By Erika Mailman
Paul Dreyer sings a song many parents of a certain age hum along to.
"When I grew up, playgrounds had sharp edges and metal slides that got really hot. Now they have soft edges and foam surfaces for if you fall. That's good in some ways, but also cheats kids out of risk assessment," he said.
He's the CEO—Chief Empowerment Officer—of Avid4 Adventure, a company that wants to introduce kids to outdoor adventures, with the accompanying goal of instilling judgment and problem-solving skills. With day camps, overnight resident camps, and overnight expeditions, Avid4 Adventure gets kids on mountain bikes and kayaks and into the woods for hiking and rock climbing.
"We try to combat a culture that is risk-adverse," Dreyer said. "We still control the big risks for campers but allow some situations where kids can look at their environment and see what is an actual risk versus a perceived one."
For instance, he said, at the top of a big hill on a mountain bike trip, "We stop and ask the kids, 'What's going to happen here?' and we wait for them to recognize, 'Oh, we're going to go faster here.'" All staff members undergo weeklong training, role-playing with their peers to not give the answers, but ask questions until the campers themselves decide it's smarter to give each rider a little more space to avoid running into the person in front of them. "Kids are innately smart in this way," he said.
The company was founded in 2004 in Colorado—Dreyer's been with it one way or another since the genesis—and expanded into California in 2010. Oakland's camp was established in 2012, and there are five other Bay Area locations.
"We have a deep partnership with the East Bay Regional Park District," said Dreyer, which gives campers access to those wonderful trails in the Oakland hills. They learn paddleboarding at the Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline Regional Park and head to the Berkeley hills for rock climbing. Children as young as 5 years old and as old as 12th-graders can participate, grouped by age range.
The "learn-to-bike" day camp in Oakland has been very popular. Kids aged 3.5 to 6 years old benefit from a progressive curriculum to get balanced on two wheels. "We've gotten feedback from a ton of parents that they've spent four years trying to teach their kid to ride, and we do it in one day," said Dreyer.
Besides the joy of outdoor sports, the company encourages appreciation of the natural world, and the deep satisfaction of silence.
"On our solo hikes, and 'solo' is very much in quotation marks," said Dreyer, campers are spaced out to feel as if they are alone in nature. Similarly, they paddle in individual kayaks. "We'll teach them a stroke and have silent practice. You can still hear the lapping of the water, but you're alone in your craft with no human voices. We love bringing those moments of connection to nature to campers."
Avid4 Adventure camps are in Oakland, Burlingame, Lafayette, Moraga, Palo Alto, and Mill Valley. Visit www.Avid4.com for information.
Looking for other options? Here are some similar camps in the East Bay. Many offer free transportation to the site; check websites for details.
Sarah's Science Summer Camp and This Land is Your Land Summer Camp, ages 4-14, with weekly day camp sessions focusing on nature and hands-on science, including hiking, music, art, swimming and games. Different weeks offer different themes, such as the Itsy Bitsy World of Nature, where campers make an "insect hotel" for a ladybug, or Eco Week, where a merry-go-round operates with solar power, and campers design an aerodynamic electric vehicle. In Oakland and Berkeley. Visit www.SarahScience.com.
Roughing It Day Camp, ages 4-16, an outdoor day camp at the Lafayette Reservoir. Try horseback riding, swimming, fishing, rowing, crafts, and more traditional camp fare like singing and skits. This camp has been around since 1972. Each year, campers can do new challenges, so they "grow" with the camp. Older campers can do "SuperChoice" activities, like a water-based scavenger hunt or an Amazing Race-like team challenge. Visit www.RoughingIt.com.
Camp EDMO, for children pre-K to eighth grade, on Bay Farm Island in Alameda. This is a play-based day camp that emphasizes wackiness along with art, science, coding, film, technology, and nature programs. All campers learn about EDMO's proprietary life skills game, the EDMO Vibe Game, which rewards campers for doing things that demonstrate empathy, kindness, curiosity, and other desirable social emotions. The camp's name derives from the two founders, who worked with local science museums to develop the STEAM curriculum. Visit www.CampEdMo.org.
Urban Adventure Camp, ages 8-15, all throughout the Bay Area. With this innovative program, the campers' day starts at Rockridge or North Berkeley BART, for riding to museums, gardens, the zoo, and parks—even a Bay Cruise—along the line, with a different destination each day depending on the camp. Explorer camps focus on biology and natural sciences. Other camp options are history, art, physics, and technology, and campers can mix up the best of all of these. Active camps include active adventure (sailing and a high-ropes course, for example), art (glass blowing and street art graffiti), and culinary (visiting restaurant kitchens to learn the ropes). Visit www.UrbanAdventureCamps.com.
Berkeley Rec Sports, ages 8-17, is based at the University of California Aquatic Center in the Berkeley Marina. These outdoor day camps include windsurfing, kayaking, paddleboarding, kite-flying, rock climbing, nature scavenger hunts, and more, such as sculpting environmental clay and letterboxing, an outdoor hobby incorporating elements of orienteering, art, and geocaching. Visit www.RecSports.berkeley.edu/outdoor-program-camps.
Trackers Bay, ages 4-17. (Trackers Bay also offers adult programming, to be done solo or with your family). The outdoor summer camps for youth can be day camps or overnights, with enticing titles like "Forest Ninja," "Realms of the Golden Gate," and "Evil Secret Agent Academy." Campers can learn blacksmithing, fishing (and cooking what you catch on a campfire), woodworking, helping out on a goat farm, and all the regular outdoor sports, just with a very creative angle. There's even a role-playing camp for elves, dragons, and wizards: get an early start on your SCA membership. In Berkeley, Albany and Oakland. Visit www.trackersbay.com—the photography alone is worth a visit.
Avid4 Adventure encourages campers to push beyond their limits in a safe environment. Photo courtesy Avid4 Adventue.