Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Venture Outdoor Camp in Review

The last two weeks of camp have been jam packed with adventures! We were lucky to have Venture Outdoors leading camp!

The kids were able to learn more about the outdoors, take field trips and just enjoy being outside!! Here is a quick rundown of all the adventures the kids went on!

Week 1:

The kids met two of the several Venture Outdoors staff that would be working with us this camp! We spent the day at ALEC getting to know Mr. AJ and Ms. Lo.

They went over with the kids a list of behavior expectations, how to respect nature and even played some team building games!

The kids weren't too enthused about the team building games at first, but quickly got into it once they saw how much fun they were!


Due to the crazy amount of rain Pittsburgh has been getting this summer, we were almost unable to go hiking due to high river levels.  But we lucked out and the river levels were low enough for us to go!  Most of the kids had never been out in a kayak before and were kinda nervous.  But Venture Outdoors did a great job easing their worries!

We fitted the kids in life-jackets, handed out paddles, found kayak ourselves a kayak buddy and were given a lesson in kayaking.  The kids were taught the proper way to hold a paddle, how to stroke forwards AND backwards, how to turn the kayak around and the importance of working with your kayak buddy because if you and your buddy aren't moving your paddles together then you don't move!

After our lesson, we headed out onto the river! We went under six bridges that day! And under every bridge, Mr. AJ and the other Venture Outdoors staff would gather the kids and talk about the different bridges we were passing under.  By the time we started to head back to the dock, the kids had the hang of kayaking and it was a race to see who could make it back to the dock first!

The kids (and staff) were surprised at how wet you get from kayaking!  Luckily it was a hot day and the cool water felt great!

What a great day for a hike! We met Mr. AJ and Ms. Iris up at our very own Grandview Park to hike on the trails.

The kids have hiked in Grandview before, but this time we went down a different trail that they hadn't been on!  It had rained the night before so it was a bit humid and some spots of the trail were muddy, which the kids weren't too thrilled about.  Especially because that meant there were a lot of bugs! One of our kids loves bugs and found many new friends that day in addition to learning some names of new bugs from our Venture Outdoors friends.

Ms. Iris kept stopping the kids at different points along the trail to point out different kinds of plants and to show them that some of the plants were edible. Remember: do NOT eat plants unless you are 100% sure they are safe to eat!!

That was a very important lesson Ms. Iris taught the kids that day.  On Monday, the kids learned different rule about how to respect nature.  During our hike, we saw a lot of trash and even a fire pit that had not been properly taken care of and Mr. AJ and Ms. Iris used that opportunity to remind the kids the importance of taking care of nature.

Today the kids were given a lesson in survival 101.

The first thing we did was split up into two groups, Mr. AJ and Ms. Iris gave the kids some tarp and rope and had them build a shelter. One group finished first while the second was struggling to work together to build a shelter.  After the kids attempting their shelter, Mr. AJ and Ms. Iris talked to the kids about what techniques worked and what didn't, showed them how to make a proper shelter and talked with the kids about the importance of having a proper shelter while hiking.  The kids were even able to go inside the shelter and hang out in there for a bit!

Next, Mr. AJ and Ms. Iris talked about first aid and what to do if someone gets hurt and you're stuck in the middle of the woods.  They even had the kids practice wrapping each others wrists and ankles and showed them the right way to wrap an injury, which is a handy skill to have! After first aid, Mr. AJ and Ms. Iris went over the importance of water!

You can't just drink any old water while you're hiking, it has to been clean water so that it doesn't make you sick.  They brought with them a miniature filtration system that is easy to take with you while camping, showed the kids how it worked and then gave them a drink of clean water!

Week 2:

Let's go ride our bike!! Venture Outdoors took the Brashear kids to the North Shore to ride some bikes!

Many of our kids have ridden a bike before but some of the kids and staff members had never learned and were a bit nervous!  But everyone decided to face their fears and give the two-wheeler a chance.

Even though they faced their fears, some of the kids decided that they would be more comfortable riding a three-wheeler down the trails.  We are always proud of our kids when they take a risk and try something new.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day for a bike ride and the kids were all smiles.

