By Alexandra Jones
Summer camp isn’t just about giving parents some peace and quiet while school is out of session. Sending your kid to camp can be a great way to get them interested in the world’s big picture environmental issues.
Today’s campers are tomorrow’s innovators—and they might just save the planet.
According to a five-year study done by the American Camp Association, kids who attend summer camp also learn soft skills essential for effective communication, like responsibility, emotional regulation and an appreciation of others’ differences, which can prime them for success in both school and the workplace.
Furthermore, in the interest of creating the next generation of environmentally conscious innovators who will soon take the reins of saving our planet, the combination of play, learning and exploration emphasized at summer camps gives kids the chance to be present in the moment, try new things and develop an affinity for nature.
Here’s a list of great summer camp programs in and around Philadelphia that will help your kids grow and thrive while instilling in them the importance of conserving resources, preserving natural spaces, greening our cities and protecting wildlife.
Arboreta aren’t just for hikes with the dog, springtime picnics or outdoor weddings. During two-week day-camp sessions for a variety of age groups, kids and young teens get the chance to ramble on 55 acres, conveniently located in Philadelphia, allowing them hands-on experience in nature.
Awbury’s camp programs present environmental education and natural play to campers through different engaging lenses: Little kids can choose from Forest Creatures, featuring critters found in the arboretum’s newly rehabbed wetlands and its resident goats, or Natural Foragers, where plants and other woodland materials become fodder for artistic and edible creations.
Tweens can make-believe their favorite Young Adult literary series: At Camp Katniss, they’ll learn Hunger Games-inspired survival skills like archery and campfire cooking, while Ilvermorny Camp for Witches & Wizardry gets kids interested in the outdoors with activities like Care of Magical Creatures, Potions and Herbology. Or, if they’re interested in real-life camping, Advanced Wilderness Survival Skills will teach them how to do things you probably can’t even do—like making rope from plants, filter water, or build a shelter from debris.
Ages: 6-14 | Dates: June–August | Cost: $600-$675 per two-week session (A scholarship rate of $150 is available for qualifying participants in 19138 and 19144) | Location: Awbury Arboretum 1 Awbury Rd., Philadelphia | awbury.org
Journey’s End Farm Camp
Food—who will grow it, where it’s grown and how it will get into our pantries and onto our plates—is a huge part of shaping a sustainable future. At Journey’s End Farm Camp in Northeastern Pennsylvania, 210 acres of conserved farmland, gardens, woods and streams serve as the classroom for lessons focused around conserving nature, growing food and caring for animals.
Kids sleep in cabins, tree houses or tents; go on woodland hikes; pick blueberries; and take responsibility for daily tasks on the farm, like feeding chickens and rabbits and milking cows. In the garden, they learn which insects are beneficial and which plants are weeds.
There’s plenty of time for fun and relaxation, too: arts and crafts like macramé and ceramics; working with wood, from cutting logs to crafting furniture; playing games; singing; storytelling; and time for quiet reflection in the camp’s Quaker tradition.
Frankly, this sounds like an awesome summer vacation for a grownup. Too bad it’s kids only.
Ages: 7-12 | Dates: June 21-August 15 | Cost: $2,200 per two-week session | Location: Journey’s End Farm, 364 Sterling Rd., Newfoundland | journeysendfarm.org
Riverbend Environmental Education Center
Riverbend Environmental Education Center provides a wide range of weeklong day-camp sessions focused on nature, environment and conservation. This leafy 30-acre wooded wilderness in the Philly suburbs features streams, hiking trails, an aquaponics farm and a 19th-century farmhouse.
Each week of camp covers a different theme, with age groups from toddlers to young teens receiving age-appropriate curricula—like Planet Protectors, Wilderness Survival and Messy Science. Toddlers focus on using imagination and creativity; older kids perform their own investigative discoveries into natural phenomena; and tweens learn valuable skills, go on hikes and field trips, and can take part in optional evening cookouts and overnight campouts at the center.
Teenagers can get in on the fun while volunteering and building leadership skills. Conservation-minded teens who like working with young kids—a science teacher in training, perhaps?—can apply to be an Educator-in-Training, where they’ll support educators with the youngest campers.
Ages: 3-13 | Dates: June 8-September 4 | Cost: $240-$850 per week depending on age range | Location: Riverbend Environmental Education Center, 1950 Spring Mill Rd., Gladwyne | riverbendeec.org
Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education
Whether your kid is really into bugs, goes crazy for reptiles and dinosaurs, likes to help you out in the garden or has an impressive rock collection, there’s a program for them at the Schuylkill Center, one of the first urban education centers in the U.S. The 340-acre former farm features habitats from forest to wetland, with a mission to foster connections between people and nature.
At weeklong day-camp sessions, Schuylkill Center campers get to focus on age-appropriate programming around their favorite nature-centric topics: mammals, reptiles, bugs or birds; plants, water or rocks; invasive species, pollination or farm-to-table cooking.
Overnights are reserved for tweens, who get to spend two nights camping out in wilderness spots like Assateague Island, the Pine Barrens, Elk Neck State Park, or on the Center’s grounds for programs like Farm to Table Dining or Exploring Philly.
