Archive for ‘Summer Camp’

February 19, 2015

We Say “Goodbye” to Steve: Reflections of a Science Education Intern

by Melissa Harding


Steve Bucklin, our 2014 science education intern, will be ending his internship this week. He will be leaving Science Education and Research, but not Phipps, as he will continue to work in the Conservatory with our Discovery Education department, providing wonderful education experiences to our youngest guests and their caregivers. We are so excited that Steve will be staying a part of the Phipps family!

The following essay, written by Steve, is a reflection on the time he spent with our department:

It’s amazing both how long and how short one year can seem. In the time it took for the Earth to revolve around the sun once, countless organisms lived out their entire lives (think of all the annual flowering plants that go from seed to plant to flower and back again!), and I completed my internship with the Science Education and Research team at Phipps. Looking back on the past year, it’s shocking how quickly the time has passed, but the experience I’ve gained from the time I’ve spent at Phipps has made it one of the most impactful years of my life.

At the start of my internship, teaching made me extremely nervous. Standing in front of a group of 10 to 30 or more young children and helping to shape the way they think and what they know isn’t an easy task, and it becomes a lot more complicated when you add in things like crafts and snacks. However, over the course of my internship, I was able to teach many classes and work on becoming comfortable and relaxed in the classroom. I’ve learned that being relaxed is essential not only to the classes you teach being more effective and entertaining for the students, but it makes teaching a lot more fun too! Now I feel a sense of excitement when I get to lead a class and I am much more confident in front of groups. With the help and guidance of the wonderful Science Education team at Phipps and a lot of practice, I’ve really begun to develop my teaching skills. In total, I helped the Science Education team teach 36 field trip programs, 25 Little Sprouts camp classes, and 35 other seasonal and summer camps.


One great example of the progress I made during my internship is what I accomplished as part of the Eco Challenge. The Eco Challenge is an annual event at Phipps where students from different middle and high schools complete a series of challenges designed to engage them in thinking critically about environmental issues and sustainability. My job was to create an activity focused on the effect of food on the environment for middle school students. It was a daunting task, to say the least. The end product was a game that was both an age-appropriate way to discuss the environmental impact of food and that empowered student to make positive decisions. This program was very inspiring to me. Educating both others and myself about the environment has been a primary focus in my life since high school. To be able to do so for nearly 150 middle school students in a single day left me feeling unlike I ever have before.

As my time in the Science Education department reaches an end, I am sure that I am heading down a path that is right for me. Doing this work is the most rewarding thing I have ever experienced and I hope I am able to continue doing it! As for my plans now, I’ll still be around the Conservatory for the foreseeable future. I have been working part-time in the Discovery Education department doing public programs for children since December and plan to continue my work there as I search for full-time employment. There’s no telling what the future holds, but the many opportunities I have had to gain experience in environmental education since graduating college have left me feeling very optimistic. I am very glad that I have the opportunity to continue working at Phipps and that I’ll be able to stop in and visit the awesome staff in Science Education as I keep progressing as an educator!

We would also like to thank Steve for all the hard work that he has done for us this past year.
We are so proud of him and wish him the best of luck!

The above photos were taken by Phipps Science Education and Research staff.

February 9, 2015

Five Great Reasons to Come to Summer Camp at Phipps

by Melissa Harding



With all the options available for summer camps, why choose to send your child to Phipps? After all, there are hundreds of camps that are offered around the city every summer and there are so many different themes and types of programming to choose from. It can be hard to know where to put your child that will maximize both your money and their fun. We know this and want to reassure you that Phipps summer camps are a great way to do both.

Think we are a little biased?
Here are the top five reasons to come to summer camp at Phipps:


5. Make things: New friends, cool crafts and memories.

Phipps camp is a great place for kids to make things; we make costumes, artwork, bug traps, musical instruments and tons of other neat crafts. Not just stuff, but memories as well. Campers come back year after year and remind us of their favorite moments, activities and teachers. Over the years, we love to watch our students grow into confident naturalists before our eyes, and often have some sappy memories of our own.

Camp is also a great place to make friends; young or old, Phipps is an excellent place to find a kindred spirit. Many of our campers make friends during camp that last from summer to summer; parents also find camp a great place to meet like-minded caregivers that they can connect with.


4. Connect with nature: Spend time with the plants, outside and in the Conservatory.

Phipps offers a variety of unique natural environments for our visitors. Campers can be immersed in a tropical forest and then suddenly find themselves in the desert. Our glass houses allow us to transport our students all over the world, learning about and experiencing plants from different climates, while our natural landscapes provide a fun place to hunt for bugs, birds and other critters. We like to spend as much time outside as possible during summer camp, whether it is looking for treasures, gathering inspiration, reading stories, or just playing games.


