Celebrating 20 Years – Youth Programming

May 28, 2021

Educational programming grounded in the forest has been a part of our work at A Studio in the Woods since before we were formalized as an organization – our founders built their lives around it. Lucianne Carmichael was a life-long educator, serving as the innovative principal of McDonogh #15 elementary school in the French Quarter throughout the 1970’s, and Joe Carmichael worked as the first lobbyist on behalf of public education in the state of Louisiana. Over the past twenty years, the Carmichaels’ educational legacy has manifested in many ways in our organization.

Our flagship educational program, Kids in the Woods summer camp, began in 2003 as the vision of educator Lisa Sirgo and it continues to this day. Over the years, artist educators Laura Richens, Jane Hill, Renee Anderson and Shawn Hall brought their expertise to designing what has become a well-developed art and nature camp. At Kids in the Woods Camp, youth 7-11 years old learn about their relationship to the natural environment. Through hands-on arts activities, children use both artistic and scientific skills to observe, identify and collect natural materials and processes. They then record their experiences through visual arts such as clay, paint, drawing, collage, and sculpture as well as the literary arts through journaling, poetry and storytelling. Campers engage with performing arts through movement, music, and creating their own plays based on their observations of the forest systems. The camp also features collaborative lessons with scientists from Tulane’s Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department and our Environmental Curator David Baker, providing deeper dives into the natural sciences such as ornithology, entomology, botany and more.

Current camp instructor Renee Anderson writes: “A big part of our mission at Kids in the Woods is to explore connection, in many senses of the word. As both scientists and artists, we examine the relationship between ourselves and the natural world, between our art and our environment. Drawing on these ideas of connection and reciprocity within our camp community, we work towards building a space for exploration that is based in mutual respect; we are true collaborators, both inside the studio and out in the woods.”

While the pandemic forced a hiatus, we are excited to welcome campers back for Kids in the Woods in 2022.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Studio crafted an additional educational program to reach a wider swath of the city’s youth: Nature’s Classroom. This program was built upon an existing partnership with the Alternative High School in Algiers that brought students to the woods to learn about the environment and piloted in the spring of 2007 with middle school students from Algiers Charter School. The program and associated Educator Guide and Student Field Book, Nature’s Classroom: Adventures in a Bottomland Hardwood Forest, written by Heather Szapary, David Baker and Heidi Connahs, focused on the subject of ecology in a post-storm environment so that students could understand how our wetland environment works, why they should appreciate the wonders and benefits of wetland flora and fauna, and what they could do to protect them. The guide was written to be implemented in the Woods but designed so that most of the activities could be employed elsewhere and adapted to lower elementary or high school students for the widest use possible throughout the city. You can view the lesson plans here.

The Carmichaels frequently offered students, artists, educators and environmentalists opportunities to visit the woods and learn about the natural environment and its creative power. We continue in this spirit today, welcoming field trips and school groups to the Woods for tours with our botanist and mini retreats for students. We are always open to collaborating with educators to find new ways for youth to engage with the Woods.