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Nature Day Camp (ages 4–12)

Connect to nature through outdoor play and exploration at partial-day and full-day camps with Environmental Education.

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COVID-19 update

All camps for Summer 2020 are canceled. For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, please see Portland Parks & Recreation's COVID-19 Updates page


Nature Day Camp overview

Nature Day Camp is a place to learn about nature, explore, and make memories! We offer full-day camps for children ages 5-12 and partial-day camps for preschoolers ages 4-6. 

Each day contains a mixture of activities:

  • All-camp opening and closing circles. 
  • Songs, hands-on science rotations, and storytelling.  
  • Hiking and exploration with a small group in a similar age range.
  • Lunch along the trail.  
  • All-camp games led by energetic staff. 
  • Time for open-ended art and nature crafts. 
  • Down time and low-key games that offer time to make friends and get to know staff.  

"My daughter has been attending 1-2 weeks for the last three summers and she LOVES it! You all do a wonderful job!" 

"Your child will be engaged, active, and happy all day!"

"The PP&R nature camps are, by far, my son's all-time favorite summer camps, both last year and this year. The counselors do an amazing job of engaging the kids and creating a fun, exciting experience. I can't quite express how much I appreciate the wonderful instruction and experience provided by your counselors. Thank you!" 

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If you are looking for options for teens or young adults, check out our Jr Naturalist Volunteer program (ages 13-17) or apply to be on our paid Nature Day Camp staff (ages 16+)

We prioritize staff who love children and nature:

  • Background in childcare or education
  • A genuine curiosity about nature
  • Playful 
  • Responsible 
  • Professional
  • Good communicators
  • Positive role models

Summer staff spend over forty-five hours in training:

  • CPR and First Aid
  • Leading games and activities 
  • Child management 
  • Group facilitation
  • Leave No Trace principles
  • Parent and peer communication skills
  • Encouraging unstructured play

Doing your taxes and need our Tax ID for childcare deductions? Here it is for your reference: TAX ID 93-6002236

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Our teaching approach at Nature Day Camp

  • We give children the chance to spend time in nature with role models and friends. 
  • We offer activities that meet different types of needs. Games and hiking offer movement and team-building. Cheers and songs offer music and rhythm. Unstructured play allows for creativity and imagination. Crafts and art let children express themselves through shape and color. Structured activities allow us to learn about nature by doing. 
  • We try to give children choices and let them vocalize how the day should unfold. 
  • We are careful to pick up our trash, to protect sensitive spaces, and show gratitude toward nature. 
  • We build friendships with each other and with nature throughout the week. This helps us understand where each camper is coming from. 
  • We find creative ways to say "yes" to campers. This allows everyone to have a unique experience in nature and keeps everyone safe. 
  • We make space for pauses in the day. This allows for children to think and ask questions. 

We believe that children teach us. They often notice more, ask better questions, and care about plants and animals in ways that adulare different than adults. 


Camp days and hours

All camps run Monday through Friday, unless otherwise noted

Before-care is offered from 8-9am. No registration required.  

Camp activities for all camps begin at 9am.

  • Please be on time! We want your child to experience the full day of activities. 
  • All campers must be signed in and out at the designated meeting spot by a legal adult. 
  • All campers must have completed health information on file by Monday at 9am to participate. (We use ePACT, an online health and emergency information system.) Before camp begins, parents should receive an invitation by email to update health information for each camper. 

Camper pick-up times are listed below:

1:30pm  |  Partial-Day Nature Camp - Chickadees (ages 4 - 6)

3:30pm  |  Nature Day Camp - Flickers, Hawks, Juncos, Ospreys, and Ravens (ages 5 - 11)

3:30pm  |  Nature Skills Camp (ages 10-12)

3:30-5:30pm  |  After-care hours (Registration required). Find more information about after-care here. 

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Weekly cost for camps

Partial-day Nature Day Camp   |   $190 (Resident), $213 (Non-residents)

Nature Day Camp   |   $275 (Resident), $385 (Non-residents)

Nature Skills Camp  |   $275 (Resident) + $10 materials fee, $385 (Non-residents) + $10 materials fee

Curious what your fee pays for? Click HERE to find out!

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Before-care and after-care information

Before-care

Before-care is FREE and available between 8-9am. No registration required. Just arrive and drop off your camper! Our staff will be prepared to keep them busy and engaged until camp begins at 9am. 
NOTE: Please allow an extra 10-15 minutes on Mondays to ensure we have updated health and emergency information for your child.

