In June and July at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, summer campers hike the trails, learn about pollinators, build shelters and cook with fresh produce from the garden.
The State Botanical Garden, a unit of Public Service and Outreach at the University of Georgia, hosts six week-long summer camps, all with a different theme that help children ages 5-10 have fun and connect with nature.
Camp themes range from Aquatic Adventurers, where campers learn what they can do to keep our water clean, to Bee Smart, Eat Smart, where campers learn the connection between nature and the foods we eat.
The Botanical Garden welcomed 262 campers this summer, with almost every camp session full.
Sam Anderson, age 9, attended the last week of camp, where he caught critters in the stream and learned about habitats through shelter building. He said his favorite part was the friends he met.
Nature camps at the garden are accessible for children who are already interested in nature and those who may not have spent much time outdoors.
“We have a lot of campers who are already interested in the outdoors, nature and conservation, and that’s great because we can do things they already love,” said Audrey Mitchell, children’s education coordinator. “We also have campers who have never played in the woods and may not be comfortable in the outdoors or know much about the environment, so it’s wonderful to encourage that interest and confidence with them.”
Courtney Pittman lives in Bishop and has been sending her two children, Tripp, age 9, and Townes, age 6, to camp for a couple of years.
“They come back and are always so happy,” said Pittman. “I love that they come back with knowledge of nature about critters or plants. In this day and age, with everything based in technology, it’s important for them to be in nature and learn to be stewards of the environment.”
The camps’ counselors are either college students or recent college graduates pursuing a degree in a related field such as environmental science or education. High school students also have the opportunity to gain leadership skills by volunteering at camp as junior counselors.
MaKenzie Leatherwood has been a camp counselor for two years and recently graduated with a degree in ecology from UGA. “What I learned in class played so much into what I was teaching the kids, and I got to share my experiences with them,” Leatherwood said. “Now that I’ve had this experience of teaching them, I’ve learned that I enjoy sharing this passion with other people.”
After being a camper for several years, Claire Bruner served as a junior counselor this year. She will begin her sophomore year at Clarke Central High School this fall.
“When I was a camper, I loved my junior counselors,” said Bruner. “By volunteering as a junior counselor, I still get to be at camp, and working with the kids is fun.”
During one week each summer, the garden also hosts a camp about environmental sciences for middle schoolers, hosted by UGA’s Center for Continuing Education & Hotel. There is also a Sweet Pea Camp for young nature lovers, ages 3-4, and their parent or other adult helper, offering an introduction to the natural world.
Partners that participated in programing during summer camp included archeological firm New South Associates, Athens Clarke-County Water Conservation Office and Campus Kitchen at UGA.
For more information about the State Botanical Garden at UGA and the garden’s educational programs, visit botgarden.uga.edu.