From Happy Camper to Camp Developer: Building the New Nature Camps at the Museum

We are frequently asked if the Canadian Museum of Nature runs day camps during school holidays. This year we are really pleased to be able to answer a resounding “Yes!” This summer, for the first time since finishing our renovations in 2010, we will be offering Nature Camps for children and youth aged 6 to 14.

Two women stand near a field.

Memories of 1984: Laurel (left) and a fellow counsellor prepare for summer at Camp Canterbury Hills. Image: Kathleen Marsman © Kathleen Marsman

My colleague Pamela and I have both had memorable and extremely formative experiences as both campers and counsellors at summer camps. Our past experiences provided inspiration for us as we laid out the foundations of the new camps.

For me, summer camp is where I first did bark- and leaf-rubbings and became aware and mesmerised by the diversity of trees around me. Summer camp is also where I learned to express myself through drama, music and public speaking.

More fundamentally, summer camp is where I gained self-confidence and established life-long friendships. How exciting to be able to offer similar experiences here at the Museum of Nature!

A woman holds a bottle that has been turned into a hanging trap for flying insects.

Pamela Kirk explains how a flying-insect trap works during a workshop at the museum. Image: Nathalie Benoît © Canadian Museum of Nature

Pamela had similar experiences. She recalls, “I often went to specialty-themed camps during the holidays. Those are some of my favourite childhood memories—really delving in to the topics that had piqued my interest throughout the year was a fantastic way to spend part of the summer! I remember a particular day camp where we went to a local preserve and sketched birds and other creatures. I was among more experienced artists and learned so much just by being with that group. What I learned at that camp formed the basis for my love of scientific drawing.’

“Things learned in camp can have a life-long influence, even shaping career choices,” adds Pamela. First a camper, she later became the programmer, and then the administrator of an outdoor science camp.

“I’m still in touch with many of my co-workers and camp alumni, some of whom have gone on to become professional palaeontologists, archaeologists and geologists.”

So it is with great enthusiasm that our team started building the new Nature Camps. First, we defined the camp goals, scope and overall focus. There are a lot of great camps in the Ottawa region. How and what can we do that will be special?

We considered our unique expertise, consulted with colleagues and came up with four themes for our Nature Camps: Dinosaurs and Fossils, Arctic, Canada’s Creatures and Bioluminescence.

We want to capitalize and build on the incredible wealth of knowledge and experience of a variety of museum staff. Campers will learn from a real palaeontologist, Arctic explorer, or maybe even a mammalogist! They will also explore behind the scenes with an animal-care technician, exhibition designer or museum-collections curator.

Two boys use fine hand tools to remove rock from around a fossil.

We want to expose Nature Camps campers to the scientific work done behind the scenes at the museum. Here, two boys help remove rock from around a fossil. Image: C.W. Clark © C.W. Clark

In addition to providing in-depth opportunities to discover our permanent and special exhibitions (for example, Creatures of Light), we want the campers to discover the science behind the museum.

We also want them to be inspired by as many museum staff as possible and learn about potential museum careers. We want to build museum ambassadors and life-long friendships with the campers.

And who knows, maybe some of these children will love their experience enough to walk in our tracks and welcome future participants in Nature Camps!

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2 Responses to From Happy Camper to Camp Developer: Building the New Nature Camps at the Museum

  1. Mary wade says:

    Your camps sound like they will provide interesting and unique experiences for your students…..where are the camps for the 60+ year olds? I want to attend one!!

  2. nature says:

    lol. Good idea!

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