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San Francisco Zoo Camp Director: Sarah Riemer

February 14, 2010

From time to time, I conduct interviews of camp directors to get their advice for parents. Last week, I spoke to Sarah Riemer, San Francisco Zoo Camp Director.  Kids seem to have a natural affinity towards animals, so I was excited to learn more about this camp.

With so many camps available, how do you find the right camp for your child?

First, it is very important to talk with your child and find out where their interests lie. If you have a very active child who likes to be outside, a computer based camp might not be the right fit.  Camp is a good time to try something new, but you still want to make it interesting and appropriate for your child. Get their input on what they will like for camp.

Second, get as much word of mouth information as you can. Word of mouth is very important, and you want to talk to as many people as possible. Talk to your children’s friends and their parents.  Talk to school officials also. They often have quite a bit of insight on camps.

What questions should you ask a camp?

Of course, you’ll want to ask questions such staff ratios and qualifications, but don’t forget to ask about safety. Safety is very important. You want to know that your child is in good hands; that there are controls on checking children in and out of the camp. Also, someone at the camp should be trained in first aid and CPR.

If your child has special circumstances, such as allergies, be sure to ask how the camp will handle the situation.

If you are new to the camp; call or e-mail the director, talk to the camp so that you can gain a gut feeling about whether or not you’re comfortable with the staff and how it operates. You should feel confident that the staff is qualifed and has a lesson plan. It doesn’t
need to be planned activities, per se, but someone should have thought through what the kids will be doing each day, and what the kids should get from it.
What makes the zoo camp special?

Our location; the Zoo is a living classroom. We spend everyday outside and are surrounded by all of these amazing plants and animals and the children really get to connect with our wild places and wild things. During the week children have the opportunity to meet with a zookeeper and learn about their jobs and the animals they care for. The children also get to experience an animal-encounter, where they meet one of our education animals up close and learn what they feel like.

We have a lot of fun playing games and looking at the animals, but we also strive to really educate the children.  Most of our instructors have backgrounds in both education and environmental sciences or biology. Camps are organized by grade level and every class is really geared towards the children’s skills. With kindergarteners, we focus on art projects and do some letters, with 4th grade and up, we meet the science content standards. That way the children will have a head start when studying science the next year in school.

During one of the weeks, the 5th/6th grade class actually gets the experience of learning how to build a zoo. They look at the exhibits with an eye to how they are built, and what the requirements are for various exhibits.

What’s new at Zoo Camp?

We’ve added another week of curriculum. Last year we had two unique weeks of curriculum, and this year, we have three, so animal loving kids can take three weeks of Zoo Camp without repeating projects and programs. Also, we’re starting a new zoo camp blog. Each day, we’ll have text and photos from each class, so parents can talk to their kids about camp.

Any last tips for parents in sending their kids to camp?

Zoo Camp registration opens February 17th, so get ready to sign up.

It’s always good to have a friend at camp. (Note from editor: Sign Up For Camp makes it easy, and the San Francisco Zoo is a member of the program).

Talk to the camp director and staff if any issues or concerns arise. Parents are sometimes hesitant, maybe because it’s only a week. But if there is a problem, the camp staff can likely fix it, if you let them know.

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