Ideas for science “camp”

I’ve been asked to teach a voluntary summer enrichment science class for 20 upper elementary students.  I can determine the content and structure for the class. I have a modest budget, access to the science resources in the school, and the principal will assist with logistics. I’ve never done this before, so I’m looking for ideas and suggestions.  —T., Ohio

Having an uninterrupted block of time to focus on science sounds like a wonderful experience for you and your students.

Many summer programs call themselves a “camp” to differentiate from remedial classes. Rather than a series of unconnected activities, you may want to pick themes that you are interested in, too–for example

  • Nature study (plants, insects, stream study, trees, birds),
  • Engineering/design (rocketry, wind power, inventions),
  • Earth science (rocks, fossils, weather), or
  • Community service (gardening, recycling).

The March 2017 issue of Science and Children features ideas for getting students outside. “Our Oasis” describes how high school students can be mentors in an elementary summer camp. The article also has examples of activities and schedules. Look at what science and nature centers offer as summer programs for more ideas. Perhaps you could do relevant activities and investigations that are too time-consuming during the school year.

Provide opportunities for students to be outside and active (with backup plans for rainy days). Include photography and journaling for students to document what they are doing and reflect on their learning.

Work with your principal on the details: safety and first aid, other adults to assist, permission slips, possible fees, transportation, refreshments/lunch, and the possibility of visiting off-campus sites, such as museums or parks.

Ask students and parents for an evaluation of the program to assist with future planning.

Most of all – enjoy!



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  1. Harry E. Keller
    Posted April 14, 2017 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Those suggestions are great! If you are indoors, you might consider using a technology-based solution part of the time. See Smart Science Education.

  2. Kottie Christie-Blic
    Posted April 14, 2017 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    What a wonderful opportunity! Yes, it’s important to establish a theme so you’ll have a cohesive “program,” rather than disjointed lessons. Since it will be during summer, you’ll want to get the kids outside as much as possible. A good theme, with long-lasting implications, would link the kids with their natural environment, helping them to see how everything is interconnected.

    As you think about how the atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere, and biosphere all impact each other, you’ll come up with many ideas for the children to create working models to help them understand the concepts, as well as experiments – many of which could/should be done outdoors. For example, have kids create a simple town on a sloped foundation of real sand/dirt. Dig out a “river” that runs through the town. Kids then create “rain” with a couple of watering cans. What happens throughout the town? (Severe erosion.) What happens to the banks of the river? (The river has overflowed its banks, and/or the course of the river has changed.) Kids research ways to help the town and realize that planting will help decrease erosion. Kids fix town, consider placement of buildings, and plant small plants and fast-growing grass seed and wait a few weeks. (During this time the kids set up other working models and experiments and then research to gain understanding.)

    When it “rains” again, there is far less erosion! Kids discuss implications of climate change and more severe weather with heavier downpours than ever before, and think up additional ways to adapt to our changing climate. To discuss their important findings, they can go to Kids Against Climate Change, , for an authentic audience. It’s important that the children disseminate their scientific discoveries, just as scientists would.

    For additional ideas, see NGSS’s Earth’s Systems for upper elementary, or feel free to contact me. Good luck, and have fun!

  3. Brianne Keith
    Posted April 14, 2017 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Hello! PBS KIDS has resources specifically for programs like this! Check out PLUM LANDING’s Curriculum Pathways:

    The resources are NGSS-aligned, advisor-reviewed, quality outdoor science hands-on learning activities for ages 6- to 9-year-olds. They are organized into different hours and lengths of programming for camps, afterschool programs, and clubs.

    Let us know if you use them and how they work out for you!

    Brianne Keith, Outreach Manager, PLUM LANDING, WGBH Boston

  4. Saranya Sathananthan
    Posted April 28, 2017 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Likewise, another PBSKIDS brand, DESIGN SQUAD GLOBAL has hands-on activities that introduce kids ages 9-13 to engineering and how it relates to their every day lives. Check out the Design Squad Guides with everything you need to run a successful summer enrichment program:

    Saranya Sathananthan, Outreach Project Manager, DESIGN SQUAD GLOBAL

  5. Keith Piccard
    Posted May 3, 2017 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    Invertebrates and streams (as you mentioned) always works. Kids will love the “bugs”.

    Here are some of my resources for K-16 grades at the link below.

    I also have some others resources I can also email you to incorporate subjects outside of science (i.e. PE, ELA, etc.) into the outdoors for all grade levels.
    My email is


  6. Laura
    Posted May 3, 2017 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    If you have a few consecutive days w a group I would highly consider ordering an EiE (Engineering is Elementary) unit! The kit will come with the teachers edition and all the hands on materials for 30+students! Very hands on, engaging and aligned to NGSS! Good luck! Have fun!

  7. Glenn Simonelli
    Posted May 4, 2017 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Here’s a link to a NASA article about making “stomp rockets” that might work well in a summer camp:

  8. Kathy Hogan
    Posted May 5, 2017 at 12:16 am | Permalink

    A summer program would be a great time to introduce the kids to basic physics principles through sports and games. An egg toss or water balloon contest is a fun way to introduce them to elastic v. inelastic collision (water balloon is cleaner, but egg toss is good if you have washup facilities!). This principle underlies why bicycle helmets should be worn.

    Hula hoops and jump ropes and doing The Twist is a fun way to learn about axis of rotation and torque (centripetal force and angular momentum, too).

    Introduce them to vibration and sound waves with string-can telephones (vibration starts in the voicebox, vibrates along the string, vibrates the listener’s eardrum.
    This approach to physics (and geometry) is used far too little, although there are many resources on the internet. You can read my blog* for more details on these suggestions and a lot more.

    There are lesson plans in the blog for the lessons on vibrations and torque, as well as leaflets I’ve written on these and other topics. More, too, about sport science camps.

    *Gateway to Science: Sports and Games, or

  9. Lynn Farrin
    Posted May 10, 2017 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    In addition to the EiE materials, check out the Engineering Adventures materials that are free to download. While they are intended for afterschool programs, they would be a good fit for your program and use inexpensive, ready to find materials.

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