Preschoolers Can Get Down and Dirty With Earthworms and Flowers as Part of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens Summer Camps
by Lori Waryanka
May 18, 2021
Preschool science investigation will be in full bloom next month with virtual programming offered through Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood. Scavenger hunts, art projects and a whole lot of learning are packed into the one-hour, weekly “Little Sprouts” camp sessions designed for children age 2 to 4, said Heather Shannon, senior program manager of Let’s Move Pittsburgh and Special Projects Research and Science Education Department at Phipps.
The program includes healthy living, art, science and sustainability topics. Though offered virtually, this year’s camp is designed to interactively engage children and caregivers in real-time in their own homes.
Virtual, But Live
Shannon said the “live sessions” will be presented following the concept of Sesame Street programming, whereby the facilitator speaks directly to participants — asking questions, pausing and waiting for children to answer or to search for a requested object, and then resuming the presentation.
“They’re all doing an activity together,” she said, adding that “we gear this just like a teacher would gear their lesson.”
The former preschool teacher and mother of four explained that she and her co-workers have creatively taken on the Covid-19 pandemic restraints and social distancing. They’ve accepted the challenges of not working in person with children, and even expect the virtual camp to benefit more children this year than in previous summers.
“We’re getting kiddos whose parents or caregivers don’t feel comfortable driving into the city,” Shannon said, noting transportation issues have precluded families from participating in Phipps’ in-person programming.
Connecting Children with Adults
Adult accompaniment is mandatory for the camp which will be held 9:30-10:30 a.m. Mondays from June 7 to June 28. Shannon said preschool science investigation sessions have physical, math, language and art components.
For example, the “Wonderful Worms” camp session teaches preschoolers that as worms “wiggle” around in the dirt they also play an important role in the environment. Shannon said children will be encouraged to go outside and dig into the soil and find worms, and also use a piece of yarn and paint to make “earthworm tracks” on a piece of paper.
There’s some advance prep time on the caregivers’ part for the camp sessions. Shannon said a letter will be sent home to those who enroll in the program, outlining the course schedule and the “starter kits” needed — mostly “basic household supplies like markers and glue — just need a few things they have around the house.”
Camp sessions engage both kiddos and adults, and are designed to “extend learning through the rest of the day. It gives the caregiver and the child the chance to connect,” she said.
Making mud pies and embarking on garden adventures in search of plants and animals in their back yards are some of the assignments offered through this preschool science investigation model.
In addition to virtual offerings, Phipps continues to be open for in-person experiences, relying on an advanced purchase “time-ticketing system” to ensure safe social distancing during the pandemic, she said.
The outdoor “Children’s Garden” offers multi-sensory play and is included with admission to the conservatory where this summer’s flower show has already kicked off.
“The Hidden Life of Trolls!” is definitely a must-see show for all ages, Shannon said, explaining there are interactive exhibits and images to be appreciated by the entire family. Each room in the conservatory has elaborately created trolls - mythological creatures found in folklore and pop culture.
Children can register for a single session or for the entire series. For a complete list of camp sessions and to register, visit www.phipps.conservatory.org/classes. There’s camp programming for older siblings, too.
Virtual summer camps welcome children based on age groups - those from preschool up to grade 12. Topics range from “weird” plants to “eco-friendly fashionistas.” There are cooking classes for kids in grades 2 through 12 as part of Phipps’ “Let’s Move Pittsburgh” managed by Shannon.