From learning specific outdoor skills to nurturing wild play, every week-long session at Thorne Nature Experience is centered on building an ecological understanding of the world. And truly, there’s no better place to learn about nature than Colorado. Through immersive nature programs, Thorne Nature Experience inspires and educates campers in a fun, safe outdoor environment through Boulder County and beyond.
Thorne Nature Experience (formerly known as Thorne Ecological Institute) began its first summer camp program in 1957 and has since continued its mission to provide “joyful, hands-on, place-based environmental education” for the purpose of fostering emotional connections to nature. With programs for children as young as three, Thorne’s goal is to instill in children the ability, “to weigh the impacts of their own actions on the natural world and make choices that cultivate a thriving, healthy environment that supports all life.”
Already locally celebrated as an exceptional camp, in 2018, Thorne Nature Experience received the Outstanding Service to Environmental Education award from the Northern Association for Environmental Education. Thorne was particularly commended for “helping drive a county-wide collaborative effort” and for launching a $10-million enterprise “to provide holistic, comprehensive [environmental education] to 1,500 underserved youth.”
Through scholarship funds, Thorne’s Nature For All initiative addresses the growing deficit of access for the “community’s lowest income and Latino youth” by providing financial aid for low-income students to attend summer courses. In addition, these initiatives extend well beyond summer into the school year as Thorne visits low-income and highly diverse schools across the county to teach on life and energy cycles, Colorado ecology, climate change, and other nature-centric subjects. Nature For All is Thorne’s answer for those who “do not receive the many benefits provided by nature and time spent outdoors, including improved academic achievement and physical, social and emotional well-being.”
For Thorne’s educators and the students they influence, the summer camp season is when everything taught about nature in the classroom can come together via first-hand experiences along trails, creeks and lakes. Students are encouraged to ask questions, use their imagination and utilize their wonder as a foundation for stewardship. This is based on Thorne’s belief that “developing feelings for the natural world leads to a desire to care for the Earth,” and that kids particularly learn best when having fun.
“I’m always looking for an opportunity to teach,” says Thorne educator Patrick Hodge. “Like finding scat, tracks, or spotting animals and talking about how they all fit into this bigger picture of nature. When we’re out exploring, we open our senses and focus on these special moments. The kids love it.”
With consistency and mentorship, these local nature initiatives will have a lasting impact across the globe as every new generation is encouraged to carry an awareness and wonder into adulthood. “My child has always loved nature,” a parent wrote to Thorne, “but taking a walk with him after his Thorne experience is even more fun. He notices absolutely everything around him and loves chatting about how each creature lives and eats.”