Back to Grandview Park!  Instead of hiking another trail, Mr. Evan and Ms. Iris had the kids do some geocaching!

Some of the Brashear kids went geocaching during this last winter with Venture Outdoors.  The kids were split up into groups of four and were handed maps of Grandview Park, markers and a GPS.  The point of geocaching is to make a little something out of nature (like a little tepee out of sticks and leaves, for example) and then you document the location of your creation in the GPS.

Once the kids made about four caches, the groups switched GPS and tried to find each others caches! Some groups found the caches easier than others.  While in Grandview we saw something really awesome: a family of hawks!  The kids saw a really big bird and we set out to figure out what they were.  It was a mom, dad and baby hawk!

 It was really cool to see wildlife in the park that you just don't normally see every day!

Back to the river for kayaking round two!

The kids were definitely more comfortable kayaking the second time around.  The kids got their life-jackets and another refresher lesson on how to kayak and we were off to the water!

We didn't go as far down the river this time around, but that's because Mr. Evan and Ms. Iris had us play sharks and minnows, in our kayaks!  Its harder than you would think!

Every adventure we have taken the kids on the last two weeks has led up to this moment: a three mile hike through Frick Park.

The sky was clear and the sun was hot.  Luckily, most of the hike was under the shade of trees. Throughout the hike, Ms. Iris kept stopping the kids to point out things like wild raspberries, poison ivy and to tell the kids the difference between white and red oak trees.

We sure learned a lot more about the different kinds of plants that grow in nature!  During our hike, we even found some snake skin along the trail! Once we made it through the trail, we ended our last day of Venture Outdoors camp at the park.

It was a great day!

Thank you Venture Outdoors for spending two weeks with us at ALEC!  The kids had a blast getting outside and learning more about nature!

- Jen

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Adventure Time with Venture Outdoors: Frick Park

Lets go take a hike! 

For our final day of Venture Outdoors Camp we went for a hike in Frick Park. 

We hiked approximately three miles on wooded trails and ended at the playground.

Our hike leader, Iris, taught us about lots of different plants along the way. We learned how to identify poison ivy, and the difference between white and red oaks.

The white oak trees have rounded lobes on their leaves, and the red oak trees have pointed lobes. There were lots of maple trees, and we learned the difference between oak and maple too. She also pointed out wood sorrel, a common plant that’s great on salads. Blackberries were spotted along the trail as well, but they weren’t quite ripe. 

We also found pieces of a snake skin along the trail, possibly from a black rat snake, and learned about why snakes shed their skin. As a snake grows, it needs to shed its skin because it doesn’t stretch the way our skin does as we grow.

Iris also had us all play a game along the trail. Each hiker had to find something along the hike that matched an article of clothing they were wearing. Those wearing green were in luck! 

They found a lot of really cool things during the hike!  It was a beautiful day for a hike in Frick Park and the kids had a blast!

- Maraina 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Biking on the North Shore

On July 20th, Venture Outdoors took the campers on a 3 mile bike ride. Venture Outdoors in the North Shore, was gracious enough to take us out and  ride in the nice weather. 

A few kids were not skilled with bikes but they were excited to try a two-wheeler.Despite not being able to ride a bike at all, or not having been on a bike in over 50 years, our staff and kids faced their fears and peddled. Some of our staff took turns holding onto the back of their bikes, while they continued to peddle down the trail. Ultimately, they decided that they were much more comfortable riding the three-wheeled bikes instead of the two-wheedlers.  

The whole time, even with the 90 degree weather, the kids were all smiles.It was nice to see everyone exercising and enjoying their time in the lush outdoors here in Pennsylvania. 

At the end of the day, the kids were given a few minutes to relax by the water before boarding the bus home.  North Shore along the river is a truly beautiful place and everyone enjoyed their time.