After-care

After-care is available Monday-Friday from 3:30-5:30pm. 

  • Children supervised by experienced staff
  • Snacks served at 3:45pm (Nut-free, Gluten-free, and Dairy-free options available)
  • Children engage in low-key activities. (Books, table games, crafts, and playground play, when available)
  • Additional time to build friendships with campers and staff

Details:

  • Register for the after-care session connected with your child's week of camp. 
  • Please tell us on Monday if you will not be attending all five days. We do not refund unused days. 
  • Children registered for after-care MUST also be registered for camp the same week. 
  • Register for after-care by Sunday night of your week of camp. After-care registration closes at 7am each Monday.  
  • Fifteen spots are available each week. Please register early to ensure your spot.  

Please join the waitlist if your after-care session is already full. If extra staff are available, we will open up additional spots. If spots become available, parents will be contacted as soon as possible.

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Age group information

Camps aim to nurture each child's relationship to nature.

  • Our youngest campers connect through unstructured play and nature exploration. 
  • Our campers in middle childhood play organized games, make projects, explore, and do hands-on nature activities.
  • Our oldest campers spend time building friendships with campers and staff and learn a hands-on skill.  

Nature Day Camp: Chickadees (Partial-day camp)
Preschool (Age 4-6)

Nurture your young child's sense of wonder through play. This age group led by staff who have experience working with younger children. 

What to expect: 

  • Walking, running
  • Exploring, noticing, and wondering
  • Open-ended art, organized crafts
  • Stories and songs
  • Hiding and tag games
  • Time for unstructured nature play 
  • Activities related to a nature theme
  • A shorter day (program ends at 1:30pm)

Browse all details about camps for this age group for the upcoming summer

Nature Day Camp: Full-day camps
Flickers (Age 5-6), Hawks (Age 6-7), Juncos (Age 7-8), Ospreys (Age 8-9), Ravens (Age 9-11)

Nurture your young child's sense of wonder through play. This age group led by staff who have experience working with younger children. 

Every week of camp is a balance of wonder, discovery, and silliness! Our goal is to captivate the campers through ecology and observation. 

What to expect: 

  • Walking, hiking
  • Running, climbing
  • Observations in nature
  • Organized arts and crafts
  • Rotation groups: exploration, art, collections
  • Stories, cheers, and songs
  • Skits and puppet shows
  • Stealth and tracking games
  • Down time, small group games

Browse all details about camps for this age group for the upcoming summer

Nature Skills Camp
Age 10-12

These camps find a balance between nature exploration, science, and hands-on skills. During the camp day, campers use unstructured time to focus on a skill or craft. Campers have time for games, hiking, and exploration like Nature Day Camp, but also learn a new skill. We suggest this option for older campers who have done four of more years of camp.  

What to expect: 

  • Walking, hiking
  • Running, climbing
  • Unstructured time in nature
  • Time spent learning a hands-on skill
  • Stories, cheers, and songs
  • Stealth and tracking games
  • Hang-out time

Browse all details about camps for this age group for the upcoming summer

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Weekly nature themes for Nature Day Camp

Note: The Chickadees (preschool age) do a simplified version of the weekly nature theme.

Backbone Not Required
What do insects, spiders, snails, and centipedes have in common? They’ve got no spine! To stay safe, some grow a shell, some hide, and some just run away as fast as they can. 

Branching Out
Tall trees, short trees, and snags – each one plays an important part in the forest. Get to know the quiet giants of the forest through questioning, stealth games, and the five senses. Explore with us and have a "tree-mendous" week!

Buzz and Flutter   
A caterpillar turns itself into liquid when becoming a butterfly. (What?) Come learn what other tricks pollinators use to survive. Spend the week observing bees, wasps, and butterflies using our supplies. 

Enchanted by Plants
Turning sun into sugar is tricky business, but it is a full-time job for green plants. Search high and low for plants in the park. Find the ones that become sources of water, shelter, and medicine. 

Habitats are Hip
How would you become invisible in your own backyard? When you think like an animal you might discover critters hiding in plain sight! In their habitats, animals find clever ways to eat, drink, sleep, and escape. 

Marvelous Mammals
Mammals are warm, fuzzy, and on the lookout for food. They have remarkable traits that help them adapt to the world around them. Stalk like a crafty coyote and scurry like a restless rodent. Will you will survive the food chain? 

