Inclusion at Summer Camp

Inclusion at Summer Camp


At Lincoln Park Zoo, we value the inclusion of campers of all abilities. To achieve this, we have an Inclusion Specialist at summer camp who can communicate with families and camp staff to develop accommodations for campers with diverse needs.

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The Inclusion Specialist is not a 1:1 aide; we do not provide 1:1 aides. Campers for whom our inclusion model works well are able to participate in structured activities in a group of 14–16 campers with two college-age or older counselors—without the Inclusion Specialist for most of the day.

The camp environment can be overstimulating for some campers, and this may result in new or unexpected behaviors. In addition to activities in individual camp groups, there are two opportunities for free play during the camp day that take place on zoo and park district grounds with all camp groups present. In cases of overstimulation, the Inclusion Specialist may provide a brief sensory break for campers. However, to ensure safe and successful participation in the program, campers must be able to stay with the group most of the day, with only occasional support from the Inclusion Specialist.

Additionally, all campers must adhere to camp rules and agreements whether or not they have accommodations. This includes, but is not limited to, remaining with the group while not engaging in aggressive or self-injurious behaviors. If your child cannot safely and successfully participate in the program, even with accommodations in place, they may not be ready for camp at the zoo. If you have any questions or concerns regarding inclusion at camp, please reach out to or reference the FAQ section.


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What inclusion services and accommodations can Lincoln Park Zoo provide?

At summer camp, our Inclusion Specialist serves as a liaison between families and camp staff to determine appropriate accommodations for campers. Some accommodations available at camp are social stories, quiet areas for short breaks, visual schedules, fidget tools, noise-reducing headphones, behavior charts and incentives, and countdowns for transitions. We do not provide 1:1 aides as an accommodation.

How will accommodations be determined for my camper?

Accommodations will be determined by conversations with families and camp staff, along with a questionnaire to further assess needs. No diagnosis or use of previous accommodations are required in order to receive accommodations. Because camp is a different environment from home and school, predetermined accommodations may be adjusted throughout the camper’s time at camp. Zoo staff will communicate with caregivers if changes are needed.

Is my child ready for Lincoln Park Zoo Camp?

Campers that Lincoln Park Zoo Camp can support are those who:

  • Do not require 1:1 support in school or recreational settings.
  • Can stay with the group, especially in public spaces, for most of the day.
  • Only need occasional short breaks away from the group.
  • Can follow directions with occasional help and reminders.
  • Can tolerate extreme temperatures and being outside for most of the day.
  • Can move independently across long distances.
  • Can independently participate in activities of daily living, such as using the bathroom (including wiping) and eating.
    • Campers use multi-stall public bathrooms.
    • Campers who require and/or feel most comfortable using single-stall, accessible, all-gender bathrooms, such as trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming campers, may do so. Please note, some areas of the zoo do not have single-stall restrooms. In this situation, zoo staff will make all reasonable efforts to meet campers’ needs.

Campers that Zoo Camp cannot successfully support:

  • Need a therapeutic camp rather than an inclusion model.
  • Are unable to stay with the group and be in large groups/crowds.
  • Demonstrate aggressive behavior, use aggressive language towards others, or display self-injurious behaviors.
  • Are prone to eloping and may attempt to leave the group in unsafe situations (near traffic, etc.).
  • Are unable to use a multi-stall public bathroom independently, including wiping.
How is Zoo Camp different from home or school?

Lincoln Park Zoo is a large, open, public space that is very different than a school with walls, a door, and a fenced-in playground. While there are many benefits to outdoor learning, we recognize that for some campers, it poses real challenges. They can feel overwhelmed and unable to focus or may struggle to stay with the group. And unlike when children run down a school hallway, here they may have to maneuver through thousands of strangers in a place that also has moving vehicles, large animals, and bodies of water.

Additionally, to ensure the safety of all campers, we need to maintain certain adult-staff-to-camper ratios. Unfortunately, we do not have the staff capacity to provide individual campers with 1:1 support.

What can families do to prepare their camper for success?
  • Visit the zoo ahead of time and discuss how a family visit is different than a camp day.
  • Request a phone call with the Inclusion Specialist or schedule a visit to the camp building to further discuss the program.
  • Review camp social stories provided by the zoo.
  • Practice new or challenging skills or routines ahead of time, such as unpacking and eating lunch while sitting on the ground, carrying a backpack, and walking a distance of 2 miles throughout the course of a day.
  • Complete the Inclusion Questionnaire so that the Inclusion Specialist can gain a better understanding of your camper’s needs.
  • Request an end-of-the-week summary from the Inclusion Specialist to discuss your camper’s successes and areas of growth throughout the week.


Please contact us at or 312-742-2056.

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