By Rebecca Stern, aka Vella
As a recent graduate from an elementary teaching credential program I can say Iʼve
seen my fair share of good and great schools and good and great programs. The Oaklandʼs ZooCamp is run like a great school with an exceptional amount of fun thrown into itʼs agenda. The strategy for camp is simple. Learn about animals, conservation, and our role in the environment, and have tons of fun.
As a third year returning teacher to the Oakland Zooʼs summer program I can say that working at the zoo has itʼs perks for even us teachers. Seeing the same animals so often provides opportunities to see the animals grow and change. From 2009 to 2010 alone the zoo has seen many fascinating changes. Among my favorites are the baboons fondness of their new exhibit, watching new animal introductions (such as the sunbear and chimpanzees) and oh, the babies! The most notable are the hornbill mother nesting in her exhibit while her mate brings her food and the baby squirrel monkey who rides on its motherʼs back. Itʼs no wonder our zoo members visit time andtime again throughout the year. If only Zoocamp was year-round!
What makes Oaklandʼs Zoocamp significantly different from other camps? Oaklandʼs Zoocamp is notable for many reasons. First, the focus isnʼt on “time-fillers” to keep the kids busy during the summer months. Each year we focus on a conservation project and teach the campers what they can do to help. We play games, sing songs, and create crafts that you can actually use. We explore and we work on developing a childʼs natural curiosity of the environment. Often itʼs as simple as letting a child pick a leaf or flower at the creek and letting them crush and smell it or lifting a rock to see what bugs are underneath. I am in awe of campers who listen intently about watershed problems and decide theyʼd like to spend time picking up trash around the zoo. Campers also go behind-the-scenes to learn how keepers care for the animals and much more.
What are some other things that make working the entire summer at the zoo so much fun? For one, I enjoy seeing my campers grow, sometimes several inches from one year to the next. I take pleasure in truly getting to know parents who love camp as much as I do. I also love meeting new campers who have not been to our camp before. They are enthralled by the activities and animal encounters that are unique to the program. I am fortunate to work for a Camp Director who fully supports my curriculum and craft ideas, among other things. In addition, I benefit from working with many different types of people with biology, zoology and education backgrounds. Ultimately, I love seeing
kids really enjoy learning without knowing thatʼs what theyʼre doing.
All together, ZooCamp is so much fun kids can’t wait to come back each summer…and neither can I!