Rock and Roll Lifestyle
The hot lava of the past spread across the valley and formed hills – including Mt Tabor! Do you know what happened next? Search for evidence that it all happened just like scientists say it did. (Pet rocks encouraged.) 

We Can Wing It
Why doesn’t a woodpecker get a concussion? How can a falcon fly so fast? Could a hawk see an ant from the top of a 10-story building? Use your “owl eyes” to go on a birding adventure and find out for yourself. 

Wonders of Water
Water is the thread that connects us all! Learn about the river, the hilly forests, and the soggy wetlands. Sand and water invite us to create, and birds overhead invite us to follow. (Water exploration is optional and takes place in shallow water.)

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Daily rhythm and weekly feel of camp

Nature Day Camp contains a combination of structured and open-ended activities.    

  • Structure at the beginning of the day and end of the day
  • Designated time in small groups in the middle of the day
  • Opening welcome circle helps campers know what to expect each morning
  • Organized games and rotation groups that introduce the nature theme
  • Open-ended exploration, hiking, and play in a small group
  • Closing time as a large group to round out the day 

Friends or siblings who want to attend camp together must sign up for the same activity number. 

Sample daily schedule - take note that the all-camp activities will change based on the weekly theme! 

8:00 - Before-care (Open to all campers. No registration required)
9:00 - Camper sign-in
9:15 - Opening circle: songs, cheers, announcements
9:30 - Snack and bathroom break
9:45 - Theme related all-camp game or rotation groups
11:00 - Divide into traveling groups
next - open-ended time to hike, explore, play, have lunch
3:00 - Closing circle: songs, cheers, skits, reflection
3:15 - At tables, ready for parents
3:30 - Goodbye campers
3:30-5:30 - After-care program (Registration required)

Browse all details about camps for all age groups for the upcoming summer

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Camper and volunteer expectations

We try to make camp fun for everyone by asking participants to follow four expectations:

  1. Be safe (in your words and actions) 
  2. Be respectful (to yourself, to each other, to nature)
  3. Listen (to the leaders, to each other, to nature)
  4. Have fun!

Additionally, Portland Parks requires that all participants refrain from the following:

  • All forms of harassment
  • Defacing property (structures, land or equipment)
  • Disruptive or disorderly behavior
  • Improper use of restrooms
  • Offensive physical contact
  • Inflicting harm or hurting self or others
  • Spitting
  • Using or being under the influence of any intoxicating substance
  • Using profanity, teasing or ridiculing others
  • Violation of any federal, state or local statute or ordinance

Steps taken when campers start to display a pattern of negative behavior:

  1. Remind campers of the rules
  2. Redirect unsuitable behavior
  3. Switch campers out of groups that seem to feed negative behavior
  4. Discuss any underlying issues with campers
  5. Separate children for a time from the group
  6. Create a mutual behavior contract
  7. Reach out to parents or guardians for ideas and support

If above steps do not help, the camper will get two more chances to change their behavior:

  1. Verbal warning #1: Call made to coordinator to come and help. Camper is separated from the group. Next steps are explained to the camper. 
  2. Verbal warning #2: Call made to parents to inform of the situation. The camper has one more chance. At this point parents should be ready to pick up their child early if needed. 
  3. Done for the day: If negative behavior continues, calls made to parents to come and take their child home early. Camper is welcome to return the next day if they are able to change their behavior. Formal incident report is filled out and kept on file.  
  4. Done for the week: If negative behaviors continue the next day, parents will be called to pick up the camper. The camper will not be returning to camp. Unused days of camp will not be refunded. 

If a camper is sent home for the week due to negative or unsafe behavior, parents will be called to discuss refunding any additional registered weeks of camp. 

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What to bring to camp

Our program is active, our parks are hilly, and we are outside all day. To help your camper have a good day, get them packed up with what they need. If you think your camper might need a change of clothes, pack them in a large Ziploc bag.) 

