TimberNook program offers kids a chance to plug into play, nature

By Lynne Conner For Chronicle Media

TimberNook Tri-County program managers, Carmen LaMonica and Laura Peterson. (Photo by Lynne Conner/for Chronicle Media)

After surviving the 2018-19 school year with its numerous “e-learning” days, class projects, reports and tests, summer vacation is almost here.

While kids may plan their summer break around Minecraft realms and Fortnite battles; parents have a decidedly non-digital option to consider in expanding their kids’ warm weather activities.

TimberNook, an international play-based educational experience organization is coming to Winnebago County this June and early July.

Timbernook Tri-County (Boone, Winnebago and Rock Counties), the very first program of its kind in Illinois, is operated by Laura Peterson and Carmen LaMonica, both local school based occupational therapists.

The women wanted to see TimberNook’s mission of “…providing nature-based play experiences for children that challenge the senses and inspire creativity, independence, and imagination in the great outdoors…” brought to Winnebago County.

The women had a two-year journey which included training at TimberNook’s international base in New Hampshire, observing other established programs and running a spring break launch program in March. Now, Peterson and LaMonica are holding four weeks of TimberNook day camp at the Pecatonica River Forest Preserve this summer.

“This is a dream job for us,” Peterson said.  “As occupational therapists, we have both seen a shift in the development of children as a whole and what they struggle with in school.  We know from our work that the mission of TimberNook is both the answer to the problems kid often experience in school and the solution to many issues that kids struggle with growing up.”

Along with the explosion of computer use over the past 30 years, today’s children are more easily exposed to enhanced television viewing, movies on demand and ready access to electronic devices, cell phones and social media.

While many Generation X and Millennial parents grew up playing outdoors in the summer and riding bikes freely around neighborhoods; today’s children face a much different societal climate where perceived dangers lurk around every corner.

TimberNook, an international play-based educational experience organization is coming to Winnebago County this June and early July. (Photo courtesy of TimberNook)

This is where TimberNook programming seeks to empower children by tapping into their unique leadership skills, problem solving abilities and resourcefulness all while surrounded by nature.  The TimberNook camps are a departure from most summer day camps in that the structure is child-led and frees Peterson and LaMonica to function as advisors and consultants.

“This is an opportunity to get kids back into authentic play with a larger, multi-age group that functions to be creative and problem solve while learning how to resolve conflicts,” LaMonica said. “The kids learn how to set rules and boundaries while the adults step back, but still ensure safety throughout the experience, It’s really amazing how this all comes together out in the woods,”

Peterson added that, “this authentic free play is where the most  amazing development happens. TimberNook camps develop childhood skills across the board working on fine and gross motor skills, balance, agility, social skills, communication skills the program really covers the whole gamut of child development.”

“We as adults believe that we teach kids all of these developmental skills, but their opportunities to negotiate and interact with their peers are truly where these skills develop.  It’s through play that kids hone these skills,” LaMonica said.

TimberNook summer day camps are “all kid” focused which means that Peterson and LaMonica often have special needs kids taking part in the experience.

“We see the need for this programming across the board,” Peterson said.  “As occupational therapists, we have seen a rise in special education referrals and we feel the rise is due to that lack of authentic play.  Kids are much more sedentary nowadays, they’re not active, they’re not interactive with each other and that’s where they miss these developmental skills.”

Peterson and LaMonica have ongoing training as TimberNook providers and have access to the organization’s library of curriculum.  In addition to this year’s summer programming, they are planning additional camps during school breaks for the 2019-2020 school year.

Because of their strong belief in the benefits of the TimberNook experience, Peterson and LaMonica were instrumental in helping Pectatonica Grade School become the first TimberNook certified school in the world.

According to the Pecatonica CUSD 321 Facebook page, “The TimberNook curriculum enhances student learning in key aspects of Common Core Learning Standards by supporting the development of problem-solving, executive function, critical thinking, and social skills, all of which can lead to greater academic success and healthier, more well-adjusted children.  Pecatonica will begin offering TimberNook experiences to its PK-4th grade students next fall (2019).”  The district will also provide specialized training to its primary teachers on TimberNook concepts along with access to online resources.

Electronic device detox for kids is possible this summer with the fascinating topics of TimberNook Tri-County’s summer day camps.

The 2019 schedule includes:  Friends in the Wild, June 10-14, ages 4-7, which meets from 9 a.m.-noon; Enchanted, June 17- 21, ages 5-9, which meets from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; Village Folks, June 24- 28, ages 7-12, which meets from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.; and Sensory Adventures, July 8-12, ages 7-12, which meets from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

All camps meet rain or shine at the Pecatonica River Forest Preserve and the cost per camp varies.  Due to unpredictable weather and the nature of outdoor play, children attending TimberNook camps should plan on having a change of clothes available depending on the day’s activities.

Campers are responsible for their own lunch each day and some snacks will be made during camp.  Additionally, safety measures are in place in the event of severe weather.

Sign-up is open for TimberNook Tri-County summer programming online at www.TimberNook.com, by clicking on ‘Find a Location’.