Bison, bobcats, and bears, oh my! SPREE campers spent a week exploring the major ecosystems of Colorado and the plants animals that make them unique.
Campers started their exploration of Colorado ecosystems in the mountains where the South Platte River and many other waterways begin. Campers did some experiments to investigate what mountains are, what they are made of, learned mountain anatomy, and how they act as Colorado's "water towers!" Then, we got to explore the river to feel connected to the water from the mountains.
Next, we learned about some Colorado mountain animals! Ungulates, animals with hooves, are one of the kinds of animals that are specially adapted to living in the mountains. Our state mammal, the bighorn sheep, lives in the Rocky Mountains! Campers made some sheep marionettes and learned some cool facts about them while acting out some of their behaviors.
Today, campers learned how the rivers are connected to Colorado forests. An obvious connection is that they flow through forests! We learned many other cool facts: forests help filter and clean water, help prevent floods, and help keep the water fresh and cool with shade for the aquatic animals.
We also learned about many forest-dwelling animals! First, campers learned about some awesome forest animals- black bears! We learned about their many cool adaptations through a dress up activity, a bear foraging game, and bear "musical chairs" that was limited by resources and food that bears need.
Then, we learned about a pair of similar Colorado animals- lynx and bobcats! We studied their similarities and differences, learned about big cat hunting and survival adaptations, and practiced hunting like a lynx!
Another forest animal we learned about were Elk! We got to investigate some of their bio clues: pelt, skull, hoof, and scat, and then played a game where we had to remove our "velvet" off our arm antlers with the help of a tree!
Another cool Colorado ecosystem is a prairie! Prairies are a unique type of grassland found in North America- including Colorado.
Campers learned about unique features of prairies- including the types of plants, types of soils, types of weather and amounts of precipitation, and types of animals that live there. Campers delved into prairie plant adaptations with a dress up and drawing activity: they have skinny leaves to minimize water loss, super long roots to collect water, ability to grow back after fires, ability to grow back after being eaten by grazers, and more! Campers then went on a mini plant exploration hike to discover that Denver is actually built on prairie land!
Next, we learned about a few Colorado Prairie animals!
We played a game to learn about how all parts of the bison were used by Arapahoe and Cheyenne tribes, tried to lift how much bison eat in a day (24 pounds!), and played a hunting game to reenact some Native American skills.
Another animal we learned about was a prairie dog! Campers learned how they are a keystone prairie species, and we played a game to learn how they communicate danger, "yip, yip!"
And as always, we got time to explore the river, cool off, and catch some critters.
Thursday: The City (Field Day)
Another important Colorado ecosystem that the river flows through is cities! Many plants and animals inhabit this urban landscape, even if it may not be obvious at first! Campers took a short hike along the river trail to nearby Vanderbilt park. We learned about squirrels through an animal mystery activity and a predator and prey game. Then, we explored in the tall grasses and discovered many exciting parts of nature in the city while on a scavenger hunt!
Colorado has some desert regions in it, too! With very little rain, plants and animals have many cool and unique adaptations to survive the tough conditions.
We discussed a few types of desert plants with unique adaptations, but of course we primarily focused on cactus! Campers made model cactus out of clay to see that their spines are not only a defense mechanism, but they also provide shade for the plants! Next, we got to dissect a prickly pear cactus leaf to see what they look like inside where all their water and nutrients are stored.
Jackrabbits and roadrunners were some cool desert animals that campers got to learn about! We made our own jackrabbit ears while we learned about their unique cooling system. Then, we learned some cool roadrunner facts and played a game to learn about their speed and hunting skills!
Before critter crawl, we discussed how deserts typically don't have waterways running through them and what some environmental desert dangers could be (and how to help avoid them!) Then we got to get in the creek to cool off after our "heated" discussion!
Now that the campers were Colorado ecosystem experts, we wrapped up our week with a graduation ceremony!
Campers joined SPREE as we looked to the River and parks for inspiration for paintings, sculptures, performances, and more. We also worked with a local Denver artist to make an awesome project together!
Monday: 2D Art
Campers started off the week with 2-dimensional art. First, we tried our hand at some photography! Campers used disposable cameras (a new skill for many!) to take photos of inspiring nature in the park for use in a project later in the week after the pictures get developed.
Next, we made two kinds of chalk to use at camp and take home! We made bright colors of wet chalk paint out of cornstarch and food coloring to make a mural on the sidewalk in front of camp. We also made chalk out of paint and plaster to take home after it dried overnight.
