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The City of Portland, Oregon

Portland Parks & Recreation

Healthy Parks, Healthy Portland

Phone: 503-823-7529

1120 SW Fifth Avenue, Portland, OR 97204

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Weekly Nature Themes

What you should know about Nature Day Camp and the themes for each week...

Each week of camp has a different nature theme and ecological focus. We try to pair the theme with the location(s) so children are learning about the actual plants, trees, animals, birds, and insects in their neighborhood! The daily rhythm includes structured activities based around the theme (think stealth-like and cooperative games that teach nature concepts, crafts, scavenger hunts, songs, stories, and science investigations using tools and equipment.) The middle of each day, however, is left for campers to travel the park on foot, exploring what is interesting to them, stopping to play silly games or a capture the flag game, etc. We believe wholeheartedly that both structured activities and unstructured play are needed to help children connect to the world around them. 

Jump to ROCKIN ROBINS Themes
Jump to NATURE DAY CAMP Themes
Jump to information about TRUE NATURE CAMP


ROCKIN ROBINS (ages 3½ - 6)

Nurture your child's sense of wonder and curiosity with activities that help them connect to nature! Sneak through the trees, pretend in a magical forest, explore for birds, insects, plants, and animals. Give your 'super sleuth' a chance to uncover the wonders of the natural world through play, exploration, games, and crafts! Rockin Robins Nature Camps are lead by staff with specific training and experience working with younger children.

Each week, your child can expect a smattering of walking, exploring, open-ended art, nature games, magical stories, and lots of unstructured nature play with the group! Each week is built around a nature theme and the play and activities are guided to match the theme of the older campers (You will also find the 2018 themes listed in the SCHEDULE).

Rockin Robins Nature Camp (Partial-day options for ages 3½-6)
Dates Location Nature Theme
June 25-29 Mt. Tabor Park Insects and Spiders (Invertebrates)
July 2-6 (No camp on July 4) Mt. Tabor Park Rocks, Sand, Mud, and Water (Geology)
July 9-13 TWO LOCATIONS:
Hoyt Arboretum and Whitaker
Ponds Nature Park
What Animals Need (Habitats) 
July 16-20 Mt. Tabor Park Crows and Woodpeckers (Birds)
July 23-27 Mt. Tabor Park Bees and Butterflies  (Pollinators)
July 30-Aug 3 TWO LOCATIONS:
Hoyt Arboretum and Sellwood
Park/Oaks Bottom
Forest Giants (Trees) 
Aug 6-10 Mt. Tabor Park Warm Furry Animals (Mammals)
Aug 13-17 TWO LOCATIONS:
Hoyt Arboretum and Whitaker
Ponds Nature Park
Owls and Hawks (Raptors)
Aug 20-24 Mt. Tabor Park Ferns and Flowers  (Plants)

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NATURE THEMES AT NATURE DAY CAMP (ages 4½-12)

Every week of camp is a balance of science, wonder, discovery, and silliness! Pairing the intrigue of ecology with the awe and wonder of nature is our number one goal! Our morning routine helps to bring everyone together to experience nature with new eyes, and our midday travels and games and exploration teach us in a meaningful way. Stories and songs hone our listening skills while forts, fairy houses, and play spark our creativity and imagination. Organized activities introduce new concepts in a fun, active way, while unstructured time as a small group builds a tight-knit community. All of the activities work to connect us, and hopefully, encourage us all to care about the future.

NATURE THEMES FOR 2018


Backbone Not Required! What do insects, spiders, snails, and centipedes have in common? They’ve got no spine! It takes a strong outer shell and some wild adaptations to be a spine-less creature in the natural world. Join us for a week of investigation in decomposers, predator-prey relationships, and games that help us understand the strange characteristics of invertebrates.

Where this theme takes place…
Mt Tabor Park

The ecological concepts used to build this week of camp…
Characteristics of Invertebrates; Exoskeleton; Social insects; Adaptations to avoid predators; Predators of invertebrates; How invertebrates move; Invertebrate homes (webs, holes, beetle chew); Definition of a decomposer; How invertebrates find their food (vision vs. vibration); Ancient invertebrates; Life cycles (Complete vs incomplete metamorphosis)


Branching Out! Tall trees, short trees, fallen trees, and snags – each one plays an important part in the forest ecosystem! During this week of bark, branches, twigs, and stumps, get to know the quiet giants of the forest through up-close examination, sensory learning, and stealth games. Come and explore with us and have a "tree-mendous" week!