3. Learn about plants and animals: From bugs to birds to bluebells, what makes them so cool?

Plants are important to our lives; they give us the air we breathe, the food we eat and even the clothes we wear. Not only do they keep us alive, but they are pretty cool, too! We have plants that eat bugs, plants that mimic animals, and even a plant that smells like road kill. That is not to mention all of the tropical treasures that grow chocolate, vanilla, coffee, spices, rubber, and citrus. We love to teach our campers the stories behind some of our favorite plants, as well as the critters that call Phipps home – hawks, song birds, frogs, turtles, fish, insects, and whole host of furry mammal friends. Every camper will spend time exploring the habitats of Phipps and learning about the flora and fauna within.


2. Gain observation skills: Look closer and ask better questions.

One of the best ways to learn about the world is through observation. Active observation sparks curiosity and a sense of wonder to ask more deeply probing questions. This is a natural way to begin to understand the scientific process, by asking observation-based questions and seeking answers through simple experimentation. One question often leads to another and soon children find themselves connected to their world with a deep sense of place. The end result is a child that approaches the world with an open mind and a curious heart. Phipps camps help children learn to be better observers, whether they are being detectives, plant scientists or artists.


1. Have fun!

More than anything else, we love to have fun! Even more than opportunities for learning, our camps are full of silly songs, dancing, jokes, stories, games, and imaginative play.  We let campers be themselves and encourage their interests and skills while still challenging them to try new things. Campers love Phipps so much that they often come back year after year! The highest compliment we get from a child is “that was fun!” and we strive to make sure that camp is always exciting and never boring.

In short, summer camp at Phipps is pretty awesome!
We are so excited about the upcoming season and hope to see you and your family there.

To sign up for summer camp, visit our website or contact Sarah at 412/441/442 ext. 3925.

The above photos were taken by Science Education staff and volunteers.

January 20, 2015

We Are Getting SO Excited About Summer Camp!

by Melissa Harding


We’re so excited and we just can’t hide it! Summer is almost here and we have just finalized our offerings for the upcoming camp season. We are so pumped to offer a new selection of summer camps to help your child connect with nature. Highlighting ecology, conservation, healthy living and art concepts through hands-on activities, each camp offers a fun and unique Phipps experience. This year we are expanding our age groups to include older campers, as well as continuing to offer the popular programs that families love. We have a great line-up of immersive experiences designed to increase your kid’s enthusiasm for the natural world, with something to offer for every child, no matter what their interests:
Do you have a child who loves BUGS? A camper who likes to make homes for all the insect friends she finds in the yard and who knows all about dragonflies? Then check out our bug camps for campers ages 4-7: Bugs in the Burgh and A Bug’s World! Your camper will have fun hunting for bugs all over the Conservatory, inside and out, and learning what makes bugs so important.

Check out this post to learn how to trap bugs at home, just like we do at camp!

Do you have a camper who loves to dance and perform? A child who pretends to be a cat under the table or a dinosaur at bedtime? Then Dancing with the Plants, for campers ages 4-5, is just right for him. Your camper will learn about plants and animals through dance and movement exercises!

Not sure that your child will love dance-based camp? Check out these fun photos from last summer – a great choice for boys AND girls!

Phipps Science Education (3)ghghghgh
If you have a child who loves to draw, paint, sculpt, or tell stories, then our art camps are right up her alley. We are offering nature-based art camps for children ages 4-5 and 10-11: Backyard Art and EcoArtist. Your camper will use nature as her inspiration to create beautiful and unique projects.

Can’t wait to start making nature art? Prepare for spring by making seed balls at home!


Do you have an older child who loves exploring nature and learning new facts about plants and animals? A camper who pours over books about his favorite animals and wants to be park ranger or a scientist when he grows up? Check out our new camp for children ages 8-9: Nature Explorers!

Want to practice observation skills at home? Check out this post for ideas!

DSC_2906Does your child have a passion for environmentalism? Does she love to learn about different places in the world? If your 12-13 year old camper is a budding steward of the plants and animals of the planet, then Climate Defenders is the right camp for her! Campers will learn all about world biomes while experiencing them right here at Phipps, as well as how their actions can have a positive effect on the world around them.

Learn how spending time in nature helps all children to become better stewards of the Earth!


These are just a few of the camps that we are offering this summer. Check out our website to see our entire line-up, including Little Sprouts, cooking, fairytale, bug, dance, and ecology camps. Our summer camps are both educational and super fun – at Phipps, we LOVE camp!

If you would like to register your child for summer camp, contact Sarah Bertovich at  412|441-4442 ext. 3925.

We hope to see you there!

The above photos were taken by Science Education staff and volunteers.

