Desert Botanical Garden’s Summer Camp gives children the opportunity to become scientists by using their powers of observation to explore the world around them. Each summer, campers are encouraged to learn in a fun and safe environment with each day bringing new adventures in outdoor experiences, science experiments, children’s art and literature and free choice learning. 

Summer Camp is a month long and different each every day. Classes are limited to 12 students, with one instructor and two volunteers to provide individualized attention and supervision. Campers sign up weekly and each week has a different theme with related projects and learning opportunities. Lauren Marks, information science education coordinator, develops the curriculum with her team.

“My background is first in science, then in education so I am able to pull from a bank of knowledge. We do a lot of brainstorming as a team, but our main goal is to make sure every activity is hands-on and inquiry based. It is not like a school classroom. Most activities are student-led and each week the campers engage in a team project so they are able to go through the engineering and design process, work together and test their hypothesis,” says Marks. 

Team projects are presented each Friday during a family showcase. Campers work with the instructors and volunteers to design the layout of their showcase. Each one is a little different; some weeks include skits, others are set up like a science fair, or show-and-tell style. Caregivers are invited to see what their kids have been learning through the week and experience the free-choice play element of Summer Camp, where the campers are in charge.  

“It is important to give kids the chance to decide what they want to do with their time and how they want to interact with each other. Our first week of camp, a majority of the campers decided to work together to build a wetland during free choice play. It was really inspiring to see them all come together to work toward one common goal all on their own. It’s amazing what can happen when kids are able to discover how they want to,” says Marks.   

Other highlights from Summer Camp include:

  • During Wonderful Water week, campers learned about the importance of clean water. They were able to make polluted water, and then build a water filter using water bottles, coffee filters, sand, gravel and cotton balls to clean the water. 
  • During a biomimicry project, campers built a “seedpod” that would be strong enough to protect an egg. The camper’s models were dropped off the roof of a building to test the structure and see if the eggs survived. 
  • Campers welcomed a special guest from Mesa Community College bring five native reptiles and amphibians to show and discuss their special adaptations to the Sonoran desert. Campers got up close and personal, and even got to pet a chuckwalla!
  • On a special behind the scenes tour, campers learned the science behind “The Great Milkweed Grow Out” project, where research and cultivation integrate into an effort to re-establish native milkweed plants for the conservation of migrating monarchs. Campers examined growing monarch caterpillars, toured facilities, and planted their own native milkweed to continue their learning experience at home. 

In addition to Summer Camp, the Garden offers learning opportunities for children and teens of all ages. Get involved today:

  • Baby Boojums, Aug. 28 – Sept. 22, and Seedlings, Oct. 10 – Nov. 17. Registration opens July 31
  • Spring Break Camp – March 12-23. Registration opens this winter.
  • Teens in the Garden – Free informational session on August 5 at Desert Botanical Garden. RSVP now
  • Stories of the Past Family Classes – Paleoecology Private Eye on July 28 and The Science of Storytelling on August 11. Register now.