To wrap up our day, campers started work on an individual or group art piece. We talked about the process of making art, brainstorming ideas, and getting a start on our ideas and supply lists.
Tuesday: Paper and Tree Art
As we moved into the 3-dimensional art world, we focused on trees as our source of inspiration!
First, we each made our own unique painted hand print tree. While they dried, we used some actual tree "cookies" (slices of tree trunks) to make some ornaments.
Next, campers thought about how trees are our main source of paper, so we made our own paper out of recycled paper from camp, and we spiced it up with some plant pieces and seeds we collected from around camp. Campers all got to make a unique piece of paper art!
We wrapped up our day by continuing the process of our group art pieces. Today, we started the construction process of our pieces!
Wednesday: Field Day
For field day this week, we stuck around Johnson Habitat park while we took a closer look at the plants, animals, river, and nonliving things there for more art inspiration!
Campers went on an exploration hike, caught critters in the river and sketched pictures of what we saw, made nature sculptures, and played water games!
Thursday: Nature Art
We were very excited to welcome a local guest artist from Originateve today! Ron lead groups of campers through a project of making mini boats to float on the river, completely made of natural materials! Everyone learned new skills in knot tying, using tools, and construction!
Another craft campers made today was nature prints in plaster. First, we found items in nature and printed them in clay. Then, we poured wet plaster over the clay prints and let them dry!
Lastly, we worked in our teams to put our finishing touches on our group art projects, and got to present them to the other campers!
Friday: Written and Performance Art
To wrap up our week, we shifted our focus to written and performance art that is inspired by nature.
First, we finished up our project that we started on Monday by using the photos we took to create a collage.
Then, we worked on our art and acting skills by creating paper bag puppets, writing a skit, and putting on a show!
Next, campers went down to the river to catch some more critters, but not before writing some poetry inspired by the river and park!
Finally, we wrapped up our art week by having a graduation ceremony!
Campers delved into early Colorado’s past as we reenacted the lives of settlers, pioneers, and prospectors.
Monday: Mountain Men and Women
Campers kicked off the week learning about Colorado before it became a state, and, about some of the people who came West to explore it in the early 1800s. These mountain men and women were typically fur trappers and explorers. Many have Colorado landmarks named after them, like Pike's Peak for Zebulon Pike! After learning some facts and history of some of these historic figures, campers then reenacted some of their lives through making journals to record notes and discoveries in, as well as making some explorer vests! Then, we made a DIY compass to help us explore, and went on a scavenger hunt to learn about some of the important things that these explorers used day to day, or were looking for in their travels- like a beaver pelt and feather pens. We wrapped up the day "fishing" in the river as some of these mountain mountain men and women would have, too!
Tuesday: Heading West
After the mountain explorers arrived, eventually more and more explorers, prospectors, and pioneers started heading west and stopping in Colorado. Many were looking for land, gold, and a new life! But traveling in the 1800s wasn't easy! Campers reenacted the journey to Colorado by packing up mini wagons with supplies, acting out some dangers along the way (like fording a river or trying to repair a broken wagon wheel), and needing to find food and water along the way. Next, we investigated the first chartered town in what is now Colorado- Montana City! Montana city was built in 1858 along the South Platte near where Grant Frontier park sits today. The residents settled here to look for gold in the river, but quickly realized there was not as much around as they had expected. The residents actually decided to disband and relocate 9 miles downstream (near modern- day confluence park) as part of another existing town, while bringing their homes with them! Campers brainstormed how they accomplished this, then acted out what they did- floating the logs of their homes down the river, and rebuilding with them at the new site! Next, campers reenacted the flood of the Cherry Creek in 1864. The little towns at the confluence were hit hard, but decided to rebuild! Thanks to these resilient settlers, little Denver City eventually grew into the modern Denver that we know today!
Wednesday: Pioneer Life
As we continued to learn about the lives of Colorado pioneers and prospectors, today, campers focused on how they lived day to day. We acted out the gold rush through a game, and discovered that despite the optimistic reports, there was actually not much gold to find in Colorado rivers. Next, we acted out some pioneer chores and skills! Campers learned the basics of washing laundry in the river, made some tin art, gathered water with buckets, and even practiced some cattle roping! Campers also got to get into the water to actually practice gold panning just like the early prospectors did! SPREE also had a guest speaker from History Colorado Center to teach us about the lives of many different early Colorado residents and explorers. We had a lot of fun and learned a lot!
