painting on LLELA's hiking trailsCampers at LLELACampers near the dam at LLELACampers sketchingCampers hiking at LLELACampers learning about LLELA's turtle conservation projectCampers learning about LLELA's turtle conservation projectCampers learning about LLELA's turtle conservation projectCampers hikingCampers at LLELAA camper and her artworkA camper and his camp leader sketchingCampers sharing their art projectsCampers sketching insectsCampers making a texture mapTexture mapTexture mapCampers exploring at the Koan SchoolA camper sketching at the Koan SchoolA camper sketching at the Koan SchoolCampers embodying animals at the Koan SchoolCampers embodying animals at the Koan SchoolCampers embodying animals at the Koan SchoolCampers listening to a story about the Kiowa tribe and the bisonCampers watching the bird show at the Dallas ZooCampers at the Dallas ZooCampers learning about the elephant conservation projectCampers at the Dallas Zoo Nature ExchangeCampers at the Dallas Zoo Nature ExchangeA camper helping to make a memory mapCamper artworkThe Environmental Explorers Summer Camp team