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Children’s and family programming at the North Carolina Botanical Garden has increased significantly in the nearly three years since the new Education Center opened in November 2009.

One good indicator of that growth is the garden’s Nature Explorers Summer Camp, which has tripled in size in the number of camp offerings and the number of campers served. Now, almost 100 kids, ages 4 to 10, participate in six week-long sessions that teach campers about North Carolina’s ecology and natural history.

Activities for younger campers include searching for carnivorous plants and dipping in the ponds for tadpoles. The older campers may conduct water quality tests at Morgan Creek, observe birds at the bird blind and keep a nature journal.

The goal is to make sure children have a positive experience outdoors through activities that are fun and that nurture their natural curiosity about nature, said Elisha Taylor, coordinator for children’s and family education at the botanical garden.

“Ultimately, we are trying to draw them in,” Taylor said. “Once they get excited, it builds and we hope that wonder will foster a love for the natural world and a desire to care for it.”

Working with Taylor at the camps this summer is Colleen Muse, a 2012 UNC graduate who had interned at the garden in 2011 through the APPLES Service-Learning Program, and Lacy Schmidt, a UNC senior who is an APPLES intern.

Beyond the camp, the botanical garden offers story times, preschool classes, an afterschool nature club, courses for homeschoolers and birthday parties. For families, the garden offers a variety of programs including night hikes, birding and nature and art workshops.

The nearly 30,000-square-foot Education Center features an exhibit hall, art gallery, reference library, large multipurpose space for meetings, conferences and other events, a seminar room, and classrooms. The garden is part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and attracts more than 85,000 visitors a year.