Thursday: Pioneer Games (Field Day)
After becoming experts over the week in how hard life was for these early Colorado pioneers, we dedicated a day to learning about some of the fun they had! We changed our schedule up a bit and had a field day in Johnson Habitat park. We played some traditional games that many of us still know today, like a potato sack race and three-legged race. And we played a few more pioneer games like, "ducks fly," "drop the handkerchief," "poor doggie," and practiced hoop rolling!
Friday: Gold Mining
Once the initial gold rush died down a bit and prospectors realized that there was not much gold to be found in Colorado's waterways, they decided to look for it right at the source- in the mountains! On Friday, campers learned about the early Coloradan gold miners. First, we played a game to act out some of the dangers that miners faced. They did get some gold out of the mines, but not before facing dangers like gas leaks, floods, collapsing tunnels, and unreliable DIY dynamite! Next, we learned about the tricky process of getting the gold out of the mined rocks. It wasn't as easy as finding a nugget in the riverbed! Then, we made our own gold holding pouches to take home some treasures of our own in! Finally, we wrapped up our Colorado Frontier week with a graduation ceremony to celebrate all of the campers becoming history experts over the week!
SPREE called all budding inventors, architects, and engineers! Campers spent a week designing, building, and inventing while we looked to nature for inspiration.
Monday: Plant Inspiration
We started out our week of camp investigating engineers in nature with plants! Plants are amazing nature engineers from how they grow, how their seeds move, and how they survive. First, we focused on different ways that some native seeds move. There is a wide variety of techniques even in plants we can find around camp! Hitchhiker seeds travel by sticking on to a person or animal, and eventually fall off in a new place. We put socks over our hands and brushed them on the grasses around camp and discovered many seeds sticking to our "fur!" Some seeds we discovered of this variety: burs, goatheads, rabbit brush, wild licorish, and cheatgrass. And did you know the invention of velcro was inpired by these types of seeds? Next, we talked about fruit seeds. They get eaten by animals and come out with scat- ready to grow with fertilizer already there! We made "scat" seed balls with dirt, clay, and seeds. Then, we investigated some seeds that travel by wind, like cottonwood and helicopter seeds from box elder trees. We made our own paper helicopters to demonstrate how these seeds move! Another cool way that some seeds move is by water! Wheatgrass seeds are shaped like tiny canoes to help them float to new places to grow. We made paper boats as well as craft boats to recreate how these seeds travel!
Finally, we wrapped up our day by planting some seeds of our own to take home to grow!
Tuesday: Underground Engineers
There are many cool animals that live underground that are great excavators, diggers, architects, and engineers! First, we talked about a type of tiny engineer that is found nearly all over the world- ants! They can build huge and complex structures underground, just by instinct and communicating by pheremones! We painted our own underground ant structures as a craft after learning more about ant life cycles and the structures they build.
Next, we learned about prairie dogs and the underground towns that they construct! Like ants, they create many rooms, each with a different purpose. We drew our own prairie dog towns, learned about their adaptations, and played a survival game!
We wrapped up our day talking about how and why human engineers work and explained the steps that engineers take to solving a problem: Identify the Problem (What do we need to do? What is our goal?), Brainstorm (the most important step!), Design (blueprint), Build (may be a model version first), Test and Evaluate (Then may need to go back to step 4, until it is perfect and safe and ready-to-go!), and Share the Solution! Then, campers started brainstorming ideas for inventions of their own!
Wednesday: Engineers of the Air
Birds are well known for their engineering skills and creativity when building nests. There are many more types of nests that birds build that you may not think of at first! We first discussed some different types of nests that some Colorado birds build: like a flicker making a cavity nest, a grebe making a floating nest, and a swallow making a mud nest on a bridge! Next, we played an eagle game- did you know bald eagles hold the record for the world's biggest bird nest? Then, we learned about the tiniest bird nest builders, hummingbirds, and made some tiny craft versions ourselves!
Another common type of flying nest builder is bees. Campers learned about many different types of bees, wasps, and yellowjackets that call Colorado home- and about the unique types of nests that each one builds. Then, we focused on an amazing non-native bee engineer, the honey bee! They build amazing hexagon honeycombs and of course make honey! We crafted a honeycomb of our own with some cute bees to go with it!
Thursday: Field Day
Our typical Thursday is when we get to venture over to Vanderbilt park and explore a new area! Today was no exception as campers were on the lookout for human, plant, and animal engineers in the park. We hunted for spider webs, looked for bird nests, and found some cool things in nature through a scavenger hunt. Then, we painted some of the engineers and their structures we saw in watercolors!
We wrapped up the day with a critter crawl in the South Platte River and caught one of the biggest crawdads SPREE has ever seen!
