By Lee Wardlaw
CLAY COUNTY – When the final bell for classes soon rings for the County School District on May 26, the next chapter of learning for Clay students will be summer camp in the next few weeks.
The school district will pass the torch to county agencies to engage students in “fun learning” as they go into “relax” mode for 76 days before returning to classrooms on Aug. 10.
Here is the know-all for summer camps throughout the county.
UF/IFAS Extension Office has a summer-filled list of activities
The UF-IFAS’s Green Cove Springs extension will offer various educational, engaging, and fun summer camps for students aged 5-18 from May to August.
A trip to an Orlando theme park, an opportunity to tube a crystal-clear river in North Florida and other can’t-miss field trips across the state are part of the extension office’s all-star lineup of 12 camps. Its summer student program will allow students to take advantage of hands-on-learning, guest speakers, workshops and much more.
One thing is for sure: you don’t want your child to miss any summer fun.
Some of the open sessions include Rollercoasters and Physics Camp.
Set to take place May 30 -June 2, among the highlights of Rollercoasters and Physics Camp is a four-day session that includes a trip to Disney World, where students will participate in a workshop led by professional engineers.
The Paleontology Summer Day Camp on June 6 will be hosted at the extension office, where dinosaurs will come to real life.
“We will actually have a paleontologist come to visit them, who will talk about the field and prehistoric cast. Students will have the opportunity to record a podcast (on) what they’re learning, so they will not only immerse in paleontology but also the technology component, which should be cool as well,” said Elaine Giles, a STEM 4-H Agent with the Extension.
Two camps will coincide during the next week: the Animal Science University Junior College June 12-13) and Animal Science University Senior College June 12-15.
Programming will be effectively identical for each camp.
The primary difference is that the Senior College, open for students aged 13-18, will comprise a couple more field trips and hands-on activities than the Junior College, each geared toward their age group.
Among highlights for the Senior College will include the opportunity to explore animal science via visiting operational farms, wildlife management areas, and other sites, which will consist of behind-the-scenes tours.
Next on tap is even more fun for two classic Clay County traditions: animal-based agriculture and gardening.
The Agricultural and Animals Camp aims to teach young children the important connection of animals and farming to daily life and the food we eat.
Registration is currently full for this camp for students aged 5-9.
“Students will learn how agriculture and animals connect to daily life, and they will take field trips to learn more about how (both) connect to us every day,” Giles said.
Other students will be connected to the Earth simultaneously for the Mini Master Gardener Camp, which will take place June 21-23.
“Children will learn the basics of gardening in Florida, how they can do it at home, and why insects and protecting the environment are so important to gardening,” Giles said.
Following the Gardener Camp will be a one-day session on June 23 that draws from similar concepts: In Bloom Floral Design Camp, which will educate children on the basics of floral design.
“They will learn how to create their own bouquet and take it home,” Giles said.
Eat Smart Play Hard on June 28-30 will be directed toward younger children. It will help instill essential concepts from an early age (5-9), educating students on food groups and the importance of healthy eating habits and physical activity.
After a big opening in June and May, the extension office will look to a strong finish during the final two months Fur, Feathers, and Friends on July 22, Tween Wellness Adventure Retreat on July 26-28 and Bugs and Butterflies on Aug. 2-3.
For Fur, Feather, and Friends, small children will learn about “small farming,” a prevalent lifestyle in the county and beyond. Horticulture, raising animals such as chickens and rabbits, and other principles that contribute to the process will be on the menu for discussion.
Meanwhile, the Tween Wellness and Adventure Retreat will explore fun recreational/social activities for pre-teens.
“They will have an opportunity to connect with others in their age group through activities such as cooking and yoga,” Giles said.
That camp was full at the beginning of February and will include a field trip to Ichetucknee Springs State Park, where students will make the approximately two-hour, 90-mile trek from Clay County to tube the famous Ichetucknee River.
Bugs and Butterflies Camp will conclude what should be another unforgettable summer.
As part of Bugs and Butterflies, students will be in for what could perhaps be the most underrated field trip of the summer: a pilgrimage to Gainsville’s Butterfly Rainforest at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
For those who still want to attend full camps, options are available but limited. Campers already signed up on a waitlist will be granted priority, but you can still act now.
Residents can put their child on the waitlist by calling the UF-IFAS Extension Office at (904) 284-6355.
UF-IFAS would like to accommodate as many Clay County children as possible.
“Make sure that your child can enjoy camps this summer. If cost is an issue, contact the office. We can (arrange) payment plans,” Giles said.
Slots are still open for nine of 12 sessions, with camps costing an average of $45.
“I would go ahead and register now. Spots are filling up fast,” Giles said.
YMCA, county recreation have plenty of options, too
UF-IFAS is chock-full of options heading into a big summer for students, but it’s not the only option.
The First Coast YMCA will host a series of summer camps from May-August from four locations: the Barco-Newton Family YMCA at 2075 Town Center Blvd. in Orange Park, the Dye Clay Family YMCA in Orange Park, Camp Chowenwaw at 1517 Ball Road in Green Cove Springs and Centerpoint Baptist Church at 1650 Blanding Blvd. in Middleburg.
