A group of elementary school kids marches out of the Rosser Education Center at the Oklahoma City Zoo on a recent morning, ready to tackle the next item on their agenda.
As they happily march on talking about sea animals their excitement is obvious. The kids are just one class in the zoo's summer camp program that aims to teach kids about animals while also keeping them entertained.
That can be a delicate balance but most of the zoo's offerings fill up quickly. The weeklong, half day camps began in early June and run through Aug. 9. Each week campers learn about different subjects. There's a session about bugs and another with a tie-in to the popular Angry Birds game. Programs are geared toward toddlers all the way to middle school students.
Randall said most camps fill to 96 percent capacity, and some fill up completely well before their start date. The day begins with a warm-up activity on the animal that will be studied that day.
“For the most part we follow the same formula with all of them,” Oklahoma City Zoo education director Teresa Randall said. “They get some background on coral reefs for example along with an activity sheet and then they get to do a meet and greet with the animal they are studying and talk with their keeper. Snacks are also important.”
Zoo educator Todd Bridgewater has taught numerous camps during his time at the zoo. Educators come up with the curriculum themselves. Bridgewater has a camp called Everything But the Kitchen Sink where campers set out to see literally every attraction in the zoo over their session from carousels to elephants.
“We get a lot of feedback from them,” Bridgewater said of the campers. “You'd be surprised how many 12 to 15 year-olds want to ride a carousel. That camp is an opportunity to do all of those things. We all have a little bit of nostalgia so it's OK if they have it too.”
The camps also implement technology whenever possible. Campers download apps to their phones that help them identify a particular animal or plant species. The information is at their fingertips as they see different exhibits at the zoo.
“There are different apps that are very useful in identifying animals and plants and sometimes I get asked questions that I might not know the answer to so I pull out my phone and we quickly identify the species,” Bridgewater said. “It's an arsenal of knowledge they can tap in to and it doesn't have to be just while they're at the zoo. The hope is they explore these things on their own time too. This is where technology and the wild can meet.”
Randall said one of the goals of the camps is to help participants be better stewards of the world around them. Knowledge is a big part of that.
“Getting kids outside and aware is the most important thing we do,” she said. “We give them some behind the scenes experiences that they will hopefully take with them. You hope it has an impact. And it's done in small groups which adds to the experience.”
About the camps
For more information on the Oklahoma City Zoo's summer camp program, go to www.