What is Discovery Day Camp?

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, Fossil Dig, 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.

I Want to Work at Camp

On the chart to the right, look for the grade level your child just completed for the 2021 – 2022 school year to find which camp weeks they are eligible to attend. Then you can find the camp descriptions below.

Registration opens March 17th for members and March 18th for non-members.

Register for Camp
2022 Parent Manual

Preschool – $160, Members receive 15% off.

Preschool camp is available for ages 4 – 5 and are available as a half day camp. Camps runs in the morning from 8:30 – 11:30am. Snack is included in the cost. Campers must be able to independently use the restroom.

Fantastic Five Senses – Explore nature with all 5 senses at TNI! See, touch, taste, hear, and smell the world around you in this half-day camp.

Kindergarten – Middle School Camps are full day (8:30am-3pm) and are open to children that are getting out of the grade level specified. Campers will bring a lunch with them to camp.

Kindergarten-1st Grade – $250, Members receive 15% off.

Art in Nature – This week is for our more art – inclined campers! Every day will bring a new array of artistic creations by using a wide range of materials. 

Tracks & Traces – While we can’t always see animals out in the forest, they often leave behind clues that they were there. Learn the best ways to track an animal through identification of tracks, scat, and more!

Mad Science – Get ready for a wacky week of science! Learn about the scientific method, test experiments, and participate in messy (and sometimes “explosive”) activities. 

2nd-3rd Grade – $250, Members receive 15% off.

Creek Week – Getting wet is a camp favorite! This week is all about exploring our creeks and waterfalls, learning about the life that inhabits them, and getting muddy. Be sure to bring extra clothes!

Cold-Blooded Creatures – Illinois is filled with slimy and scaly creatures that inhabit our forests and ponds. This camp will explore the characteristics of amphibians and reptiles and search for them out in the preserve. 

Wild & Weird – While wonderful, nature can also be kind of…weird. Discover strange plants and animals and the interesting tactics they use to survive! 

4th-5th Grade – $250, Members receive 15% off.

Myths & Legends – Many people have heard of the Piasa bird, but do you know the stories surrounding it? Explore local legends, mythological creatures, and create exciting stories of your own.

Daring Defenses – Spitting venom, dropping a tail, and vomiting on predators — all of these tactics are different ways that animals defend themselves. Discover ways that plants and animals stay safe in the wild. 

Level Up – Earn badges and unlock new ‘levels’ this week in our version of an outdoor video game. This electronic-free week will include physical and mental challenges, games, and prizes. Will you reach the final level?

Middle School (6th grade and Up) – $275, Members receive 15% off.

Illinois Adventure Week – Who needs vacation when you can explore all of the recreation opportunities right here in Illinois? This middle school camp will take campers rock climbing, canoeing, and hiking! The week of 6/27 includes a canoe day trip with Big Muddy Adventures and indoor auto-belay rock climbing at Climb So Ill. The week of 7/18 camp of Illinois Adventure includes a canoe day trip with Big Muddy Adventures and ziplining with Aerie Resort. Additional waivers will be required for both sessions.

Bioinspiration – Did you know that the creation of Velcro was based on a plant? Humans often look to nature to inspire new creations. Join us for this week-long camp to become an engineer and invent something new! This camp includes a robotics program taught by the St. Louis Science Center, as well as tree climbing with Vertical Voyages.

Frequently Asked Questions

My child is going into 2nd grade in the fall of 2022. Do I sign them up for the K/1 group, or the 2/3 group?

Our age groups correspond with the grade that your child has just completed for the 2021 – 2022 school year. Your child would sign up for the K/1 group since they just completed 1st grade.

How many weeks of camp can I sign my child up for?

You can sign up for 3 weeks of camp per child. If your child wants to attend more, call the TNI office after registering to be put onto a waitlist for more weeks of camp. Unsold camp weeks will be opened starting May 1st.

Can I sign up my child for 2 weeks on the same topic?

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.

How large are the group sizes?

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 Max Group Size w/ 2 Staff Members
PreK 1:6 10 campers per group.
K/1 1:8 10 campers per group.
2/3 1:8 14 campers per group.
4/5 1:10 16 campers per group.
Middle School 1:10 16 campers per group.

Do you provide lunch?

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.

I was not able to sign up for the week I wanted to register my child for. Are there any additional spots?

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 Camp Brain or by calling our office at (618) 466-9930. 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.

How many staff are there? What are their qualifications?

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, as well as teachers that are out of school for the summer. They 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, emergency procedures, 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 teen volunteers. All staff have background checks prior to the summer.

What is CampBrain and why am I receiving notifications from them?

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

Where is ‘homebase’ for each of the groups?

The youngest 4 groups have a section of the porch for them to store their belongings, eat lunch, do sitting activities, and hang as a group. The oldest 2 groups ‘graduate’ off of the porch and will be stationed at the Old Shed and the large tent, in order to give them more space and additional independence. All of the groups spend most of their day outside and away from their ‘homebase’ — we promote getting outside and spending time in nature!

What will my camper be doing all day?

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! Most camps will also receive a visit from a guest speaker. Check out our Daily Schedule to learn more.

General Camp Schedule 2022

Are you able to provide specific accommodations for my camper?

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.

Can I request that my child is in a group with a friend?

Yes, 1 buddy request per child is permitted, provided that the following conditions are met:

  • The other child must also request that your child is in their group.
  • You know the full name of the camper you are requesting.
  • Both children must be in the same age group.
  • Both children are registered for the same week.

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

Can I attend camp with my child?

No. Parents/guardians are not permitted to attend camp. Camp is a drop off program and our staff are thoroughly vetted to ensure the safety of all participants.  

Do you have any opportunities for teenagers?

Middle school camps are open for ages 12 – 14! If your child would like to take a bigger role at camp this summer, consider our Junior Counselor program. This is a volunteer program for ages 13 – 16. Applications are accepted until May 22nd. Contact Dave, the Assistant Camp Director, at dschiber@thenatureinstitute.org with any questions regarding our Junior Counselor program. 

Do you offer scholarships?

YES! We offer a limited number of scholarships for camp for those with financial constraints and for children that typically would not be able to attend camp. Please contact our Main Office at info@thenatureinstitute.org for an application. Please keep in mind that these scholarships do not include transportation to and from camp.

What are your COVID-19 policies?

As of May 2022, we are currently mask optional. Our programming takes place almost entirely outdoors. We do have hand sanitizer available and encourage frequent handwashing. We will follow recommendations set forth by the Madison County Health Department and the CDC. If any of these policies change, parents/guardians will be contacted prior to their child’s week at camp.

I have an additional question about refunds, billing, or waitlists.

Please contact our office at (618) 466-9930 or info@thenatureinstitute.org.

I have an additional question about staff, camp policies, paperwork, curriculum, or other camper needs.

Please contact Lauren at lscull@thenatureinstitute.org.