Children should come to each day of the program with the following:

  • Mornings can be chilly, please bring a layer of clothing.
  • Substantial lunch (Campers are active all day long)
  • A morning and an afternoon snack (fruit, veggies, granola bar, cheese, etc)
  • Water bottle (big enough to hold at least 16 oz of water)
  • Comfortable backpack that’s a logical size for your camper. It will hold snacks, lunch, a water bottle and extra layers. 
  • Close-toed shoes (For your camper's safety, no flip-flops or open-toed sandals)
  • Sunscreen (Please apply it each morning. Our staff will remind campers to reapply at lunch.) 
  • Medications (if needed) - Please fill out the medication forms before arriving at camp

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Required health information before camp begins

Portland Parks & Recreation uses ePACT to collect camper health and emergency information. All information is online. Before your first day of camp, you should receive the invitation by email. (If you have not seen the invite by Thursday before camp, check your spam or contact us.)
Follow the link to create an account. Fill out the health information completely for each camper. Please include information about allergies, authorized pick-ups, and emergency contacts. As a final step, click "submit" to share your camper's information with us.  

To attend camp, campers must have completed health information.    

Filling out the profile takes 15-25 minutes. For campers attending multiple weeks, please  submit the information for each week. For siblings, ePACT is able to copy common information. Then make specific changes as needed. Compared to paper, ePACT is more up-to-date, accessible to our staff, and secure. We rely on the ePACT system every day of camp. 

Children who arrive without health information will need to create an account and complete information on site. We must have health and emergency information for a child to attend camp. 

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Campers coming to camp with medication

(This applies to both prescription medication and over-the-counter (OTC) medications.) 

  • List all required medications in your health information on ePACT.
  • Bring medications in their original packaging.
  • Bring the required paperwork with you on the first day of camp. 
    • Fill out the "Authorization for Medication Administration"
    • Fill out the "Medication Administering Information"
  • Only staff are permitted to give medications to campers age 4-12
  • Volunteers age 13-17 may take medications on their own. (In addition to the above forms, please fill out the "Self Medication Agreement")

Scholarship information

We offer scholarships to help cover the cost of camp. Complete the scholarship application found on the Portland Parks & Recreation Main Page. Completed applications can be returned by fax, postal mail, or in-person. 

To Mail or Drop off in person:
Portland Parks & Recreation
Attn: Nature Day Camp 
2909 SW 2nd Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97201

Fax Number: 503-865-3251 (please email enviroed@portlandoregon.gov to make sure we received it)

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Inclusion services for campers

Children of all abilities and interests are welcome to participate in our programs. If your child requires special assistance to participate, please contact the Environmental Education Office at 503-823-3601, and we will help connect you to our Adaptive & Inclusive Recreation program.

Find out more information about our Adaptive and Inclusive Recreation program here


What your camp fee supports

The cost of camp has increased annually due to the rise of minimum wage. We put every penny to use.  Here is how your money is used each week:

(These numbers are reflective of the 2020 cost - $275)

  • $185 - Cost of paying our staff and operating each week of camp (Our staff work 40 hours a week. They arrive early to plan and be ready for campers, and attend an after-camp meeting each day to talk through issues, concerns, and ideas. Our camper-to-staff ratio is 6:1 because we operate 100% outdoors. We pay our staff a living wage. 
  • $45 - Cost of training our entire staff for over 45 hours (Because of the outdoor nature of this camp, we require additional training in child management, risk management, and responding to emergencies.)
  • $19 - Staff cost for planning and administration (Registration help, hiring process, and summer planning that takes place March through June)
  • $14 - Cost of materials and supplies for our summer activities (This includes all of our craft supplies, hands-on activities, science exploration equipment, and technology needed to connect with parents and access camper health information.) 
  • $5 - Cost of PP&R t-shirts and manuals for our staff and volunteers
  • $4 - Cost of using ePACT as our camper health information system
  • $3 - Cost of using ActiveNet as our registration system

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Nature Day Camp Policies

Withdrawal Policy
To promote equitable access to our camps, $50 of the camp cost is non-refundable. To receive a partial refund (the full cost minus the $50 fee), withdrawals must be completed at least seven (7) days before the first day of camp.

Late Policy
In fairness to our staff, campers not picked up on time will be charged an additional fee of $10 for every 15 minutes campers remain on-site, payable in cash or check upon arrival.

Air Quality Policy
Due to the outdoor nature of this camp, we will make the best decisions for our campers and staff in the event of poor air quality. If the air quality index (AQI) for the camp location is forecasted to be listed as UNHEALTHY (AQI = 151 or higher) throughout the camp day according to purpleair.com and airnow.gov, the camp day will be canceled and families refunded the cost of the day. Our program reserves the right to make decisions in real-time as conditions change.

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