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Camp Eureka! for Children with Visual Impairments
Montana Conservation Science Institute
In the Summer of 2005, the Montana Conservation Science Institute, in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind's Jernigan Institute and National Center for Blind Youth in Science, and the Montana Association for the Blind launched a new program, "Camp Eureka!: Summer Natural History Camps for Children who are Blind." The program provides an opportunity for Montana's blind and low vision children to come together with peers and mentors to explore nature and practice the alternative skills of blindness. Children, 8-16 years old, explore Montana's wetland and forests under the guidance of blind mentors and with scientists, naturalists and artists trained in learning strategies for blind children and introduced to a positive philosophy about blindness. Blind and low vision children respond best to, and benefit most from, positive and successful adult and young adult mentors who are also blind. Under the leadership of MAB president, Dan Burke, the children, in an amazingly brief time, become more comfortable with their blindness and more confident in the outdoors. Camp Eureka! campers have an opportunity to perform leadership skills and practice the alternative skills of blindness, such as correct use of the long white cane. Hands-on educational activities in a natural setting are an unmatched way to expand a child's perception of the world and provide a greater sense of personal potential. Camp Eureka! campers come together in an environment surrounded by mountains, rivers, forests, lakes, and marshes to work alongside naturalists and scientists, such as Dr. Erick Greene from the University of Montana Division of Biological Sciences. With curiosity aroused, and using alternative learning strategies for the blind, campers learn about current research projects and techniques, and develop lifelong observation skills. Camp director, Beth Underwood, provides each camper with a field pack, complete with field equipment, slate and stylus, and recording devises, to aid in investigations of birds, plants, river ecology, and many other topics. Camp Eureka! is not a science-only natural history camp but rather one based on both the arts and sciences. Music in particular plays a key role in establishing the camp's "personality" and humor. Chip Jasmin, camp musician, uses his musical talents to set a mood, draw campers together, help children connect with nature, and to simply relax, let loose, and have fun. Camp Eureka! campers have an opportunity to experience various forms of personal expression through the arts. Campers become songwriters, audio/visual producers, sculptors, writers, and musicians.