December 1, 2014

1-year Paid Internship Oppportunity in Phipps’ Science Education and Research Department!

by Melissa Harding

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Phipps is offering a 12-month Science Education Internship to students interested in gaining experience in youth-focused education and outreach initiatives in the areas of environmental conservation and sustainability, art and science, and healthy living, with the core of building a positive relationship between humanity and the environment. The intern will work closely with Science Education and Research staff and volunteers to a) develop and teach cross-disciplinary, participatory programs including summer camps, out-of-school and weekend programs for youth and families, on-site and off-site school programs, scouts and brownies badge programs, programs for homeschool groups, and outreach for under-resourced youth, b) assist in developing programs that connect youth to environment-focused scientists and provide educational enrichment for formal and informal educators, and c) represent Phipps at community events, online as applicable, present on Phipps’ innovative green initiatives, and other potential duties as needed.

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This paid internship commences January 2015, with up to 40 hours/week during the summer months and 15-20 hours/week during the school year. Some evening and weekend work required. The student should be currently enrolled in an undergraduate program at least halfway through the course of study, or one year post-graduate from undergraduate program, or currently enrolled as a graduate student. The degree focus must be in an area related to Phipps’ Science Education and Research department, e.g., environmental education, environmental social sciences, environmental communications, ecological or conservation-based biological sciences, or nutrition and dietetics. A valid driver’s license and a car to use for transport for off-site programs (mileage reimbursed) are preferred. Experience working with youth is a plus.

Application deadline: 12/31/2014. Interested candidates should email a cover letter and resume to Please reference SCIENCE EDUCATION INTERNSHIP in the subject line.

 The above photos were taken by Science Education staff.

August 27, 2014

Home Connections: Sensory Play for Young Children

by Melissa Harding


Our senses are how we learn about the world. When we talk about “observation skills“, we are really talking about using our senses to understand what is going on around us. In fact, observation is the foundation of all science; it causes us to ask questions and seek answers through experimentation. Observation skills are important. That is why we work so hard to make sure that our students are spending their time observing the natural world and why we care so much about promoting observation skills in this space. One of our favorite ways to help young children learn to use their senses is through the use of sensory bins. Sensory bins are common in any early childhood settings, from pre-schools to nature centers, and provide children with a tactile way to learn about color, shapes, plants and animals.

We have developed a variety of sensory bins for different age groups, based on what is appropriate and safe for children in different stages of development. Here are a few of our most successful bins:

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Little Sprouts (ages 2 and older)
Children ages 2-3 are still learning many gross and fine motor skills. They are not yet able to articulate well with their hands, grasp objects with care or perform detailed actions. With this mind, sensory bins for this age group are meant to stimulate the senses and give children practice stacking, building, drawing and molding shapes, and just generally manipulating objects. Adding fresh scents, bright colors and pleasing textures makes these bins fun for older children as well.

Day 4 003Cloud Dough: Cloud dough is a great way to add texture and scent to your sensory bins. Made with a base of flour and vegetable oil, the resulting “dough” is both crumbly and holds a shape, rather like wet sand. Try adding cookie cutters or shaped ice cube trays to the bin.

To make cloud dough, you will need: 7 cups any type of flour and 1 cup vegetable oil. Mix it all together until the oil is evenly dispersed throughout the flour. Use your hands.

Tracing Salt: Tracing salt is made with ordinary table salt and essential oils. A thin layer of this scented salt is put in a shallow bin for manipulation; this bin is great for promoting literacy and creativity, as children can trace letters, numbers or pictures into the salt and then erase it and start again. It’s a fun tool to use when practicing letters, shapes, or numbers. We like to add feathers and paint brushes to give our students something to make shapes with besides their fingers, but anything soft and stiff would work.

To make tracing salt, you will need: 3 cups iodized salt and 5-7 drops essential oil. Place one cup salt in a bag and add 2-3 drops essential oil. Close bag and massage the contents to mix. Add essential oil to achieve the scent you desire; remember, less is often more with strong oils. Follow these steps until all salt has been scented. Add drops of food coloring to the salt for optional color if desired.

Salt Dough: Salt dough is a great go-to staple. All children love to play with salt dough or other play dough. Salt dough is made with flour, salt and water; the resulting dough is moldable and will even dry into permanent shapes if left out for a few days. However, this dough is able to last for up to a month in a sealed sensory bin. Try adding herbs, spices, food coloring, grains and even glitter to create extra-special dough.

To make salt dough, you will need: 2 cups flour, 1 cup salt and 1 cup water. Mix salt and flour, gradually stirring in water until it forms a dough-like consistency. Form a ball with your dough and knead it for at least 5 minutes with your hands, adding flour as needed to create a smooth texture.

Dance Scarves: Dance scarves are perfect for sensory play: they come in a rainbow of colors, they are soft and floaty, and they can be made into a costume. They are fun to twirl with, to throw up into the air like fall leaves, and to pile up and lay on. Children will pull them all out of the bin and play with them for hours.


