The academic year may be over, but one area summer camp is providing kids hands-on learning opportunities through exploring the outdoors.

This week, University of Iowa Recreational Services is offering a Wildlife Camp at the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area in Dubuque. As part of the experience, kids get to learn about the park’s flora and fauna, explore its natural habitats and learn about the area’s history.

Lily Michel, 8, and her twin sister Maggie, of Dubuque, are two of the 28 kids participating in the camp.

So far, Lily said, she has most enjoyed the daily hikes.

“My favorite part is in the morning and afternoon where you get to go exploring around here,” she said. “I like seeing new things that I haven’t noticed before.”

Nora Schoeny, 8, of Dubuque said she found learning about the park’s past particularly interesting.

“Definitely the history. The history was really good,” she said. “You got to see where they went digging in the (mines for) lead.”

Missy Husemann, one of the camp’s five counselors, said the event provides kids the opportunity to engage with nature in ways that they might not otherwise be able to.

“It’s giving them opportunities to be physically active in nature,” she said. “Either fishing, being in the pond, hiking, canoeing — just using those active skills because they’re so young is what keeps them coming back.

“(The kids are) just running upon something that you would never actually ever get to experience when you’re in your own neighborhood (or) in your own backyard.”

The camp is open to kids entering third through seventh grades. The programming develops life skills, Husemann said.

“I think we’re instilling these values of why nature’s important, explaining to them why we should take care of it and why it should still be around and why we should increase those native habitats,” she said. “Instilling those values really early on can help them become better decision-makers as they get to adult ages.”

Along with the outdoor activities, kids are able to examine the exhibits at the E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center and conduct experiments that introduce them to topics such as orienteering, geology and archaeology.

“We get to do experiments with things we can learn from, but it’s also exciting,” said Kaci Arnold, 9, of Dyersville.

Gavin Muller, 9, of Dubuque, echoed Arnold and added that he prefers this style of learning.

“It’s a lot better,” he said. “Instead of just sitting in a classroom like, ‘What’s 14 times 14’, it’s outdoor subjects.”

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