The stereotypical scientist toiling alone couldn’t be further from the truth for most researchers – particularly those working to understand and improve local ecosystems. Summer camps are the perfect opportunity for budding scientists who want to learn more about Tampa Bay and its watershed.
Organizations across the region host summer camps to introduce budding scientists to their areas of expertise and interest with outdoor camps covering nearly every topic. Along with regional attractions, some local governments offer summer camp programs with science themes, including St. Pete Beach, Clearwater, Safety Harbor, Tampa and Hillsborough County. Contact your local government for more information. Some of the best regional camps for budding environmental stewards are listed alphabetically below.
Boyd Hill Nature Preserve:
A 245-acre park located on the shores of Lake Maggiore in St. Petersburg featuring more than three miles of trails and boardwalks and five unique ecosystems plus six different summer camps. Creative, memorable and affordable fun geared toward children as young as 3 and adults with physical or mental disabilities. Financial aid available for eligible parents. Call 727-893-7326 or visit www.stpete.org/boyd/daycamps.asp.
Brooker Creek Preserve:
An 8,500-acre wilderness area located in the northeastern corner of Pinellas County features multiple programs for adults and children scheduled year-round, including summer camps. Children will experience science-based, hands-on learning as they explore and investigate the ecology and conservation of Florida’s wildlife and natural habitats. Call 727-453-6800 or visit www.brookercreekpreserve.org.
Busch Gardens Summer Camps:
The nationally known attraction also offers behind-the-scenes summer camps for local kids. Inspiring, exciting and educational programs range from single-day adventures to an entire week. Call 1-877-248-2267or visit www.swbg-adventurecamp.com/adventure-camps.
Although the camp doesn’t offer regularly scheduled classes, it is open for field trips with programs that range from general ecology and river habitats to the importance of pollinators and gopher tortoises. Camp Bayou has Nature Center programs where children can discover Florida’s waterways – finding all kinds of life living near the water’s edge. Or visit a Native American campsite and make clay pots or weave palm fronds. Call 813-363-5438 or visitwww.campbayou.org.
Sponsored by the National Inventors Hall of Fame Foundation in partnership with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, camps are scheduled in various locations across the region. Enroll your children entering grades one through six for a weeklong summer enrichment program. The Camp Invention program instills vital 21st century life skills such as problem-solving and teamwork through hands-on fun. For more information, call 800-968-4332 or visitwww.campinvention.org.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium:
Coastal learning experiences with summer camps are available for students in K-12. Or spend the day at CMA for a laid-back look at Tampa Bay’s wildlife, including Winter, the dolphin with the prosthetic tail in a new tank with underwater viewing windows. Campers can choose to snorkel, kayak, interact with animals, travel to nearby animal attractions or enjoy arts and crafts. Call 727-441-1790 or visit www.seewinter.com.
Students ages 11-18 can learn to fly while exploring the science and technology of aviation. Both day and overnight camps are offered at Florida Air Museum in Lakeland. Activities are designed to capture the imagination of children and interest them in aerospace science. Activities are scheduled both in climate-controlled classrooms and outside, utilizing the resources of the spacious campus as a learning lab. Call 863-904-4073 or visitwww.floridaairmuseum.org.
Girl Scouts of West Central Florida Residential Camps:
Day camps or ACA-accredited overnight camps on Crescent Lake in Odessa or Camp Wildwood on 589 acres outside Ocala give girls an opportunity to participate in outdoor activities. More than 100 sessions are offered across the region with themes including science and technology. Call 813-281-4475 or visit www.gswcf.org.
Located on the shore of Boca Ciega Bay, the Eckerd College Waterfront Program is one of the largest collegiate programs in the US. Campers ages 5-17 explore watersports including sailing, wakeboarding, windsurfing, kayaking, saltwater fishing, and looking for marine life. Call 800-456-9009 or visit www.eckerd.edu/waterfront.
E.G. Simmons Park:
Ruskin camp open to kids ages 9-15 with activities including canoeing, camping and swimming, culminating with a deep-sea fishing trip. Visit www.hillsboroughcounty.org/summercamps.
Estuary EDventures Summer Camps:
Tampa Bay Watch expands its summer camp offerings with multiple opportunities for learning and adventure from its Tierra Verde headquarters. Its location on the Shell Key Preserve provides summer campers with exciting hands-on opportunities to learn about marine ecology and restoration projects. The preserve boasts rich mangrove forests, grass flats and shallow waters teeming with marine life. Camp activities vary depending upon session type and may include snorkeling the grass flats, seine net pulls, animal collection and identification, kayaking through the mangroves, and exploring nearby islands. Also on site is the marine education center and classroom featuring outdoor wet labs, touch tanks, and aquariums — all of which are utilized for education about Tampa Bay and restoring its marine habitats. Income-based scholarships are available. Call 727-867-8166 or visitwww.tampabaywatch.org.
