Summer Adventure Camps emphasize nature, movement

It looks like a typical sort of summer camp craft project, fashioned out of uncooked pasta, pipe cleaners, paint, paper plates, twigs and uncooked beans.

The realization that this isn’t your typical summer camp craft project — that it has absolutely nothing in common with camp-crafted wallets, ash trays or key chains — comes when you realize that it’s a colorful artistic depiction of the four stages in the life of a butterfly, from bean/eggs on a twig to multicolored farfalle adult.

And it’s exactly the sort of craft project you’d expect to see at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve’s Summer Adventure Camps, which offer a nature-oriented twist on summer day camps.

Don’t misunderstand: The camps, which run in weeklong sessions throughout the summer, offer kids games and activities they might find elsewhere. But, at Summer Adventure Camps, they’ll also meet a Gila monster, a snake and other examples of Southern Nevada wildlife, visit the Springs Preserve’s exhibits, learn about Southern Nevada’s past and natural history from the Springs Preserve’s experts, take nature walks, visit the Nevada State Museum and even spend an afternoon swimming at the Heinrich YMCA.

A.J. Crame, a Springs Preserve education assistant and the camp’s director, says this is the third year the preserve has sponsored the Summer Adventure Camps, “and it’s grown every year.”

This year, the camp will host as many as 50 campers each week, Crame says. Some campers will return for more than one weeklong session, and a few even may attend nearly every week before the program wraps up in August.

Because some campers are multiple attendees, “we change up the activities,” Crame adds. “We have a basic format that doesn’t change a lot. But as far as crafts, we have something different every day.”

“It’s more than just day care,” Crame adds. “These kids are moving all day.”

The camp is designed for children ages 6 to 12. It runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, although parents can pay an additional $25 above the basic weekly cost of $200 ($180 for Springs Preserve members) for pre- and post-camp care.

“This allows them to drop off kids at 6:30 a.m. and pick them up as late as 6:30 p.m.,” Crame says. “We have board games, and kids get to hang out and get to know each other.”

This year’s sessions began the week of June 10, and this summer’s last session will run from Aug. 19 through 23.

Most of the program’s participants become campers because they already have an interest in nature, Crame says. However, campers who don’t will find it easy to become engrossed in the natural world by the time they leave.

“The nice thing is we have so many different directions,” Crame says.

On a recent morning, for instance, one group of campers was involved in that butterfly crafts project while another was doing improv exercises with Mike Kershaw of Drama Kids International. He’s been working with Summer Adventure Camps for three years now, leading the campers through acting games and drama activities.

Kershaw begins one improv exercise by having campers pair up. One camper then is assigned to play a dentist, while the other is to play a famous celebrity who has come to the dentist for, Kershaw says, a “supercrazy” procedure.

Kershaw gives the campers/actors their opening lines of dialogue — “Welcome to my office,” from the dentist, and “It’s not a pleasure to be here” from the patient — and tells them to wing it from there.

The campers/actors are given a few minutes to work out their routines. Patients mimic excruciating pain. Dentists make teeth-pulling gestures that resemble Pete Townshend’s movements at the climax of a Who concert. The results are uniformly hilarious.

In another room, a group of campers is deep into that butterfly crafts project. Among them is Kennedy Robinson, 8, who’s spending her first session at camp.

“It’s really fun. I’m having a great time,” she says between answering a fellow camper’s question about how to make purple paint (mix blue and red) and explaining to a visitor how on earth a bunch of eggs on a leaf turn into a butterfly (it’s called metamorphosis).

This is Chris Remakel’s second summer at camp. Why did he come back? “It’s about nature,” says Remakel, 7. “And I really like Drama Kids.”

On this particular day, after-lunch activities include a visit to the Springs Preserve’s Nature Exchange, where campers can trade in the nature artifacts they’ve collected on their own for rocks, bones, fossils and other cool stuff they don’t already have.

Think of it, counselor Sabrina Roybal suggests, as Chuck E. Cheese with a nature twist.

The campers’ trade-in treasures include chunks of quartz and other minerals, rocks, pine cones and seed pods, skins shed by snakes and even a dead spider. Crame asks the camper where he found the dead spider. “My mom found it on her head,” he says.

Finally, at the Nature Exchange, the campers can decide what they’ll purchase for the points they’ve earned. Finley Southwick, 10, leaves with the shell of a lace murex, a species of sea snail, which she figures will make a nice necklace. Kayla Austin, 10, also opts for a lace murex shell that’s a bit smaller, but well worth the 40 points it cost her.

Michelle Gordon, whose son, Jacob, 8, is a camper this summer, says Springs Preserve’s Summer Adventure Camps aren’t like other summer day camps around town. This “has a lot of different aspects to it,” she says. “They learn things. He likes it.”

That’s the idea, counselor Jenni Weinstein says: offering campers a mix of recreational and educational activities to keep both their minds and bodies busy, with the added goal of making campers more aware of the world around them.

“Other camps I’ve worked with back in Illinois, with parks and recreation agencies, have the same thing every day,” she says. But here “we try to mix it up so it’s exciting and new.”

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@ or 702-383-0280.

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