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Oklahoma City camp counselors turn archery and pizza into teachable moments

Oklahoma City’s Camp DaKaNi holds camp throughout the year to keep children occupied and help them learn more about themselves.
By Paighten Harkins, Staff Writer Published: July 13, 2014

At Camp DaKaNi, the pizza isn’t just pizza. It’s a teaching tool.

This summer, about 1,300 children signed up to roam the 33-acre site where things are rarely as they seem — from the rock wall to the archery range to the lunch food. But the kids don’t know that.

Located in Oklahoma City, Camp Fire Heart of Oklahoma’s Camp DaKaNi aims to help campers find themselves and learn life skills through activities disguised as fun.

The last summer day camp of the season begins Monday. About 200 children attend each of the summer day camp sessions, which last for four days and run from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., said camp director Penn Henthorn, known as Mr. Bearfoot.

Almost everything that happens in camp, from the structured activities to the children’s creative play time, is a teachable moment from which some life skill can be learned, Henthorn said.

When campers fish at the pond, they’re not just learning to fish; they’re learning patience. When they’re canoeing, they’re learning to listen and work as team.

When camp counselor Andrew Tucker, known as Mr. Pilot, was teaching a group of young campers to canoe, he gave them basic steering information and a mission: They had to paddle the canoe around the pond and under the bridge that sits in the middle, and they had to do it twice.

After receiving instructions, the first group got into the water, which is only about 3 feet deep, with life vests and paddles, and was off. They started out slowly, and their uncoordinated paddling made the boat go in circles, but they finally got into a rhythm and passed under the bridge for the first time.

Standing away from the pond near some shade trees was camp counselor Michael Thomas, known as Mr. Scottish.

“It’s weird how quickly they all kind of realize right and wrong,” he said.

Sitting near Thomas and waiting their turn were twins Steven and Dominik Morrison, 6. When the first group finished, Tucker called for the two, but Dominik didn’t want to canoe — and that’s fine too.

“We don’t push them to go to the absolute max. We push them to their own max, whatever they feel comfortable with,” Thomas said.

Dominik said his favorite camp activity was Ga-Ga, a game where campers face off in a wooden octagon filled with sand.

“There’s a bunch of people. But when everybody is going, all of the people come out, even one teacher,” Dominik said.

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At a glance

Camp DaKaNi

The camp is accredited by the American Camp Association, meaning it must meet 300 standards that range from safety to program quality. For more information about those standards, go to

The camp is open throughout the year for day camps and education programs, and it hosts a resident camp during the summer. A complete list of programs can be found on the website at

The next camp session is Camp C.A.N.O.E., from July 21 to 25. It is open to children with autism.

To register for sessions or for more information, contact the camp at 254-2080 or

How to help

To donate funds to Camp Fire Heart of Oklahoma, go to their website at Donations are used to pay for camp improvements, updated equipment and staff.


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