SPREE's favorite type of engineer, actually an ecosystem engineer, is a beaver! Beavers are fantastic builders that can have huge impacts on their environments by changing water flows and creating new habitats for other animals! First, campers focused on learning about beaver adaptations- they have unique bodies suited for their water and land lifestyle and building skills! We had campers dress up as a beaver- complete with flippers, a tail, goggles, and more to discover how they have different bodies than people. Next, we compared and contrasted them to a rodent cousin that they are often easily confused with- muskrats! By the end of the activity, campers were experts in both!
After learning about physical adaptations, campers then focused more on beaver beahvioral adaptations- like their building skills! We made our own mini beaver lodges, played a dam building game, and built mini dams along the river.
Finally, like every Friday, we wrapped up our week with a camper graduation ceremony where we celebrated campers being eco engineering experts!
Summer campers had a great time learning about many Colorado "Creepy Creatures" over the week of June 10-14! Whether you love creepy creatures or they give you the heebie-jeebies, these critters are a part of Colorado! Campers joined us for a week of learning about animals like spiders, bats, and snakes while we learned facts, dispelled myths, and found that they may be cool creatures after all!
Monday: Slimy Scaries
We kicked off the week with learning about some creatures that may be slimy and scary! But we discovered that not all of these creatures were slimy after all! Campers started by becoming Colorado snake experts. We learned about the many snakes that call Colorado home, analyzed shedded snake skin and talked about its importance to snakes, played some snake games, and even got to meet one of the River Ranger's pet ball python that she brought in to say hello (and she wasn't slimy at all!).
The next animals we learned about really were slimy! Leeches and worms are common in Colorado waterways and underground. We learned about some cool adaptations that these animal cousins have, discovered how they are both important in their ecosystems, and got to go into the River to try and catch some! (Leeches and aquatic worms can both be found in the South Platte!)
Week 1 of SPREE summer camp started off with a fun theme of "Special Agent Training!" Kids at both camps spent the week of June 3-7 learning how to care for the River and environment, defeat some SPREE villians, and how to catch some crawdads in the River and Creek!
Monday: What is a Special Agent?
Campers received a mission from Chompers, head of the SPREE Force, to learn to become special agents during camp this week, as well as learn some facts about water in Denver to get an idea of what challenges they may face over the week. Campers started by thinking about all the different ways they use water every day. There are more direct and indirect uses than you might think of at first! We also talked about the many different ways people in Denver need and use water- in homes, businesses, farms, factories, etc. We acted out how it can be challenging to share this limited resource, and discussed ideas on how to make it work. Next, campers learned that this water actually comes from the River right next to camp- the South Platte! We learned that the River starts in the mountains, and the water in it actually runs all the way to the Ocean!
For our special agent skills course of the day, we got to get introduced to the many Agents of the SPREE Force and learn about the special skills they each have. Then, we practiced some skills of our own through activities and games. We made disguises, practiced getting to know each other and being a good teammate, and honed our observation skills.
Finally, it was everyone's favorite part of the day- critter crawl! We learned about what critters can be found in the River and Creek, how they indicate water quality, and we got to get in the water to catch some! We were challenged by Crusher the crawdad- and right hand man of Chompers, to each catch and hold a crawdad this week!
We all wrapped up the day with the start of our Special Agent Code of Conduct list that we added to throughout the week as we learned more and more!
Tuesday's focus was on aquatic (or semi-aquatic) creatures. The state fish is the greenback cutthroat trout, which was once thought to be extinct in our state! It was later rediscovered and then made Colorado's state fish. Campers learned about trout habitat, and explored the River for signs that trout could live there. The state amphibian is the tiger salamander- it is found in all of Colorado's counties! We played games to help us learn about their metamorphic life cycle and how they can regrow their tails if it gets nibbled off by a predator! We also learned about their porous and slimy skin by making our own slime! The state reptile is also semi-aquatic, the painted turtle. Campers explored what it means to be cold blooded, learned the differences between terrestrial and aquatic turtles, and crafted little mini turtles to take home.
For our field day on Thursday, we went to nearby Vanderbilt park. We explored the pond and park, identified native plants and animals, and played lots of games about native Colorado animals!
Our week wrapped up with Colorado rocks and fossils. After learning the differences between rocks, minerals and gemstones, we could learn which ones are Colorado state symbols: yule marble, rhodochrosite, and aquamarine respectively. Campers learned how these rocks form, played rock bingo in the park, and made their own rock "friend" to take home. Finally, we made it to learning about our state fossil, the stegosaurus! We used silhouettes to make a skeleton, studied the natural history of Colorado dinsosaurs, and learned about dino adaptations. As always, we finished our week with a graduation ceremony!