The County’s parks and recreation department will partner with the local YMCA chapter to host camps at Camp Chowenwaw throughout the summer.
Park Superintendent Paul Grybb is particularly excited about the summer camp co-op at the beautiful sun-shaded, tree-covered Chowenwaw operating on prime real estate on the banks of Black Creek.
“This particular location is incredible. It is mostly covered, and there are so many options for recreation, so it really gives us a great chance to showcase the facility as people come in for that camp,” he said.
Each week, a new theme will help children learn, explore, accept and play as they work to discover new skills, build self-confidence, and create a new sense of achievement and belonging.
The young campers will get to try their hand at several activities, such as swimming, hiking, sports, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and more.
“It’s a really nice, well-rounded camp,” Grybb said.
For more information, please visit fcymca.org/programs/camp/summer-day-camp/.
Also, the county will host its free Kids’ Summer Camp from June 19-23 at Hunter Douglas Park in Middleburg.
“I’m excited because it’s a free event. (Summer) camps can be very expensive. We want to try to target kids that may not normally have the opportunity to go to camp. There will be lots of cool opportunities for those (children) to play and learn,” Grybb said.
Call (904) 284-6378 or email firstname.lastname@example.org before the registration deadline on May 25.
Libraries to book its Summer Ready Program, other events
The County’s Public Library System will roll out a Summer Reading Program and related series of events for children aged 11 and younger from June 5-July 29.
Parents and families will also are invited to attend some of the events.
The library will host its Summer Reading Kickoff on June 1 at its Clay Hill-Middleburg from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., and at its Fleming Island branch all day, followed by a gathering from 3:30-5 p.m. in Keystone Heights on June 5.
Soon after the big kickoff, children will enjoy a series of special guests and events, beginning with All Together Now: A 1960s Dance Party, at 2:30 p.m. on June 5 in Green Cove Springs.
The party will celebrate the program’s onset, encouraging students to wear tie-dye T-shirts, beads, and bell bottoms. “Dance, make new friends, and have a good time!,” according to a press release from the library.
All ages are welcome and light refreshments will served.
County children will have several opportunities to attend “Wild Wonders: Scaly Sensations.”
The event will stop by Green Cove Springs on June 6 at 10:30 a.m., Orange Park on June 14 at 10:30 a.m., Middleburg-Clay Hill on June 14 at 2 p.m., Fleming Island on July 10 at 2 p.m. and Keystone Heights on July 17 at 3:30 p.m.
The interactive program will feature local and exotic reptiles, with subject matter delving into the details of the unique habitats and history of the scaly creatures, with story, music, and humor set the scene to entice children into learning more about the natural world.
Children and their families are invited and will be encouraged to hold selected animals.
Next, enter Anna Moo on June 12 in Fleming Island and Mr. Richard “Kids Gotta Rock!” July 10 in Middleburg Clay Hill, which are each slated for a start times of 2 p.m. and 10:30 a.m.
Singing, dancing and moving to the beat will be the three critical ingredients for rollicking fun for county children aged 3-11. At Anna Moo they will listen to the award-winning Children’s Music songwriter.
Moo is a six-time Parents Choice Gold Award winner and three-time American Library Association’s Awards winner that stars in Cajun, Spanish, Greek and Chinese genres, performing uplifting songs and stories from Florida and worldwide, such as her classic hit, “The Alligator Stomp.”
Mr. Richard will sing and perform during the Summer Reading Program’s “All Together Now,” at 10:30 a.m, at the Middleburg-Clay Hill.
Everyone is invited to “Mark Alan Magic!,” a fast-paced, high-energy show featuring a combination of comedy and magic mixed with audience participation.
The traveling tour will make stops in Green Cove Springs on June 18 at 10:30 a.m., Orange Park on June 19 at 10:30 a.m., Middleburg-Clay Hill on June 19 at 2 p.m. and Keystone Heights on June 27 at 2 p.m.
In DoDad’s Lab, a know-all science program about air presented by Professor DoDad, the expert will share music, comedy and fun science demonstrations.
The professor will visit Green Cove Springs on June 20 and Orange Park on June 21, with the starting time at both locations slated for 10:30 a.m.
As the summer progresses, the library encourages all participating children to pick up a reading log at any of the library’s locations, which should be tracked and returned to any branch. For each record that students submit, they will be eligible to win a prize.
To cap it off, students are invited to commemorate the season of reading with an End of Summer Celebration on June 28-29.
The first ceremony will be hosted at Middleburg-Clay Hill from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., followed by a dedication from 11:30 a.m.-noon on Fleming Island.
The only stoppages in play will be on June 19 and July 4 to celebrate Juneteenth and Independence Day, respectively.
In the midst of the reading fun, the County Public Library will partner with the school district to provide free lunch for children at the Middleburg-Clay Hill Library on Mondays and Wednesdays and at the Orange Park Library from noon-1 p.m. between June 5 and July 20, excluding July 3-4.
Nine special story time sessions for children aged five and younger will occur between June 10 and July 28 at the library’s Fleming Island, Green Cove Springs, and Orange Park branches, among other initiatives.
For a full list of events, please visit the following link: claycountygov.libcal.com/calendar/LibraryCalendar?cid=10392&t=d&d=0000-00-00&cal=10392&inc=0.
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