Last week, when the temperatures were 90 or higher, throngs of kids were at camps in Wilton having a blast. They weren’t worried about the heat. What they were worried about was getting a turn with some animals.

Whether it’s Woodcock Nature Center or Ambler Farm, the kids were anxious to hold, pet, brush, follow, or just watch animals of all sorts. Ambler has the farm critters — sheep, goats, rabbits, pigs, chickens, and geese. Woodcock’s resident animals are more exotic — snakes, turtles, lizards, frogs, toads, giant insects, and birds of prey.

They all play an integral role in each camp’s main focus — helping children connect to nature. By doing so these animals help instill an appreciation for our local ecology and enabling our children to grow into responsible stewards of whatever natural environment they eventually may live in.

Both camps rely on children learning by having fun. The fifth and sixth graders at Woodcock last week — petting Monty the python as he draped around their shoulders — will grow up knowing snakes are not to be feared or reviled. They learned about the kinds of turtles that live close to their homes. From the toads in the nature center children learn these animals — who live on land and are probably in their own backyards — are essential to keeping down insect populations.

At Ambler children meet the types of animals they often read about in storybooks or have sung about in nursery rhymes. They come to understand how these animals need to live — their shelters, their diets, and more.

Beyond that, youngsters learn how their food is grown — that food comes from a farm, not a store. Weather, insects, and weeds all must be overcome to successfully raise a crop to market.

There are two important takeaways here. Children are spending their summer learning things, but perhaps more importantly, they are having fun. And that’s the way summer should be, a time to have some fun with a little learning on the side.