From meeting new friends to scavenger hunts and outdoor adventures to colorful crafts, summer camp at the Zoo is the place to be! This year’s camps just got started, and we wanted to give you an inside look into what our campers will be up to and how our educators create specially designed programs for them.
The Secret Sauce
Here at the Zoo, we prioritize the value of nature play in all of our education programs. “Whether we are indoors or outdoors, nature is always a huge component of each game, craft, experiment or other activity,” said Dee Maynard, the Zoo’s Supervisor of Youth Programs. Nature play is beneficial for many reasons, including the ability for kids to learn about the world that surrounds them and discover how they fit into that world by interacting with other living things! In addition to self-discovery, our programs are designed for campers to develop a heightened empathy for animals and for one another.
These camps are planned using a “roadmap,” which is based on one developed by a fellow AZA-accredited zoo. This roadmap helps us plan activities that not only line up with educational standards, but also help campers grow intellectually, physically, socially and emotionally. “In other words, we try to engage the whole child through hands-on, multisensory experiences,” said Dee.
Safety is always the number one priority. “But after that, we want campers to be having fun as they practice age-appropriate skills with their peers,” said Dee. Although our camps are educational, they aren’t school! Camps are designed to be about social interaction, but it’s impossible to engage in nature play and not learn something.
A Day in the Life
Did you know that we host summer camps for kids of all ages – from kindergarten to middle school? “Programs for each age group are tailored to the social dynamics of that age group,” Dee said. For example, kindergarten camp activities usually change every 15 minutes, while middle school campers enjoy day-long excursions.
Here are some of the fun things that campers get to do at the Zoo on any given day:
All camps revolve around a fun theme. For example, our first week of camps included a session called “Ickyology” that included activities such as dissecting squid, making hagfish slime erupt and examining owl pellets!
Of course, no summer camp session at the Zoo would be complete without meeting animal residents! Our campers will have the chance to feed giraffes, aviary birds and koi fish as well as interact with animal ambassadors like Higgins the sloth, Shelley the porcupine, Hiccup the bearded dragon, Thor the hyacinth macaw, Simon the ball python and Petri the kookaburra. “And, of course, they will get to see all the other animals who live at the Zoo!”
The Value of Summer Learning
“Even if they are not in a structured academic setting, it’s important for kids to practice skills that help them do well in school,” said Dee. During summer camps at the Zoo, campers have the opportunity to learn social skills like teamwork and following directions, practice their reading and writing, and be exposed to new environments and ideas! “These things help keep kids’ minds sharp and give them the foundational experiences that will allow them to do better in school when it starts up again.”
Kids aren’t the only ones who get value out of summer camps. Our teachers do as well! “We get to know many of these kids as we see them each year, and interacting with them makes every day special,” said Dee. “We have fun designing the different activities, but we have even more fun sharing them with the campers and watching their excitement!” When our education team were asked what they feel the value is to them in providing summer camps, there were many variations of the same answer: I’m making a positive difference in the lives of children.
Our 2023 summer camps are all filled! If you would like your child to be a part of a camp at the Zoo, keep an eye out for winter camps later this year.
Brevard Zoo is an independent, not-for-profit organization that receives no recurring government funding for our operating costs. Your generous support enables us to continue to serve our community and continue our vital animal wellness, education and conservation programs.