SPREE summer campers this week became water experts during Water Engineers camp! We started by learning more about what an engineer does, and what the engineering process looks like. We did an activity to figure out the typical order of the engineering steps:
1. Identify the Problem (What do we need to do? What is our goal?)
2. Brainstorm (the most important step!)3. Design (blueprint)
4. Build (may be a model/prototype at first)
5. Test and Evaluate (Then may need to go back to step 4, until it is perfect and safe and ready-to-go! Or even go back to steps 2-3)
6. Share the Solution
Monday's focus was on many different forms of River engineering. One activity was on bridges. We learned about many types of bridges and how they work. Then, we constructed our own mini river bridges with limited materials and tested them out with different weights on top. Another river engineering feat we learned about and modeled was locks and dams. We learned about how they work, made some models, and tested them with some mini boats we built!
On Wednesday, campers learned about a different aspect of water engineering- water quality! First, we experimented with our enviroscape. An enviroscape is a model of a city that shows how pollution and runoff in cities and rural areas get into and affect waterways. Then, we made a model water filtration system using rocks, dirt, sand, and other natural materials. While not safe to drink because it was just filtered and not sanitized, we got some very cool and successful results! During our daily critter crawl, we learned more about water quality through the animals that live in the River. Did you know that different macroinvertebrates have different tolerances to pollution levels? We caught many critters and sorted them into their water-quality indicator groups. The South Platte River is home to many pollution sensitive groups! Another cool thing that campers got to do on Wednesday was work with a guest educator, who worked with them to do a scientific check up on the River. Campers did different chemical tests that help us see the health of the waterway and learned more about water quality in Denver.
Our field day took place on Thursday. The campers walked to nearby Vanderbilt Park to investigate and play! We played lots of games to beat the heat and looked for critters in River.
Friday's focus was on the "Clean River Design Challenge." Campers were tasked with putting all of their gained water engineering skills and knowlege to the test to build miniature trash removal devices for the South Platte River. This was inspired by a competition that The Greenway Foundation hosts annualy, in which college students from several Colorado universities compete to design, build, and ultimately implement their in-stream trash removal devices. Campers were thrilled to have the CRDC event coordinator as well as a member from 2018's winning team as guest speakers for the day. They brought several models from the competition with that served as inspiration for campers' designs. And, one of Greenway's board members, Sarah Dominick, who works with Denver Water, came to share her expertise with the campers as well as help build and evaluate the campers' designs!
Campers did a great job learning about and experimenting with many different aspects of water engineering this week! We wrapped up our day and week with a graduation ceremony to celebrate.
SPREE campers and families had a blast at the 5th annual SPREE Summer Campout in Johnson Habitat park this park weekend! Eight adventurous families enjoyed cooking dinner outside, exploring in the River, and sleeping under the stars!
After all that activity, we had worked up quite and appetite! For dinner, we made "pudgie pies in the campfire! And no campout would be complete without s'mores!
Thanks to all those who came out! Hope to see you all again year for another fantatstic event!
Tuesday, we focused on the principles of Leave No Trace. All day, whether we were on land or in the water, campers thought of ways that we can enjoy the environment without negatively impacting the plants, animals, and other park users. Through fun games & looking for critters in the River we made sure to take extra care to leave no trace!
We switched gears on Wednesday, getting campers down on the ground to further explore how our environment can help us stay safe while adventuring in the outdoors. The day included learning about Colorado animals and making guide books. Afterwords campers worked on gaining knowledge of forged foods in the state and finding critters during Critter Crawl.
Thursday was the perfect day for water activities at nearby Overland Pond Park. One of the best ways to stay safe in your environment, is to stay hydrated and cooled down. For some campers, today was their first time rafting and even for the experienced paddlers, the highlight of their day! We also had a special guest, from Denver Parks and Recreation, came into teach us about all of the cool animals we can find in our park! Other activities included critter crawl and making miniature shelters.
By Friday, campers and staff alike, were raring to get outdoors and use their newly specialized skills! There was still one especially relevant topic to cover- fire! This fire season has been a vibrant one, and there was no lack of discussion with campers about this fascinating but dangerous phenomenon. Campers learned about the Fire Triangle- oxygen, heat & fuel- the three ingredients that all fires need! They also learned some "camping hacks" like making a lantern for the times when fire bans are in effect, or how to use the sun to tell time! We celebrated the end of our week with a graduation ceremony before the campers headed home.