What is Discovery Day Camp?

TNI’s Discovery Day Camp is a nature-based camp located in Godfrey, IL. This unique camp began in 1982 and has invited campers back each year since! Your camper will enjoy a week full of exploration, discovering birds, wildlife, insects, water features, and nature knowledge at The Nature Institute. We will explore the woods, prairies, and ponds at Olin Nature Preserve and will play in the streams and waterfalls at Mississippi Sanctuary.

Campers will have opportunities to gain STEM skills while playing on our natural playground which includes a Mud Kitchen, Geology Garden, Art Center, Burrow, Eagle’s Nest, Climbing Wall and much more. Campers will learn through discovery and guided play and explore our natural resources. Expect to hear about the new adventures your camper experienced while outdoors.

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2023 Camp Programs

On the chart to the right, look for the grade level your child just completed for the 2022- 2023 school year to find which camp weeks they are eligible to attend. Then you can find the camp descriptions below.

Registration opens March 6th for members and March 10th for non-members.

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2023 Parent Manual

Preschool

Cost: $200/half day, $275/full day. Members receive 15% off! Payment plans are available.

PreK Camp is available as a half and full day camp. Half day camp is available for ages 3 – 5 and runs from 8:30 – 11:30 am. Full day camp is available for ages 4 – 5 and runs from 8:30 – 3. Snack is included in the cost. Campers must be able to independently use the restroom. Full day campers are awake and active all day (no nap time provided). Full day campers will also need to pack a lunch! Both full and half days camps run from Monday through Friday.

Who lives in TNI’s forests? Search for mammals, birds, and amphibians on the preserve. Take a look at their homes and what they need to survive in the wild!

We offer 1/2 day camp for 3 – 5 year olds from 8:30 – 11:30 am.  All preschool campers must be able to use the restroom independently.

Tiny creatures can have a big impact! Discover all of the tiny helpers in our forests, prairies, and streams that help to support our ecosystem.

We offer full day camp for 4 & 5 year olds from 8:30 am – 3 pm. All preschool campers must be able to use the restroom independently. Full day campers are awake and active all day (no nap time provided). 

Kindergarten & 1st Grade

Cost: $300. Members receive 15% off! Payment plans are available.

Kindergarten & 1st grade camps are full day, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 – 3. Campers will bring a lunch with them to camp. These camps are for children that have completed kindergarten or 1st grade for the 2022/2023 school year.

Ready to make a mess? Splash, squish, and stomp your way through the creeks of TNI. Explore messy activities and learn the importance of mud for many animals out in the forest.

Eeeek, a bug! Here at TNI, we are excited about insects. What do insects do, exactly? Why are they important? Become an entomologist for a week to find out!

Find your artistic inspiration in the wild at TNI. Learn about the animal artists out in nature and then create masterpieces of your own.

2nd & 3rd Grade

Cost: $300. Members receive 15% off! Payment plans are available.

2nd & 3rd grade camps are full day, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 – 3. Campers will bring a lunch with them to camp. These camps are for children that have completed 2nd or 3rd grade for the 2022/2023 school year.

Something magical is afoot at TNI! Study herbology, decorate your own wand, practice ‘potion’ making, and discover enchanting wildlife.

Discover the many construction challenges and successes out in the natural world. From building homes, to crafting secret traps, animals are some of the best architects!

Get closer to nature! This sustainability – based camp will assist in our gardens, make recycled art, and create their own materials (like soap!) with natural supplies

4th & 5th Grade

Cost: $300. Members receive 15% off! Payment plans are available.

4th & 5th grade camps are full day (8:30am-3pm). Campers will bring a lunch with them to camp. Child vs. Wild is a 5 day camp (M-F). Greatest Hits is a 4 day camp (M-Th). See the description for more details. These camps are for children that have completed 4th or 5th grade for the 2022/2023 school year.

Use the elements of nature to survive! Learn to start and cook over a fire, harness the power of the wind, find animals living in the earth, and play in the water. Campers will also try their hand at spear throwing with the Center for American Archeology!

We’ve pieced together all of our camper’s favorite TNI camp activities and pushed them into one week of fun! Join us for everything from a late night experience to archery and creek walks. This is a 4 day camp, with a late night on Thursday until 9 pm.

Middle School

Cost: $325. Members receive 15% off! Payment plans are available.

Middle School camps are full day (8:30am-3pm). Campers will bring a lunch with them to camp. Operation Conservation is a 5 day camp (M – F). Wilderness Trek is a 4 day camp. See the description for more details. These camps are for children that have completed 6th, 7th, or 8th grade for the 2022/2023 school year.

Take the path less traveled! This week of camp includes an overnight on-site camping experience, kayaking with the Army Corps of Engineers, a high ropes course at Ryze Adventure Park, campfire cuisine, and wilderness survival skills with the Little Wilderness Medical School. This is a 4 day camp, with an overnight on site on Thursday evening. Pickup is 8:30 am on Friday.

Scientists all over the world are working to conserve thousands of species! How do they do it? Campers will check out local conservation organizations to discover all of the incredible things we are doing to help nature out. This week of camp includes field trips to local conservation organizations, including the Endangered Wolf Center and TreeHouse Wildlife Center.

Family Camp

Cost: $20/person for members, $25/person for non-members

Ready to experience the magic of camp? This 1 day camp is for the whole family and replicates our Discovery Day Camp experience! Families have the option between 2 dates and times. 1 meal is included in the registration fee. Minimum of 1 parent/guardian must accompany their child to this program. 

Friday, August 11th, 5:30 – 9:30 PM: Evening family camp is recommended for ages 8 and up! Join our camp staff for dinner over the fire, a night hike, games, and more!

