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Talking fun summer learning with Dorothy Antczak of the Crane Estate’s SummerQuest camp. 

Home to the 2,000-acre Crane Estate, Castle Hill in Ipswich teems with deer, fox, turkeys, songbirds, great horned owls, red-tailed hawks, and the occasional bald eagle. In short, it is a wild kingdom ripe for adventure. As the backdrop to SummerQuest, a nine-week, place-based educational day camp, the grounds offer unique lessons to the nearly 475 kids who take part in program “expeditions.” Camp activities are designed to set the imagination aflame with experiential story-based lessons in history, topography, habitat, and wildlife. Here, the camp’s director, Dorothy Antczak, tells Northshore what makes the program work.


How does SummerQuestwork? It’s divided into age-appropriate themed quests that include Seacoast Safari, Crane Scene Investigators, Time Travelers, Crane Castaways, and Alien Invaders. Campers learn about endangered plants and animals, mystery-solving strategies, the history of the Agawam Indian tribe, survival techniques, and invasive plant species. The stories conjured by camp educators are tied to underlying learning objectives. This is a way to get kids to flip a switch and use their own imaginations. Campers are encouraged to think of themselves as characters in an ever-unfolding drama. Sharing the same story makes for a richer and more memorable experience for all.


How do kids respond to the concept of learning during summer vacation? Some campers initially resist the program’s fanciful approach, but inevitably, they are bewitched by the fantasy. This suspension of disbelief is a powerful teaching tool. Story is a big piece of each quest. We are playing make-believe all day long, outside. The idea is to help kids develop a love for nature and the great outdoors and, more specifically, a love of place. When kids love a place they are more apt to treasure and care for it. SummerQuest capitalizes on the thrill of childhood adventuring. The ultimate goal is to cultivate that love of place so that as they get older, that love will develop to include a more widespread caring for the environment.


Who is the program open to? Thanks to the outreach efforts of five North Shore agencies and sponsorship from The Crane Fund for Widows and Children, New England Biolabs, and individual donors, 30 percent of camp attendees receive scholarships. Kids from more marginalized communities like Gloucester, Haverhill, and Salisbury are given financial aid (as well as transportation), which makes the whole program more diverse and so much richer.


What makes the Crane Estate such a special setting for SummerQuest? The Crane Estate proffers meadows and orchards, lawns and gardens, white sand beaches, wind-sculpted dunes, and several uninhabited islands bordered by hundreds of acres of salt marsh. It is a land rife with learning opportunities, many of which unfold in unexpected ways. As one small third-grader, known for falling behind the rest of the group, said upon seeing a deer and fawn cross her path,”See, when you move slowly, the world comes to you.” That is precisely what we want to hear. She’s learning to be an observer.