Ages 5* – 11
Our Explorer Camp program is the heart and soul of our summer day camp, featuring a different theme each week to act as a lens through which we examine the environment and our place within it. A great educational experience for campers from kindergarten to 5th grade, programs and activities are set in the “living classroom” of the outdoors, with emphasis on engaged learning through gameplay, hands-on activity, and nature study. Campers in this program are grouped by age, and are guided by a team of environmental educators as well as guest speakers from our community. While a wide range of activities is offered daily, individual group schedules are kept flexible to allow campers to contribute ideas and explore preferred topics while at the Nature Center. In addition, campers will have the opportunity to visit Taughannock Falls state park twice during the camp week, to enjoy free play or swim time.
*5-year-olds enrolled in this program must have previously participated in a full-day kindergarten or preschool program and are ready and able to tackle a full day of vigorous activity, including hikes. Please check out our Preschool Naturalist page for details about a slower-paced program with half-day and full-day sessions, (that include an optional rest period), if you think this may be a better fit for your camper.
Our weekly themes are chosen annually from staff and parent feedback collected during the previous camp season. While well-received themes may recur from summer to summer, campers are provided with a unique experience each season as they age into more complex programming and encounter new material integrated into our schedules each year to continually improve our offerings.
6/25 – 6/29: The Helpful and the Harmful of the Natural World
This weeks theme begins our summer with an introduction to the plants and animals around us, with programs and activities that will explore all types of ecological relationships. Campers will learn basic identification skills for plants that harm and some that heal, take a closer look at common myths and misconceptions about area wildlife, and learn ways to create a beneficial human impact on local lands.
7/2 – 7/6: Habitats are Home
Campers will enjoy a guided immersion into a different habitat each day on our 100 acre property. Programs and activities will focus on the communities of life within land and aquatic settings, and discuss how each can provide for the needs of its inhabitants. By viewing the habitat as a home, campers will learn that, despite the many differences in each, all exhibit fundamental characteristics necessary for the survival of the life they support.
7/9 – 7/13: The Power of Plants
From the trees over our head to the weeds under our feet, this week will explore the massive kingdom of plants. Programs and activities will focus on the life cycle of a plant, from seed propagation to the decomposition of a log, to cultivate a broader understanding of how energy moves through a forest. In addition, campers will meet and learn about some of our notable native trees and plants, and experiment with ways in which humans have harnessed the power of plants.
7/16 – 7/20: People of the Past
This week takes a closer look our areas human history, with a focus on time periods in which the natural world was a central influence in daily life. Campers will indulge in the rich folklore and traditional games and crafts of local indigenous cultures, observe our modern forest for clues into its past, and practice the homesteading skills essential to early pioneers who carved out homes in the primitive wilderness.
7/23 – 7/27: A Prehistoric Journey
In this week, campers will enjoy a journey back in time by exploring our state’s natural history. Programs and activities will focus on how scientists piece together this past with help from the clues hidden in rocks, ice, and soil. Campers will unlock the prehistoric era by recreating fossils, exploring our gorge for signs of an ancient salty sea, discovering what animals once walked in our backyards, and ending the week with a field trip and tour of our partner venue – the Museum of the Earth!
7/30 – 8/3: Insect Investigations
This weeks theme will explore the most diverse group of animals on the planet; insects. Programs and activities will focus on the varied and vital roles they play within our ecosystems, from pollinators to predators. We will explore the complexity of social insect life by taking a journey into a hive, catch-and-release insects within our fields for closer observations, and craft cozy shelters for our beneficial bugs.
8/6 – 8/10: Survival Skills
No summer has been complete without this week for the past 30 years! Always a hit with campers and staff alike, this week aims to build outdoor confidence and cultivates valuable knowledge when spending significant time outdoors. Campers will study age-appropriate and engaging skills including compass building, campfire tips and tricks, and cordage crafting, all while immersed in the great outdoors. Our staff bring in new skills each season to share with us, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for this year!
8/13 – 8/17: Wild About Wildlife
For this week, campers will explore the secretive lives of our local wildlife. Programs and activities will look at the biology and behavior of these animals, and how they interact within their environment. We will comb our woods and fields in a quest for animal signs for clues about diet and movement, and engage in games to explore the factors that control populations, and take a look at our skull collection to better understand the physical differences between predator and prey anatomy.
8/20 – 8/24: Summer’s Greatest Hits
This week features a selection of our most popular games, crafts, and activities of the season. All programs will be chosen based on camper and staff feedback for an entertaining and engaging experience. This is truly an eclectic week of classic summer camp fun!
8/27 – 8/31: Awaiting Autumn
This week’s theme will be a look forward into the seasonal changes to occur in the weeks before the autumnal equinox. We will look at the science behind leaf senescence, search for signs of changing wildlife behavior, and explore the mighty migrations of September. We’ll also take some time to search out the ripening forest foods vital to our wildlife, and look high and low for the rich array of fungi fruiting in the early autumn woods.
Registration fees (per week): $250 members / $275 non-members
From our Explorer Camp parents…
“[my camper] LOVES the Cayuga Nature Camp and talks about it all year. He can’t wait to go there when summer comes, and is sad when it’s over. He loves the counsellors and themed activities and learns so much about the natural world, biology, natural history, geology and so much more while he’s there. He comes home at the end of the day covered in clay and so happy from all the fun and informative things he has done all day. I am so happy with this camp, we will come back every year.”
“Our son loves Cayuga Nature center camp! He comes home full of stories about fun games like pollinator tag, and loves teaching us all the new nature facts he learned.”