Eureka Springs Park:
Discover Hillsborough County’s historic arboretum with master gardeners. Children ages 9-12 will learn to compost, identify garden insects and diseases, and observe seasonal changes with field trips to the USF Botanical Garden, a downtown green roof complex, and Tampa Bay History Center. Visit www.hillsboroughcounty.org/summercamps.
Florida Aquarium AquaCamps:
Diverse offerings for kids ages 3 to 15 with a strong focus on science and wildlife encounters in downtown Tampa. Every camper will have an amazing camp experience by incorporating themes that focus on environmental science topics and feature up-close animal encounters with plenty of hands-on learning. Call 813-273-4000 or visitwww.flaquarium.org.
Great Camps at Great Explorations Children’s Museum:
10 week-long themed camps including science are featured with volunteer opportunities for children over 13 in St. Petersburg. Children ages 5-7 can explore everything from solving problems, learning about fossils, going on a space mission, riding in a hurricane simulator and protecting our planet. Themes for kids 8-11 years old include participating in CSI investigations, archaeology, astronomy and learning culinary chemistry in the kitchen. Call 727-821-8992 or visit www.greatexplorations.org.
Lettuce Lake Canoe and Nature Camp:
Explore one of Tampa’s most spectacular nature preserves. Campers ages 10-15 will learn the basics of backpacking, building a fire, canoeing, camping, pitching a tent and hiking while identifying native plant and animal species.
Lowry Park Zoo:
Tampa’s award-winning zoo hosts more than 100 week-long camps for kids K-8. Kids and teens can learn about nature, science and the animal kingdom while hiking through the zoo, exploring behind the scenes and cooling off in the zoo’s water play areas. Adventure camps include animal encounters, keeper talks, educational shows, games, crafts and more. Call 813-935-8552 or visit www.lowryparkzoo.com.
Mad Science Summer Camps:
Budding scientists can attend camps in various locations across the region to learn to make indoor lightning, launch rockets and experience a giant vortex. Mad Science engages children in scientific explorations ranging from bridge building and dinosaur digs to model rockets and the science behind their favorite sports. Call 727-895-5595 or visitwww.madscience.org/tampabay to find a location near you.
MOSI Summer Science Camp:
Take advantage of learning adventures in a wide range of science and technology areas for ages 2-18 at the region’s top science museum. From finding rocks to launching rockets or making rock music, campers will create experiences that expand their interests. Doing real science with the tools and technology used by professionals is just one of the ways MOSI Summer Science Camp inspires our campers with a “can do” attitude that can last a lifetime. Call 800-995-6674 or visit www.campfun.org.
Mote Marine Aquarium’s Summer Camps:
Hands-on marine science camps for kids from 2-18 on Longboat Key. There are also high school internships, volunteer opportunities, field trips and overnight adventures. Call 941-388-4441 x229 or visitwww.mote.org/summerprograms.
Nature’s Classroom Summer Camps:
A series of programs open to students who have completed grades 4-8 include wilderness, survival and outdoor skills, and fishing camps. A Water Adventure Camp, sponsored by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, is free and includes a field trip to Crystal Springs Preserve. Call 987-6969 ext 221 or 222 or visitwww.naturesclassroom.net.
Pathfinder Outdoor Education Summer Camps:
Day or overnight camps in locations across the region exploring nature and developing student leadership. Outdoor activities include canopy tree climbing, canoe games, a challenge course, night hikes and campy arts and crafts. Call 727-328-0300, ext. 221or visit www.pathfinder-ed.org.
Pier Aquarium Summer-ful of Fish and Fun in the Sun:
Eleven camps combine marine science with other activities for students entering grades 1-6 in downtown St. Petersburg or John’s Pass Village in Madeira Beach. Call 727-895-7437, ext. 205 or visit www.pieraquarium.org.
Science Center of Pinellas Summer Camps:
The nation’s oldest science center offers a full schedule of summer camps for kids from K-12 featuring hands-on science, technology, engineering and math programs. Call 727-384-0027 or visit www.sciencecenterofpinellas.org.
University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg Campus:
Camps for kids ages 8-18 include kayaking, snorkeling, swimming, sailing and off-campus boat trips. Also offered are Junior Lifeguarding Guard Start camp and Junior Bulls Watercraft Operator camps. Call 727-873-4597or visitwww.stpete.usf.edu/waterfront/events.htm.
Upper Tampa Bay Park:
Camps introduce kids ages 8-15 to Florida’s wildlife, with canoeing, fishing and hiking, and field trips to regional aquariums and a deep-sea fishing charter. Visit www.hillsboroughcounty.org/summercamps.
Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center:
A series of camps introduce kids ages 6-12 to the natural wonders of Weedon Island while exploring the ecology and conservation of Florida’s wildlife and natural habitats. Call 727-453-6503 or visit www.weedonislandpreserve.org.
Originally published Spring 2012