Daytime playtime

Local summer day camps offer lots for kids to do when school’s out

A summer camper and a Durham firefighter feel the power of a blasting fire hose during Planes, Trains and Automobiles week last year at Durham Recreation & Park District’s summer day camp. Each day the campers were visited by a guest speaker and their mode of transportation.

A summer camper and a Durham firefighter feel the power of a blasting fire hose during Planes, Trains and Automobiles week last year at Durham Recreation & Park District’s summer day camp. Each day the campers were visited by a guest speaker and their mode of transportation.


Camp connections:
• Go to to learn about Chico Creek Nature Center’s summer day camp, Camp Chico Creek, and to download the registration form. Ages 5-11. Counselor-in-training program for teens.
Go to to find out more about Durham Recreation & Park District’s summer camps, for kids in grades K-6. Registration is currently open. Counselor-in-training and lifeguard training opportunities for older kids.
Go to for more information on the Chico Area Recreation and Park District’s numerous summer-camp offerings. Registration begins April 8. Check website for specifics.

No matter where we go these days, it seems we are surrounded by technology. Toddlers are iPad-proficient and learn to count and read using LeapPads. Teens are practically required to be on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social-media sites. There’s hardly time anymore to interact face-to-face or get outside and just play.

Enter summer camp, the time-tested alternative to boring days around the house.

“Spending time outdoors is important for kids these days,” said Caitlin Reilly, office manager at Chico Creek Nature Center, which offers a popular summer day camp in Bidwell Park. “We want the kids to feel safe outdoors, to understand what’s in the world around them and have a good time. Plus, they get physical fitness because they’re constantly moving around throughout the day.”

The Nature Center’s camp is decidedly low-tech, Reilly explained. The focus is more on getting kids out into the creek, into the park and experiencing nature, rather than simply keeping them occupied during the few months they’re not in school. Instead of watching movies or sitting in front of a computer screen, kids are tromping through the creek, playing games and learning to identify insects and plant species.

“When we grew up, we’d play outside from after school got out ’til the street lights came on. Now kids want to be in front of a screen of some kind,” said Ceanne Johnson, whose eldest son will be returning to the Nature Center camp this summer for the third time. “I’m a huge fan of the Nature Center camp. The kids learn about our environment and our ecosystems locally. And when they come home, they’re dirty and hungry and tired.”

After all, that’s the point of a camp like the one at the Nature Center. And, while that camp may be unique in Butte County, it’s certainly not the only option. There are dozens of camps in the area that offer a range of activities for kids, from arts and crafts, to theater and dance, to sports and outdoor activities. The Nature Center’s program, like the summer day camps offered by nearby Durham Recreation & Park District, offers a mixture of experiences but focuses on being outside, in nature.

“It might be a beautiful day outside, but if you’re not involved in a summer camp—if you’re indoors, in front of television or an iPad or whatever—all you feel is the environment that surrounds you. You’re not getting the physical and health benefits of experiencing the breeze, the sunlight and the sounds of being outdoors,” said Ryan Taxara, recreation supervisor for the Durham district. “The vitamins you get just from being outside in the sun are beneficial for the kids’ nutrition—not to mention the physical activity they get while they play.”

Camp is also a place for exploration and trying new things. Campers at the Nature Center get to take hikes into Bidwell Park, where rangers offer guidance about plants and animals, including how to identify poison oak.

“The kids learn to feel safe outdoors because they’ve spent time outdoors,” Reilly explained.

At Durham, campers take field trips to places like the Forebay Aquatic Center on Lake Oroville, where they go kayaking, paddle boating and swimming.

“The field trips allow the kids to experience things they wouldn’t ordinarily get to experience,” Taxara said. “At the Oroville Forebay, they get to go paddle boating and kayaking—not every child is, either economically or location-wise, able to experience that. Using California parks and park districts is an opportunity to experience different types of environments that are beneficial to a child and their development.”

The camps at Chico Creek Nature Center and Durham Recreation & Park District are just two examples of opportunities available to Butte County kids. The Chico Area Recreation and Park District (CARD) alone offers more than a dozen popular options for summertime fun, from week-long day camps focusing on sports, arts or cooking to longer sessions that offer all of the above. Camp Chi-Da-Ca, for example, features opportunities to shoot bows and arrows, swim, and learn nature and cooking skills.

Durham’s Taxara knows many parents see camp as merely daycare during the summer. But he believes it’s much more than that. To him, camp is an opportunity for children to not only stay physically active, but also to learn social values that they will take with them into adulthood. Kids are able to pick up important social skills like teamwork and getting along with people who might be different from them.

“Camp is important for learning everyday values through interactions with your peers, and learning how to be mature and deal with situations that can be uncomfortable for children in an appropriate manner,” Taxara said. “Counselors give children that may be the only child in the family an opportunity to have a role model outside of their home.”

But aside from all the benefits of getting out into nature, staying physically active, socializing and learning new skills, when it comes down to it, camp is just plain fun.

“It’s super important for kids who spend their summers in Chico to spend time outdoors,” said parent Johnson, “and without all the boundaries that they have during the year.”