Camp Jekyll Island 4H Center Review
Over the summer, I began organizing a three-day ecology education field trip for my homeschool group. Having experienced the same field trip at the Tybee Island, Georgia, 4H Center, I decided to try the classes at the Jekyll Island 4H Center. We ended up scheduling our trip for a three-day, two-night adventure in mid-October.
I was a bit concerned about the weather at that time of year but it ended up being the perfect time of year to go. Daytime temperatures ran in the high 70s/low 80s, with lots of sun, and you only needed a light jacket in the evenings. The best thing about going at this time of year was that the bugs were not as intense as they can be during the spring and summer months.
Working with the ecology education coordinator was very easy. She was very responsive to all of my questions, often responding to email within a couple of hours, even when she was on vacation in Europe.
We ended up having eight families and a total of 15 children join us on the field trip. For me, this was really the perfect sized group. There were enough kids of varying ages that the kids were able to make friends, but there weren’t so many kids that lead to lots of distractions and an inability to interact with instructors and learn.
We broke our group up into seven kids ages five through nine, and eight kids ages 10 and older. I think it’s always a good idea to break your group up if possible because the instructors are then able to really cater the lessons to the kids’ level.
Classes started at 1:30 on our first day. We all planed to arrive in time to have lunch before the first class began. If you arrive early enough, you are able to check-in and move your things into the dorms before lunch.
Overall, the field trip at Camp Jekyll Island was truly one of the best field trips we’ve ever taken. I signed our group up for all hands-on, interactive classes so that the children would be engaged in their learning. If you are thinking about organizing a field trip to the Camp Jekyll Island 4H Center, I strongly recommended it. Below, I will detail different aspects of the field trip for you.
Once you decide that you are interested in attending an ecology education field trip at Camp Jekyll Island, your first step is to call and make a reservation. Camp Jekyll Island tends to book up several months in advance. So as soon as you know that you are going and you have a rough estimate of your group size, I strongly recommend that you immediately make reservations. You will have to put a deposit down in order to hold your spot, so you’ll want to begin collecting non-refundable deposits from attendees right away.
Now that you have a date, go to their website and review all the classes that are offered. Some classes are offered only during certain times of year so you have to make sure that the classes you want are offered when you are going. There will be classes offered by the Jekyll Island staff as well as school- or parent-led activities that your group will be responsible for organizing. These activities tend to be evening, after dinner activities designed to keep your group entertained after all the daytime classes are over and before 10:30 “lights out.”
Being a group of homeschoolers, of course, our group wasn’t really interested in any of the school/parent-led activities and we just called that activity time “free time”. The Jekyll Island staff was very good at working with us to accommodate our freewheeling homeschool style and we moms were able to come up with some fun unstructured activities for the kids.
After you have put together your attendee numbers and your classes, you will fill out a form and turn that into the Jekyll Island staff, who will then send you a schedule for your trip.
We attended Camp Jekyll Island in October 2017. At that point the facility had been open for only a few months after a major renovation. Essentially, everything was brand-new. The campus was absolutely beautiful. The campus is made up of several buildings including the main administrative building that contains classrooms and a large auditorium, the cafeteria, several dormitories, staff quarters, a gift shop and an outdoor canteen area where you can buy snacks during the breaks.
There is a barrier of woods between the camp and the ocean, with a lovely boardwalk that takes you through the woods on a short 3 to 5 minute walk to the beach.
What I liked most about the facilities were the large, open green spaces. During every break, dozens of kids could be found outside kicking balls and running and playing. There were also a basketball court and sand volleyball pitch. I loved that the kids had lots of opportunities to get outside and run and play in an unstructured atmosphere.
Each dormitory consisted of two private "teacher" rooms, each with one bunkbed and private bathroom. All dorms were equipped for accessibility. There were then 12 additional bunkbeds and a large, clean community bathroom for the students. Our group occupied the Spoonbill A and B dorms. Since we homeschool, we occupied the dorms by family and most moms stayed with their kids in the open bunk room. We were hoping the adjoining door between the two dorms would unlock so that our entire group could interact in the evenings but the adjoining door would not open.
Every class that we took was absolutely amazing. The instructors were great and the children really had to get outside of their comfort zones and handle creatures and really become a part of their environment.
HANDS ON ACTIVITIES
Since I had a child in both age groups, I was able to experience the classes from two different perspectives. And what I can say is that while the older group definitely had classes that were geared towards older kids, I did not feel like the younger kids’ material was being dumbed down for them. I really felt like the instructors did a good job of presenting the material in an age-appropriate, yet not babyish, way.
The instructors of the younger group also recognized the vast difference in ability of the younger children and after giving kids a chance to do work on their own, the instructors were able to easily assist the kids without making a big deal or being condescending to them.
Insects and Physical Activity
When you go to Jekyll, the one thing you need to be prepared to do is walk. According to my smart watch, I averaged 12,000 steps per day. The mid-October weather was perfect for walking around. We were easily able to wear shorts and short sleeves during the day. However, I would strongly recommend wearing long sleeves and long pants in the maritime forest. My daughter wore long pants, long sleeve and rain boots during the maritime forest excursion. Having learned my lesson at Tybee Island, I covered her from head to toe with insect repellent. She came back with no bites.
My son, on the other hand, while agreeing to wear long pants and long sleeves, refused to wear his rain boots into the forest. He came back with a nasty bite on his ankle. Some unknown insect had bitten him through his sock and had actually drawn blood. He thought it was a tick but we have no idea what bit him. I had slathered him with insect repellent from head to toe as well; however, thinking he was going to wear his rain boots, I had not applied it to his feet. To be sure, most people were bitten through their clothes, a lesson I learned when we did the Tybee Island maritime forest adventure two years prior.