Where this theme takes place…
Hoyt Arboretum, Sellwood Park/Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge

The ecological concepts used to build this week of camp…
Conifer vs Deciduous; Types of Forests; How animals use trees; Tree age; Leaf life cycle; How humans use trees; Tree diseases; Under the bark; Fruiting and edible trees; Plants that harm Trees; What trees need to succeed; Needles vs. Leaves; Root structure


Buzz & Flutter Unlike a caterpillar (who must liquify and digest itself before changing into a butterfly), YOU can transform painlessly into a pollinator during this week-long camp. From moths and butterflies to bees and wasps, join us to learn about the science— and the dancing— involved in pollinating.

Where this theme takes place…
Mt Tabor Park

The ecological concepts used to build this week of camp…
Pollination and cross-pollination; Characteristics of pollinators; Importance of pollinators; Bee, wasp, butterfly, and moth identification; Life cycle; Adaptations of pollinators; Social insects; Nectar dances; Insect migration; UV light and nectar trails; Characteristics of flowering plants; Butterfly wing design; Moths vs butterflies;


Habitats are Hip How would you become invisible in your own backyard? Come think like an animal and discover the critters hiding in plain sight! Find out which species are on the prowl, which are clever in the way they escape, and how all the living things around us are connected.

Where this theme takes place…
Hoyt Arboretum, Whitaker Ponds Natural Area

The ecological concepts used to build this week of camp…
Definition of a habitat; Different kinds of habitats; What an animal needs to survive; Communities; Web of life; Food chains; Animal homes; Carnivores vs herbivores vs omnivores; Cycles; Herd animals vs solitary animals; Predator-prey relationships;


Havin’ a Blast with Chloroplasts! Turning sun into sugar is tricky business, but it’s a full-time job for the ground plants, mosses, and ferns around us! Get down and dirty during this week of herbaceous investigation and discover how the plants at our feet become a source of water, shelter, food, or in some cases – delicious teas and medicine!

Where this theme takes place…
Mt Tabor Park

The ecological concepts used to build this week of camp…
Parts of a plant; What a plant needs to survive; Native plants vs introduced plants vs invasive plants; Edible plant identification; Leaf structure; Root structure; Photosynthesis; Herbivores (animals who eat plants); Plant growth; Plant dyes; Crafting with plants; Competition;


Let’s 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? Why do crows always bother predatory birds? Hone your “owl eyes” to find a new feathered friend during this week-long, winged adventure and find out what the birds might be telling us about the natural world!

Where this theme takes place…
Mt Tabor Park, Hoyt Arboretum, Whitaker Ponds Natural Area

The ecological concepts used to build this week of camp…
Bird calls; Migration and winter adaptations; Raptors; Characteristics of Birds; Prehistoric birds; Nesting and hatchlings; Predators that hunt birds; Types of beaks; Songbirds; Owl pellets; Scavengers and opportunists; Eyesight vs Other senses; Male and female feathers; Corvids; Wing types


Marvelous Mammals I am warm, fuzzy, and always on the lookout for food. What am I? During this week, you will learn the remarkable traits and adaptations that make mammals the masters of their environment. Become a crafty coyote, a restless rodent, or a burrowing bunny and try to survive the food chain.

Where this theme takes place…
Mt Tabor Park

The ecological concepts used to build this week of camp…
Characteristics of Mammals; Predator vs Prey; Tracks and sign; Camouflage; Rodents; Mammal homes; Adaptations; Coyotes; Territory and habitat; Mammal babies; Canines and Felines; Warm blood, big appetites; Water based mammals; Resource competition; Food chains


Rock and Roll Lifestyle The molten lava of the distant past towered into tall columns, spread across the valley, and pushed up into tall buttes – just like Mt Tabor! Do you know what happened next? Spend this week of camp delving into the science of volcanoes, rocks, sand, and soil. Come and investigate for yourself!

Where this theme takes place…

Mt Tabor Park

The ecological concepts used to build this week of camp…

Geology of Oregon; Type of Volcanoes; Characteristics of Rock; Categorizing rocks; Sand and silt; Landslides; Layers of the Earth; Human uses of rock; Fossils; Comets vs. Asteroids vs. Meteors; Gems and crystals; How mountains form; Metals and minerals; Magnetism; Erosion

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 TRUE NATURE CAMPS FOR OLDER YOUTH (AGES 10-12)

True Nature Summer Camp (10-12 yrs)

True Nature Summer Camps deliberately connect children to a very personal experience in the outdoors while also building a close community and finding a new appreciation for nature. Each day of True Nature camp will focus on nature connection, awareness, animal sign, tracking, stealth and camouflage, bushcraft skills, navigation and way finding, and sensory activities. Guided by two trained nature mentors, campers hike, explore, tell stories, share their experiences, and stay curious throughout the day, developing a strong sense of place. True Nature Summer Camps foster connections to the natural world, others, and self.The learning is in the doing!

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