- Jessica 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Kayaking with the Kids

The first field trip that our kids were able to go was kayaking with Venture Outdoors team.
They ultimately sponsored us for a two week summer camp learning about a variety of outdoor activities. The kids were every excited to kayak, mostly because many of them had never kayaked in Pittsburgh before.

Most of our kids were unable to swim and thus were a little timid about venturing out into the water but once we got their PFDs (Personal flotation Devices) on they were ready to go! Each student was handed a PFD that they had to tighten and prep for the water. The Venture Outdoors team did a great job explaining water safety to the kids and making sure that they felt safe in the water with their PFDs.

Prior to leaving on the kayaks, the Venture Outdoor staff gave a quick play-by-play of how to properly hold and row with the paddles. Each kid was able to practice properly before we set out to kayak. Our group partnered up and each group took out tandem kayaks, where two people sat together. We tried out best to partner up two kids together, but a few students went with an adult. 

During out two week Venture Outdoors camp, the kids were actually able to go kayaking a twice. The first time we had timid rowers but the second time showed how comfortable the kids were becoming in the water. It's great to see every willing to kayak and this time feel strong about rowing. We were able to play a quick game of Sharks & Minnows with kids. 

Had a great opportunity at the end of the day to finally relax and grab a healthy snack. Pittsburgh is such a beautiful city, with incredible architecture that we couldn't help but grab a scenic picture!


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

New Foods Made Easy: Fried Zucchini

At ALEC, we are all about encouraging the kids to try new foods.  Sometimes the kids try new foods with enthusiasm and sometimes it is met with resistance.  Fried Zucchini was one of those foods.

This picture perfectly captures how many of the kids felt at first about trying fried zucchini, but in the end almost everyone tried, and liked fried zucchini! Success! Fried zucchini is super easy to make and is something you can easily make with your kids! Here's how its done:

Step 1: Gather all your ingredients: Zucchini, Oil, Garlic Powder, Oregano, Parsley, Bread Crumbs, Milk and Eggs.  Our zucchini's came from Amber's awesome garden!

Step 2: Chop up that zucchini! When you're cutting up your zucchini, be sure to cut them on the thinner side so that they will fry well in the oil.

Step 3: The number of eggs you need will vary depending on how much fried zucchini you plan on making.  We used about 3 eggs for the 2 zucchini's we had.  Crack your eggs into a bowl and whisk them up.  Also, add some milk into the egg mixture so the breading will stick to the zucchini better.  We forgot to do that! Oops! The breading stuck pretty well but would have been better off with the milk.

Step 4: Making your breading.  We took bread crumbs, garlic powder, oregano and parsley and put it in the blender to make a nice and fine breading.  Now the garlic powder, oregano and parsley are optional and the amount, again, depends on how much you are making and how strong of a flavor you want your breading to have.  We made ours pretty mild since the kids tend to be apprehensive about trying new foods.

Step 5: Pour about an inch or so of oil in the skillet and turn on the stove.  You want the oil to start heating up and be ready to fry the zucchini.

When we make the kids their snack, we like to get them involved to get them more excited about cooking and trying new foods.  They love helping out and being involved in cooking!

Step 6:  Next, take your zucchini slices and place them in the egg mixture.  Make sure that the slice is covered and that the excess egg mixture has dripped off before transferring it to the breading.  Completely cover zucchini slice in the breading, but make sure there isn't too much breading on it or else it won't fry all the way! Place slices on a plate.  Continue this process until all the zucchini is breaded and ready to be fried!

Step 7: While you were breading your zucchini, the oil was heating up and getting ready for frying.  Depending on how big your skillet is, you can place a couple of pieces of zucchini in the oil at one time.  You want to leave the side of the zucchini in the oil until it is a nice golden brown and you can use a spatula or tongs to check.  Once the first side is golden brown, flip the piece of zucchini so the other side can fry. Once both sides of the zucchini are fried, remove from oil and put on a plate.  Continue until all the zucchini has been fried.

Step 8: Time to serve! We served our fried zucchini with a little bit of marinara sauce to dip in! You can use marinara sauce as well, a different kind of sauce or dressing or even just plain!


- Jen


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