Seedling Scientists (ages 4 and older)
Children ages 4-5 are learning more fine motor skills, spatial skills, independence, and the ability to self-regulate. They need to practice manipulating small objects, whether pouring things from one container to another or nesting differently sized objects into each other. These bins are not appropriate for younger children, as the objects in these bins can cause a choking hazard to young children who like to put things in their mouth during play.

IMG_0010Seeds: Seeds of all shapes and sizes fill the seeds bin; some seeds, like corn, are recognizable and others, like lotus seeds, are odd and interesting to children. This bin gives children a chance to observe and identify a variety of seeds, as well as fun material to fill up containers and serve as tea. Children like to run their fingers through the pleasant texture of the seeds and pick out seeds of different size and shape. Add some measuring cups, funnels, wide tubes and other containers in odd shapes to help children manipulate the seeds.

Caps: While a bin full of empty bottle caps seems like an odd choice, this repurposed material is perfect for early learners. Caps of all shapes, sizes and colors fill our bin. Children love to stack them into towers, fit them inside each other, and use them for pretend play.

Colored Rice: Rice is another material that feels silky against the skin and makes a pleasing sound when poured from cup to cup. Color your rice with vinegar and food coloring, or use spices and botanical dyes, to create a rainbow of beautiful colors. Rice also makes a great base for small world play, whether you are hiding plastic bugs in green rice, pretending your blue rice is an ocean, or using yellow rice to simulate the desert.

To make colored rice, you will need: 1 cup of rice, 1 tsp of white vinegar, and several drops of food coloring. In a bag or bowl, mix rice, vinegar and food coloring and shake/stir to combine. Place colored rice on a piece of aluminum foil to dry before use.

Dirt: What kid doesn’t love to play in the dirt? Potting soil is a safe, clean way to play with dirt. Add kid-sized shovels and rakes, buckets, and plastic bugs to make this bin into a mini garden patch. Be sure to use sterile dirt, rather than dirt from your yard, as soil from outside may contain insects, fungus or bacteria that could be potentially harmful.

Adding scents: Adding essential oils is a natural and safe way to add a variety of scents to your bins. Additionally, many essential oils are naturally antibacterial and can keep your bins both clean and sweet-smelling. Consider using lavender as a calming scent, mint for stimulation, or citrus for a fresh scent. As a fun alternative, try adding herbs like fresh lavender blossoms or rosemary leaves for added texture and scent.

About choking hazards: For children under the age of 3, choking can be a danger when dealing with small objects. Any object smaller in size than a toilet paper tube can be hazardous if ingested and cause children to choke. For this reason, always supervise your children when they are interacting with sensory bins and choose materials that are appropriate for their age and level of development.

Remember, these are just a few sensory bins suggestions. There are many objects that you have in your home already that would create wonderful sensory experiences for your child. Shaving crème, water and bubbles, mud, and play sand are items that would make some delightfully messy sensory bins as well.

For more sensory bin ideas, check out these great websites:

The Imagination Tree
Teaching Preschool
Happy Hooligans

To learn more about the importance of observation, check out this post!

The above photos were taken by Cory Doman. 

August 22, 2014

Summer Camp Recap: We Like Dirt!

by Melissa Harding

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Summer Camp Recap is our seasonal segment featuring our summer camp programs. This is the place for camp parents to find pictures of their campers in action and see all the fun things we did all week. It’s also a great place for educators to pick up craft, story and lesson ideas for their own early childhood programs!

We Like Dirt is our last camp for the summer. A fitting end, since it is one of our favorites! This week, campers learned what dirt is, where is comes from and who lives in it. They spent the week exploring the ecosystem under the ground, playing games, singing songs and crafting with mud. Campers created mud pies, dug for bugs, and even decorated T-shirts with “muddy” animal footprints. They loved making friends with worms and learning all about how they turn plants into soil.

Check out the slide show below for more images from the week!

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For more pictures from Summer Camp, check out our Facebook page!

The above photos were taken Science Education and Research staff.

August 18, 2014

Summer Camp Recap: Art Outside

by Melissa Harding

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Summer Camp Recap is our seasonal segment featuring our summer camp programs. This is the place for camp parents to find pictures of their campers in action and see all the fun things we did all week. It’s also a great place for educators to pick up craft, story and lesson ideas for their own early childhood programs!

Art Outside turns traditional art camps on their heads by focusing on the plants and materials that make the art, rather than the art itself. Campers learned why using recycled materials in art projects is important, how the plants they pick for their projects grow and why storytelling is a great way to share what you learn. Throughout the week, campers made potato puppets, nature weavings and tie-dyed T-shirts. They created art journals and used them to sketch plants in the Conservatory and complete observation and drawing exercises.  Campers loved putting on puppet shows and gathering flowers in the gardens.

Check out the slide show below for more images from the week!


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For more pictures from Summer Camp, check out our Facebook page!

The above photos were taken Science Education and Research staff.


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