A Day in the Life of a Lincoln Park Zoo Camper

April 15, 2024

One of the most common questions staff at zoo camp get asked is, “So what did my kid do all day long?” That question is a little tough to answer because every day is different, but here’s a look behind the curtain at one group’s typical day at Lincoln Park Zoo’s summer camp.

Please note, this is an example of a day in a K-1 camp group. Different age groups would follow a similar model but would participate in age-appropriate activities.

8–8:45 a.m. – The morning meeting for camp staff starts right at 8 a.m. Camp staff members get updates about keeper chats and zoo news, and take a daily policy and safety quiz. After that, they prepare their materials for the day and get ready for campers to arrive. At the same time, campers are at home, preparing for a great day and putting on their blue camp shirts.

8:45–9:15 a.m. – During morning check-in, one counselor from each group greets campers as they arrive and guides them to their group’s classroom. Inside the classroom, the other counselor and Camp Teen Volunteers play games, read stories, and help campers put away their belongings while they wait for the whole group to arrive at camp.

summer camp

9:15–9:30 a.m. – Counselors remind campers that at zoo camp we “respect the PONY!” PONY stands for Property, Others, Nature, and Yourself. Respecting the PONY helps everyone at camp have a good time and stay safe.

9:30–10 a.m. – Time for morning free play! This unstructured play time takes place each morning on South Lawn with all camp groups present. Campers can choose what to play and who to play with. All camp counselors and camp teen volunteers work together to supervise free play.

10–10:30 a.m. – Now, it’s time to regroup and introduce today’s theme, which is “Animals That Live on the Savanna.” Counselors read a story (today’s pick is Oh Dear, Geoffrey! by Gemma O’Neill) while campers eat a snack. Then it’s time for a bathroom break.

10:30–11 a.m. – Campers play an active game on the South Lawn where they imagine themselves as animals on the savanna escaping from predators.  During the game, a camper trips and scrapes her knee. One of the camp counselors, who are all trained in First Aid, helps her wash the scrape and apply a bandage. The counselor writes a “Just So You Know” note to share with the camper’s caregiver during checkout.

11–11:30 a.m. – The group heads to the north end of the zoo to visit the eastern black rhino habitat. They say hello to female Kapuki and watch as she eats some browse. Next, they stop by Pepper Family Wildlife Center and see the African lions snuggled together for a late-morning nap.

summer camp

Photo by Linda Miller

11:30–12:30 p.m. – Lunchtime! Campers and counselors return to the Judy Keller Education Center for lunch, bathroom breaks, and water bottle fill-ups. They also reapply their sunscreen before heading out for the afternoon.

12:30–1 p.m. – All campers go to Conservatory Field just outside the zoo’s West Gate for Afternoon Free Play. Some campers choose to relax in the shade while other campers play tag.

1–2 p.m. – The camp group heads to Regenstein African Journey to meet a zookeeper who talks to them about what it’s like to care for Finely and Rae, the two giraffes that live at the zoo. Campers ask lots of questions about what the giraffes eat, how big they get, and why their tongues are purple. After the chat, the campers explore the rest of the building.

2–2:20 p.m. – The counselors find a shady spot on South Lawn for the group to take a seat, and they show campers a cast of a giraffe skull and vertebra. Campers learn that giraffes have the same number of vertebrae as humans—giraffes’ vertebrae are just a lot bigger!

2:20–2:45 p.m. – The day is getting hot, so the campers head back into their classroom where they work together to paint a mural showing animals that live on the savanna.

2:45–3 p.m. – It’s almost time for checkout! Campers gather their belongings and sit in a circle. Everyone takes a turn sharing what their favorite part of the day was.

summer camp

Photo by Linda Miller

3–3:15 p.m. – Checkout time! Camp leadership staff greet caregivers, check their IDs, and radio for each camper to come out and meet their adult. Counselors help campers pick up all their belongings and guide them to where their adults are waiting.

3:15-3:30 p.m. – Camp staff huddle for a quick meeting to discuss any challenges they encountered during the day. Then counselors tidy up their classrooms and make a plan for the following day so they are ready to go the next morning. They head home and rest up for the day ahead.

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