Getting away from screens and going outside gives children countless ways to think, discover, be creative and problem solve while also being more active.
They can attend a camp, visit a garden, engage in farming and work with animals as they extend their learning into the summer. Northern Colorado organizations like the Juniper Hill Ranch Camp, Growing Gardens, Friends School and Longmont Humane Society give your kids multiple opportunities to learn alongside animals and nature.
Juniper Hill Ranch Camp
The Juniper Hill Ranch Camp in Longmont combines a summer camp atmosphere with learning about ranch life through the Juniper Hill Ranch Camp for Girls, geared to girls ages 8 to 12. The camp is offered in four eight-week sessions in June and July and is limited to 12 girls per session.
Campers take part in outdoor activities, participate in arts and crafts and learn about animal care at the 10-acre working ranch, which has eight sheep, 10 chickens, two ducks and a bunch of barn cats.
“Spending time with animals, you start to realize how interconnected you are with the natural world around you. You realize how much power you have to make a difference in your community and the world,” said Tori Peglar, founder and director of the Juniper Hill Ranch Camp.
Peglar founded the camp in summer 2019 as a pilot program, then had to put it on pause during the COVID-19 pandemic until this summer. She wanted a way to help girls improve their confidence through trying new things, mastering skills and overcoming the fear of failure.
The girls participate in outdoor adventures, like races, scavenger hunts and team-building activities, and engage in arts and crafts projects using natural materials, such as making organic chapsticks and beeswax and creating nail art using a hammer and nails.
Some of the girls who don’t think of themselves as artists find they can be creative and get a sense of accomplishment, Peglar said. They feed and care for the farm animals, getting exposed to them on a daily basis and developing a relationship with them, she said.
“Animals are such an important part of the human experience. Without animals, our entire system would collapse,” Peglar said. > juniperhillranch.com
Growing Gardens offers a summer camp for kids among its many programs held at the 11-acre working farm founded in 1998. There are canning, cooking and nutrition classes and ways to get fresh, local produce out in the community through a community garden, a produce farm stand and food and plant donations.
The Children’s Peace Garden teaches gardening to children ages 5-11 in a hands-on kind of way through summer camps, field trips, classes and an after-school garden club. The garden represents a small sampling of the produce and fruit trees grown on the larger working farm with raised garden beds, an herb garden and even a circular pizza garden with the ingredients for pizza. Children learn about the sources of food they eat and what’s involved in organic gardening, as well as the importance of biodiversity and environmental stewardship.
The summer camps are offered in nine week-long sessions June to August and are geared to children ages 5 to 11. Campers tend to the garden and make snacks from what they harvest.
“Each week offers a different theme with a garden lens on it,” said Megan Reynoso, education program manager of Growing Gardens. “They get a little bit of empowerment to take care of the farm.”
The field trips enhance the elementary science curriculum with a set of 15 different lessons focused on organic gardening practices, local food and biodiversity. Students get a personal connection with the source of their food, while also exploring what’s around them, sometimes without structure. For instance, they may be handed a magnifying glass and asked to find what they can in 15 minutes.
“They get a chance to be detectives and wander around a little more than they get to in a classroom,” Reynoso said. “Giving kids tools to explore in nature can lead to its own type of learning.” > growinggardens.org
Longmont Humane Society
The Longmont Humane Society, in its 50th year this year, offers a summer camp for children ages 7-12 called Kids & Critters. The half-day mini-camp is over three days and is offered in five sessions June to July. Lessons focus on safe animal-handling skills and animal care, welfare and safety through interactive animal-themed games, activities and guest presentations.
“They learn about animal behavior and understand when and how to approach animals,” said McKenna Wood, humane education and development coordinator for the Longmont Humane Society.
Campers learn about responsible pet ownership, including the importance of spay and neuter surgeries and microchipping, what kind of careers involve animals and what staff does at the shelter to care for the animals, including surgical processes, behavioral evaluations and training. The participants also learn how to photograph animals, something the shelter does for all of its new arrivals.
“It’s really important to educate kids about animals in order to instill good habits and a positive attitude toward animals at an early age,” Wood said. “We also love having kids here and we love to have fun.” > longmonthumane.org
Friends School Boulder
Friends School Boulder is a private PK-8 school that offers after-school and summer programming, including a preschool backyard camp in June and weekly camps with classes in theater, cooking, science and art over six weeks in June and July. The weekly camps, for ages 3-14, can be a half-day or full day with different sessions offered in the morning and the afternoon.
“We try to do as much as we can outside to get kids in touch with nature through all the activities we offer them,” said Ailish McAndrew, auxiliary programs manager for Friends School Boulder. “It helps them form a connection with the world around them.”
One of the most popular camps is Birdhouses & Fairy Gardens, where campers learn how to design and make a birdhouse and outfit a fairy garden. They learn about backyard ecosystems and how to identify different types of birds and how a birdhouse can be beneficial for birds. They also make small homes and furnishings for fairies and magical creatures out of rocks and other materials to create a fairy garden.
Another camp is Creative Cooking, where students learn basic cooking skills using vegetables and herbs from the school garden. They learn about mixing, cooking and food presentation.
“The camps focus a lot on nurturing a relationship with the natural world,” McAndrew said. > www.friendsschoolboulder.org
By Shelley Widhalm