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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 Camps and Nature Skills Camps...

Each version of camp has a slightly different focus - for the youngest campers we offer a shorter day and teach ecology mainly through play. For campers a bit older, we pair structured and unstructured activities so each day contains play, learning, and autonomy of choice. For our oldest campers we introduce skills and a different level of focus. All the camps are fun, and all connect us to nature - but the various options allow us to meet the individual needs of each child who participates. Here's what you need to know about each one!

Information about PARTIAL-DAY NATURE CAMPS (Ages 4-6)
Information about NATURE DAY CAMP Themes (Ages 5-11)
Information about NATURE SKILLS CAMPS (Ages 10-12)


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! The Chickadees age group is lead by staff with specific training and experience working with younger children. 

As one of the Chickadees, 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! The camp day is shorter than the full-day program (ending at 1:30pm instead of 3:30pm). Each week is built around a simpler version of the Nature Day Camp theme, but the activities are just as engaging and are at an appropriate preschool level. 

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For the Flickers, Hawks, Juncos, Ospreys, and Ravens Age Groups

Each week of Nature Day Camp has a different nature theme and ecological focus. We try to pair the theme with the location 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 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. 

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.


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 (June 22-26)

The ecological concepts used to build this week of camp…
Characteristics of Invertebrates; Exoskeleton; Adaptations to avoid predators; Predators of invertebrates; How invertebrates move; Invertebrate homes (webs, holes, beetle chew); Definition of a decomposer

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 (August 3-7)

The ecological concepts used to build this week of camp…
Conifer vs Deciduous; How animals use trees; Leaf life cycle; How humans use trees; Fruiting and edible trees; Plants that harm Trees; What trees need to succeed; Needles vs. Leaves

Buzz and 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…
Hoyt Arboretum (July 6-10)

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; Nectar dances; UV light and nectar trails; Characteristics of flowering plants

Enchanted by Plants   Turning sun into sugar is tricky business, but it is 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 (July 13-17)

The ecological concepts used to build this week of camp…
Parts of a plant; What a plant needs to survive; Native plants and biodiversity; Edible plant identification; Photosynthesis; Plant growth; Crafting with plants

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…
Sellwood Park - Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge (June 29-July 2, no camp on July 3)

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

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 (August 17-21)

The ecological concepts used to build this week of camp…
Characteristics of Mammals; Predator vs Prey; Tracks and sign; Camouflage; Mammal homes; Adaptations; Territory and habitat; Mammal babies;  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 (July 27-31)

The ecological concepts used to build this week of camp…

Geology of Oregon; Type of Volcanoes; Characteristics of Rock; Categorizing rocks; Layers of the Earth; Human uses of rock; Gems and crystals; How mountains form; Metals and minerals; Erosion

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? 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 birds might be telling us about the natural world!

Where this theme takes place…
Mt Tabor Park (August 10-14)

The ecological concepts used to build this week of camp…

Bird calls; Migration and winter adaptations; Characteristics of Birds; Nesting; Types of beaks; Songbirds; Owl pellets; Eyesight vs Other senses;  Corvids; Wing types

Wonders of Water   Water is the thread that connects us all! Investigate the ecology of the river, the upland forests, and the soggy wetlands that are home to many birds and animals. Come and experiment with sand and water and explore for predatory animals who depend on the water for food. (Water exploration is optional and takes place in shallow water.)

Where this theme takes place…

Sellwood Park – Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge (July 20-24)

The ecological concepts used to build this week of camp…

Characteristics of water; Sand and silt composition; Macro-invertebrates (Water Insects); River habitat; Wetland habitat; Upland forest habitat; Water cycle; Frogs and Salamanders; Salmon life cycle  

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(Ages 10-12)

Nature Skills Camps strive to create a balance between nature exploration, science learning, and hands-on skills. Nature Skills camps are for older elementary children, and while at camp, campers will use the unstructured time in the middle of the day to focus on a skill or craft. This helps keep our older campers excited about the games and exploration of Nature Day Camp but also allows them to hone a skill like whittling or cordage-making that requires more fine motor coordination, responsibility, and focus. This is a good option for campers who have done numerous years of Nature Day Camp in the past and need to mix it up a little or for youth who have an interest in working with their hands. 


  • June 22-26 at Mt Tabor Park - Tool-making
  • July 29-July 2 (no camp on July 3) at Sellwood Park/Oaks Bottom - Woodburning and Bead-making
  • July 6-10 at Hoyt Arboretum - Nature Art: Painting and Journaling
  • July 13-17 at Mt Tabor Park - Salve, Cordage, and Plant dyes
  • July 20-24 at Sellwood Park/Oaks Bottom - Whittling: Boat-making
  • July 27-31 at Mt Tabor Park - Earth Elements: Rocks and Clay
  • August 3-7 at Hoyt Arboretum - Whittling: Bows and Arrows 
  • August 10-14 at Mt Tabor Park - Birdhouse building

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