Ages: 3-12 | Dates: June 15-August 21 | Cost: $360-$435 per week for members, $350-$485 for non-members | Location: Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, 8480 Hagy’s Mill Rd. | schuylkillcenter.org
Kids Bug-U Camp
As much as 90 percent of our planet’s species—anywhere from 1 to 6 million—are insects. These arthropods are essential to the rest of life on Earth, pollinating plants and crops, breaking down dead organic matter and serving as a key link in pretty much every food chain on Earth.
So it’s pretty cool that we have a whole science museum dedicated to them. Tucked away in the Northeast, the Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion is one of the best places for kids to learn and play in the city. At their weeklong sessions, kids get a behind-the-scenes look at the Insectarium’s menagerie of creepy crawlies, from exotic moths to camouflaged walking sticks. Lessons include the importance of pollinators, identifying beneficial insects and pests, and how to interact with these animals safely, with hands-on exploration and bug collection in Pennypack Park.
Bug-U Camp ends up being one of the more affordable camps offered in the city: Kids participate in the Insectarium’s Junior Entomologist Program, which gets them a pass for free visits over the next year. And parents who sign up for two weeks of camp at once can save 10 percent on registration fees.
Ages: 6-16 | Dates: July 13-August 14 | Cost: $324-$362 per week | Location: Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion, 8046 Frankford Ave. | phillybutterflypavilion.com
ESF Summer Camp: Animal Advocates
This kids’ camp program—the ESF stands for education, sports and fun—holds summertime programming throughout the Mid-Atlantic, with curricula around robotics, engineering, entrepreneurship and, yes, rocket science on offer via partnerships with institutions like the Franklin Institute.
For children who love animals and nature, they’ve teamed up with educators from our very own Philadelphia Zoo. Animal Advocates: Penguin Protectors, a two-week day-camp program, uses the zoo’s penguin population to give kids up-close experiences with animals in the classroom and teach valuable lessons around conservation, sustainability and advocacy.
In addition to encounters with feathered friends, campers will get a special overnight stay at the zoo, behind-the-scenes tours and Skype sessions with conservation experts. They’ll also develop their very own advocacy campaigns about conservation causes important to them—and you’ll get to see them present their work to their fellow campers, camp parents and zoo representatives on the program’s last day.
Ages: Grades 3-6 | Dates: July 20-24 and July 27-31 | Cost: $1,278 for the two-week session | Location: The Haverford School, 450 Lancaster Ave., Haverford | esfcamps.com/camps-experiences/science/
Briar Bush Nature Center
This 12.5-acre green oasis serves as the classroom for weeklong morning, full-day, or half-day-camp sessions focused on scientific inquiry and developing a love and respect for nature through play and discovery. There’s also an overnight option for older kids.
Briar Bush offers separate curricula for different age groups, from toddlers to teens. Get bonding time with your 2- to 4-year-old with Itty Bitty Briars, a single-day hour-long program that engages the senses with activities around soft, scaly and slimy animals. For kids aged 4 to 6, half-day sessions are built around themes like Nests, Holes and Homes and Pond Pals and Playmates.
Full-day camps for kids aged 6 and 7 include activities like making your own animal trading cards, based on species campers spot in the center’s woods, streams and sky; exploring how early humans survived through foraging and hunting; and learning about different kinds of animals through bones (or lack thereof).
Programs for 8- to 12-year-olds include field trips to natural sites and educational institutions to study aquatic animals, learn about the life of the Lenni Lenape or practice what it means to be a wildlife biologist. Tweens and teens get to head out on a three-night overnight stay at Hickory Run State Park for an immersive natural experience.
Ages: 2-15 | Dates: June 8-August 28 | Cost: $65-$500 | Location: Briar Bush Nature Center, 1212 Edge Hill Rd., Abington | briarbush.org
Silver Lake Nature Center
Located in Bucks County, this 400-acre wilderness has everything a kid needs for a crash course in nature and science: woods, wetlands, lakes, bogs, a butterfly garden and even an Earthship, a sustainable structure built to serve as an autonomous home that caters to humans’ basic needs.
At weeklong day-camp sessions, kids go on daily hikes and spend time each afternoon reflecting on the day during journaling exercises. Campers choose which activities they’d like to do each day, with options like kayaking, building fires or fairy houses, fishing, searching for owls and wildlife photography.
Froglets—kids aged 5 to 12—stick to the nature center, but Frogs, in the 13 to 17 age group, get to explore natural sites in the area with their fellow campers or camp overnight on Silver Lake’s grounds.
Ages: 5-17 | Dates: June 22-August 21 | Cost: $250-$400 | Location: 1306 Bath Rd., Bristol | silverlakenaturecenter.org
Business of Doing Good Summer Camp
Maybe your child is more of an indoor kid than an outdoor adventurer, with big dreams to change the world for the better. The Business of Doing Good gives middle schoolers the space to find a cause they’re passionate about, along with the tools to become junior social entrepreneurs and communicate their ideas to the world.
Taught by entrepreneurs and educators, this weeklong program gets kids thinking not only about what their own goals are, but how their ideas can improve life for their communities—or even the world at large. The goal is to empower kids to define their beliefs and to put their goals into motion.
The weeklong session, taking place at different sites around Philly, also includes lessons on how to present and pitch your idea to others—be they parents, teachers or angel investors.
Ages: 11-14 | Dates: August 3-9 | Location: Center City (locations TBA), Philadelphia | Cost: $450, with sliding-scale options available | thebusinessofdoinggood.org