Saturday, August 12th, 8:30 AM – 12:30 PM: Daytime family camp is recommended for ages 4 and up! Join our camp staff for a creek walk, water games, art activities, and then finish with lunch over the fire.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Our age groups correspond with the grade that your child has just completed. Your child would sign up for the K/1 group since they just completed 1st grade.

Families may register for 3 weeks of camp per child. 

We do not recommend signing up for the same topic for multiple weeks. Our camp lesson plans have specific activities that relate to the topic of the week, so they would be repeating many of the same activities.

Group sizes depend on the age of the campers. We follow limitations set forth by the American Camp Association (ACA). 

Age Group Staff to Camper Ratio (ACA) TNI Staff to Camper Ratio TNI Max Group Size
PreK 1:6 1:5 10 campers per group.
K/1 1:8 1:5 10 campers per group.
2/3 1:8 1:7 14 campers per group.
4/5 1:10 1:8 16 campers per group.
Middle School 1:10 1:8 16 campers per group.

Yes! We are accredited with the American Camp Association. This rigorous accreditation process requires us to meet a large list of standards. We were recently reaccredited after our inspection in the summer of 2022. You can check out some of the specialized standards we meet by visiting ACA’s website and reading this article on how to choose a camp for your child.

YES! We are thrilled to be able to offer full scholarships to campers that would otherwise be unable to attend camp. These scholarships are offered due to the generosity of our donors. Please inquire about our scholarships at info@thenatureinsitute.org or by calling (618) 466-9930. Scholarships cover the cost of attending camp, but do not provide meals or transportation.

No, we do not provide lunch. We do not have facilities on site or certification to prepare meals. Please send your child with a packed lunch that does not require heating. We store lunches in our refrigerators after arrival.

Our camp is very popular and spots fill up quickly! We do have waitlists for camp on the weeks that fill up. You can add them to the waitlist on CampBrain. If spots open up, you will receive a call inquiring if you’d like to register for the open spot. Spots are first come, first served.

Camp is run by a Camp Director, Assistant Camp Director, and 14 summer camp staff. The Camp Director, Lauren Scull, runs our education programs year-round. Our Assistant Camp Director, Dave Schiber, is also a year round staff member. You can learn more about them on the Our Team page. Summer camp staff are typically high school or college students that have an interest in the outdoors or are currently attending school for biology or environmental topics. We often have teachers join us for the summer. Staff complete a week long training prior to camp and all hold current certifications in First Aid and CPR. They are trained on curriculum, child development, and group management, as well as outdoor content. Each camp group has a minimum of 2 staff members with them. Groups may also have an additional counselor if extra support is needed, as well as some high school volunteers. All staff have background checks prior to the summer.

All of our camp registration is run through CampBrain. This website allows you to register your child, create a health profile, add your child to waitlists, and fill out required forms for camp.

The activities each day will be based on their theme, but they should plan to spend lots of time outside, complete age-appropriate activities, play games, and explore nature! Check out our Daily Schedule below (schedule is slightly different for 4th/5th late nights and Middle School overnights).

Sometimes! Please let us know prior to registration if your child needs any special accommodations and we’re happy to discuss what we’re able to provide to best assist you. Our goal is to keep all of our campers safe while on site.

We find that if your child is successful at school without an aide, and are in classrooms with neurotypical students, they will do wonderfully at camp! While our staff are pretty amazing, they are not certified Special Education teachers and do not typically have experience with this group. Please contact Lauren at lscull@thenatureinstitute.org if you have specific questions or to learn more about how we support neurodivergent campers.

Yes, provided that the following conditions are met:

  • The other child must also request that your child is in their group.
  • Both children must be in the same age group.
  • Both children are registered for the same week.
  • You may only make 1 buddy request.

Please note that while we attempt to accommodate as many buddy requests as possible, it is not guaranteed. We also recommend that siblings are in separate groups. Camp is a wonderful opportunity to meet new friends and try new things!

Wilderness Trek is the only middle school camp that offers an overnight campout. Campers will arrive at the usual time on Thursday and stay through the night. Pick up is on Friday at 8:30 a.m. TNI provides tents, as well as dinner on Thursday and breakfast on Friday. TNI staff stay with the campers overnight, but are in separate tents. Families that register for this camp will receive additional details closer to the date.

Camper safety is of the highest priority for us! One of our camp rules is to make safe choices, and we remind campers that drinking water and taking breaks are an important part of that. During especially hot days, programming will be restructured for shorter hikes, more time in the creeks, water games, activities in the shade, and games that involve sitting components. 

If a camper begins to show signs of overheating, they will be directed immediately to an air conditioned space with cool rags to cool down. We will often provide lemonade in addition to our ice water coolers to make hydrating more appealing during these days!

We get wet! We jump in puddles, splash in mud, and enjoy cooling off. In all seriousness, if there is thunder or lightning, we have specific protocols in place to keep campers safe. We have special backpocket ideas for indoor activities if the opportunity arises!

We’re so glad you asked! Discovery Day Camp is a chance for kids to:

  • Foster an awareness and appreciation of the natural world.
  • Disconnect from screens.
  • Take on sensory experiences (Mud, slime, oobleck, and fake scat? Yes please!)
  • Learn resilience through problem solving and braving outdoor conditions.
  • Independently and collaboratively solve problems. (How can we construct this stick bridge to hold our weight?)
  • Develop interpersonal relationships and social skills.
  • Get involved in fun, age-appropriate activities outside!
  • Learn about nature, animals, plants, and all of the living things out in our ecosystems. 
  • BE A KID! Get messy, experiment, construct, create, and explore.

If you need more convincing, check out this article from the American Camp Association. You can also check out this interview regarding ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ from Berkely. 

We’re passionate about the work we do at camp, and we hope you’ll join us this summer!