Maddie Breen, 6, carefully placed a yellow flower on a sticky sheet of contact paper, stepped back and decided she needed to add one more leaf to the creation.
“What do you think?” Maddie asked the other campers Friday as they worked on art projects at the LSU Hilltop Arboretum’s Summer Sprouts Camp.
The camp, for ages 4-7, provides children “a little fun outdoors,” said Cindy Peterson, the camp’s director.
With the help of a small staff, an intern and five junior counselors, Peterson guided the children through a series of activities — including a nature walk, a play about growing plants, hula hooping, bubbles and storytime.
Oscar Fenske, 6, presented Peterson with his “bug house” — a collection of pine straw, leaves and pine cones piled onto a tray.
“Predators won’t be able to see” the bugs when they crawl in, Oscar explained. “It’s a lot of cover (for the bugs) and it’s dark in there, just the way bugs like it.”
He said the house could attract a snake. “If a snake enters, I might even keep it.”
Oscar, a first-grader at Episcopal School, who said he likes bugs and creatures, quickly ran off in search of the perfect place to keep his bug house until it was time to go home.
Peterson said she and the camp counselors encourage the children to be creative with the native plants and things they find around the arboretum.
Emory Smith donated the property for the arboretum to LSU in 1981. The university’s school of landscape architecture was charged with managing the site.
The 14-acre property, seven miles south of the LSU campus on Highland Road, includes many Louisiana native plants and trees, four ravines, a pond and paths for visitors to tour the grounds.
Jacob McGill, 21, a LSU landscape architecture student working at Hilltop this summer as an intern, said spending the morning with active children “is not a big deal” because he has some experience with children thanks to his three younger siblings at home.
But, he said, wrangling 35 active children in the Louisiana June heat can be a challenge.
McGill said he’s spent his time during camp sharing his love of the outdoors with the children. He took the campers fishing one day, and helps identify trees and plants during hikes.
While it’s not exactly what he envisioned when he accepted the internship, he said he’s happy for the experience and enjoys seeing the children excited about discovering nature.
Parker Norman, 7, a student at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic School, said he learned about nature when the campers read the book “The Moonflower.”
“Did you know moonflowers open at night when it’s dark and sunflowers open during the day when the sun shines?” Parker said as he explained what he learned at camp.
“And there a hawk moth, too,” he said of the book’s story.
After reading the book, the campers drew moonflowers and other things discussed in the story. Parker’s drawing showed an open moonflower. Peterson said she was impressed that many of the children could accurately draw the moonflower or hawk moth. “They captured the correct colors and even the right shape,” she said. “Despite all the distractions out here, they listened to the story and understood its message of what happens at night when the moon shines down.”
The children’s understanding of nature and what it takes to grow plants was presented in a creative way when several of the girls staged a play featuring a princess who was trying to save the plants from poison and bad guys. The girls, part of the Sprouts Camp Players, draped themselves in sparkled fabrics and shook rain sticks to tell their tale.
Rome Gautreau, 8, a third-grader at Wildwood Elementary School serving as a helper during camp, guided the girls through wardrobe choices, where to stand and what to say. Each girl draped sparkled fabric to create a character.
Peterson said the plays give the students a chance to show off their creative side and take a break from the sweltering heat. The play was staged inside the education building. But most of the day is spent outdoors.
As the play ended, Peterson called out different groups to line up for the next activity. First, she called for the snail group, then the frogs and fish.
After a snack break, the children gathered for a hike around Hilltop.
Oscar quickly headed to the front of the line, ready, he said, to maybe collect more materials for his bug house.
“You never know what’s next,” Peterson said. “That’s the fun of Sprouts Camp.”