Some campers prefer sports or the outdoors, while others want to have adventures with furry, feathered, and even scaly friends. Animal camps have become a popular alternative for children of all ages looking for a unique experience.
One of the options available to children ages 4 to 14 is the Animal Adventures Zoo Camp at Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. Since 1988, zoo campers have enjoyed animal encounters, guided tours and themed classroom lessons as part of the weeklong camp sessions.
Each camp has a different theme. For example, campers enrolled in the Wild Destinations option learn about different habitats such as the rainforest and the African savanna. The camp is designed for children ages 6-7. “The campers go on tours every day, see animal feedings, watch the elephants take baths, meet the zookeepers, and do crafts,” said Margie Marks, curator of conservation education.
Marks added that the extremely popular camps sell out quickly, with the zoo’s 6- and 7-year-old camps filling up first. “For this summer, we are sold out except for a few spots left in the 12- to 14-year-old camps,” she said.
Other zoo camps include:
Amazing Animals – children ages 4 through 5 enjoy animal lessons, animal encounters, tours, songs, and crafts. Each day has a new theme.
Families Untamed – children ages 8 through 9 use clues to figure out which animals belong to which animal kingdom.
Wild by Design – children ages 10 through 11 explore animal designs and adaptations that go into building a zoo.
Zoo Camp Plus – teens ages 12 through 14 take zoo camp to the next level by experiencing the zoo in a whole new light. This camp still has availability for the 2022 season.
Check out the full offerings at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium on their website at www.pittsburghzoo.org/zoocamp.
Are you interested in an animal summer camp that caters to older kids? Look no further than the National Aviary’s Career Camp for Teens. For the last 20 years, the Aviary has given teen campers the chance to explore its lush habitats, see beautiful birds up close, and join an expert for birdwatching at Allegheny Commons Park. The camp takes things one step further by allowing teens to explore wildlife careers.
“The teen summer camp has a career focus, so campers interact with some of the National Aviary’s experts in ornithology, animal care, conservation and veterinary medicine,” said Cathy Schlott, the National Aviary’s director of animal programs and experiences. “Campers have the opportunity to learn about the science behind owls’ ability to fly silently, get a closer look at bird anatomy through guided activities, and spend time with an animal ambassador during an exclusive encounter.”
The Aviary’s weeklong camps run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a unique theme for each day. The camp is ideal for 13-to-16-year-olds who have a passion for birds, love the outdoors, or are simply curious to learn more about avians, said Schlott.
“These summer camps provide outstanding opportunities to learn from experts and gain important insight into careers in animal care, conservation and environmental sciences,” she added.
Another option for campers who enjoy spending time outdoors observing animals in their natural habitat is the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania’s summer camps. These day camps are designed for children ages 5 to 18, with adventures and lessons targeted to specific age groups. Campers have enjoyed their offerings for the last 15 years.
Camps take place at Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve in Fox Chapel, the Succop Nature Park in Butler, and the Buffalo Creek Nature Park in Sarver. Each session is unique. The camps are ideal for explorers, bird lovers, and animal lovers who appreciate the fun that can be had in the natural world.
Older teens may especially like the camps offered by the society. “Many of our teen campers started out with us in our camps for younger children,” said Rachel Handel, communications director. “They take part in nature exploration, hearing and finding birds and other animals, and feeling the joy of playing outside in the natural world.”
Handel said as young children mature into young adults, they look for more challenges and a deeper understanding of the natural world.
“That’s what our camps for teens provide. They include site visits and more in-depth study of subjects like watersheds and the importance of clean waterways,” she said. “There’s also an opportunity for teens to work as ANTS (Audubon Naturalists in Training), helping our staff to share the experience of summer camp with younger campers.”
Campers can choose from half-day or full-day camps. This year, the society is also offering single-day camps for some of their programs. The single-day options run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for a full day, or 9 a.m. to noon or 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. for the half-day sessions.
Children enrolled in these special one-day offerings can explore trails, ponds, a creek, meadows, fields, and native plants, depending on the location. “They can experience our nature play areas while gaining insight into healthy ecosystems and having fun,” said Handel. “What’s great about our experiences is that fun is the main feature, and learning happens naturally.”