Other than the walk through the maritime forest, the only time bugs were really an issue was in the evening. The sand flies and chiggers were no joke once the sun went down. Also, some locals reported a rampant tic problem on the Island, so just be aware. In short: bring and apply ample amounts of insect repellent that repels many types of insects.
Being somewhat crunchy granola, I prepared an essential oil insect repellent before we left the house. It was totally effective and, while we had to reapply a few times a day, the children were not bitten where we applied the repellent. We used the following oils: lemon, cinnamon, tea tree, peppermint, cedar, and orange. I had some Shea butter and so I would put the Shea butter and a few drops of the essential oils in my hand, rub them together and then rub them over the children. They hated the weight of the Shea butter when I first applied it to their skin but it quickly absorbed and, well, it kept them from getting bitten.
I would have to say that this was the only disappointing area that I experienced at Jekyll Island. When we went to Tybee Island in 2015, the food was really good and it was catered by a local business that cooked like someone’s grandma. The food at Camp Jekyll Island, however, was more in line with a typical school cafeteria. I cannot say that I thought any of the food was “good.” My children, who are not picky eaters, and who often went back for seconds when we were at Tybee Island, were only able to eat enough to knock the hunger off. We were all hungry for most of the time that we were there because we found the food inedible.
And when I say that the food was inedible for us, I should qualify the statement. As a family, we do not eat pork and we really stick to trying to eat whole foods. I am a mostly scratch cooker and we rarely eat processed foods. I also really limit the amount of sugar we ingest. We are all very conscious of making sure we have a good balance of protein and vegetables or fruit and grains at each meal and even the children are adept at reading labels. So, that being said, it’s the processed and prepackaged nature of the food at camp Jekyll Island was not something that we would normally eat.
Camp Jekyll Island will accommodate food allergies and food sensitivities. The children and I were issued a wristband that indicated that we did not eat pork. What that meant was, for example, on the day when pork sausage was the breakfast meat, we were issued a biscuit and tasteless hash brown. There was an assortment of mostly sweet cereals, which we don’t typically eat, but that I found I had to allow them to eat just so they could come close to filling themselves up. There were also premixed yogurt, which we don’t eat because of the added sugar and other additives, and bananas.
For lunch and dinner, we tried the apples and oranges but they had a funny, waxy taste to them as did the salad greens. This was observed by several members of our group. And so, I ended up letting the kids buy energy bars at the canteen in order to make up for the lack of edible food in the cafeteria.
If you are a healthy eater, I suggest that you prepare your own snacks to take with you and keep them in a cooler. If you have any food allergies, be sure to let the staff know ahead of time as they will issue wristbands that indicate what your allergies are – dairy, nuts, pork, etc. When the bell rings for meals, people with wristbands get to line up first so that the servers can ensure that all the dietary restrictions are followed.
Also, be prepared to perform what they call KP duty. This means that you have to arrive 30 minutes before meal time in order to help set up. This job is basically done by 2 to 3 kids and one adult from your group at each meal. There will be other groups there as well helping out. For the pre-meal preparations, the kids pre-fill cups with various drinks and help set up the cafeteria line area so that the line can move smoothly and quickly as possible. They also eat during this pre-meal time.
Once everyone has been called in to eat, the KP kids help serve drinks and answer questions and help out in any way they can. After the meal is over, the KP kids then get to clean up the cafeteria. This means wiping tables, wiping chairs, sweeping the floor and mopping up any messes. There also KP kids collecting trays and dumping silverware, trash, and cups in different stacks so that they can be processed and washed in a quick and orderly fashion. Someone from your group is required to show up for KP at every meal.
In October, when the sun rises late, check out ended up being a bit of an adventure. You have to be checked out before you can go to breakfast, which is at 7:30. This means that you have to have all of your stuff packed up, loaded in your vehicle, and then have your dorm cleaned and inspected before 7:15. They have mops and brooms and other cleaning materials in the utility closet inside of each dorm.
When we got up at 6:15 to get ourselves ready, it was pitch black outside. Oh yeah, there are no lights on the property - only on the buildings - so walking across the campus to our car at 6:15 in the dark was definitely an exciting adventure. When we arrived at Camp Jekyll, there were carts available to help you transport your stuff to your dorm. It is quite a long walk so the carts were helpful. However, when you have 200+ people trying to pack and leave at the same time, you are unlikely to find an available cart. So, we ended up making a couple of very long jaunts to the car carrying our things by hand.
After that, we returned to our dorm and began the process of cleaning it. We are assigned a counselor to inspect. You cannot go to breakfast until the counselor has cleared your dorm. If you’re not ready when she come to inspect the first time, you have to wait until she comes back from inspecting the other dorms. Word of advice: be ready the first time. Once your dorm has been cleared and your keys have been turned in, you are really not supposed to go back inside.
If you are driving a long-distance the morning of departure, the early wake-up can prove challenging. And if you have a straggler in your dorm, the whole dorm is held up for breakfast until that straggler gets their stuff together and clears out for inspection.
On the day of checkout, our schedule included breakfast, our Shark Dissection class (which was phenomenal – the instructors get an A+ for that class) a school led activity and lunch. Our group decided that we would leave after the shark led activity. No reason for the homeschoolers to stick around for another 2 hours, wasting time. If you do decide to skip that last meal, the administration asks that you let them know so that they can prepare meals for the appropriate numbers.
The Jekyll Island field trip was a great success for our homeschool group. Everyone had a great time, we all learned a ton and we met new friends. I highly recommend any school or homeschool group that is interested in the Camp Jekyll Island 4H field trip to do it. And remember to take in the beauty of the island while you are there. http://www.jekyll4h.org