Thanks to National Geographic, kids can explore a tropical rainforest or go deep-sea diving as they learn to solve mysteries and decipher codes—all from the comfort of their own homes. This summer, the publisher kicked off Explorer Academy Adventure, its first-ever virtual camp designed for ages 8–11. Based on the book series of the same name written by Trudi Trueit—which chronicles the tales of a team of intrepid explorers—this 11-week program is designed to immerse young readers in a variety of web-based educational content that can supplement and extend their learning experience.

“Taking the core of that story and applying it to an online, on-demand experience, hosted by real National Geographic Explorers and a pair of children’s television hosts, seemed like an obvious and exciting path for us to head down,” said Stu Levine, National Geographic Live content development director. After hosting an online recruitment week earlier this month that promoted the series, which attracted more than 190,000 Facebook impressions, the Explorer Academy Adventure launched on June 21 with a full roster of programming designed to engage participants through September 3; registration is still open.

Targeting Their Audience

To tap into the middle-grade reading bracket, National Geographic created teams of television producers and conservation educators who helped develop the programming, focusing on cultivating critical-thinking skills—a primary component of the Explorer Academy Adventure. “Knowing that this pre-teen group likes to emulate peers a few years older than themselves, but do not yet have the cognitive and physical skills of teenagers, our goal is to address them like a slightly older audience, while still providing the learning scaffolding that sets them up for both success and fun,” said Levine.

While the series is primarily led by actors Albert Lawrence and Margeaux Jordan-Nelson, a comprehensive slate of National Geographic Explorers are also on hand to lend their expertise to the weekly programming. “The authenticity, knowledge and unbridled passion these Explorers exude on camera has been inspirational to all of us behind the scenes, so we know their energy and enthusiasm will light a fuse in many young explorers of tomorrow,” Levine said. Among the list of featured guests, whose specialties are tied into the respective weekly themes, are: marine biologist Diva Amon (Week 3: Oceans), technologist Diego Ponce de Leon Barido (Week 6: Mad Science) and paleontologist Nizar Ibrahim (Week 8: Dinosaurs).

Included in the weekly camp registration are four days of pre-recorded video content, with two hours of daily experiments, games, crafts, and puzzles pertaining to the respective theme. Participants are invited to pause the videos at designated points to complete these activities, so they can work at their desired pace. “One day they might be building an ‘ocean in a jar’ to learn about the various layers of the ocean. Another day they might be making a time capsule for future archaeologists to discover,” Levine said. The weekly session culminates in completed missions and challenges, after which they are encouraged to invite their family and friends to join them in an online escape room to solve a more intense mystery.

Fans of the Explorer Academy series may naturally gravitate to this program, but those who are unfamiliar with these books can also benefit from this program. For kids who haven’t read these titles, the registration packet includes a crash course via the first book, The Nebula Secret. “We intentionally designed Explorer Academy Adventures to be in the world of books without being tied into any particular characters or plot lines,” Levine explains.

For parents and kids interested in extending the camp experience beyond the summer months, a Guardian’s Guide contains supplemental materials and suggested topics ripe for discussion. Also designed to build upon their time in the virtual classroom are calls to action that kids are asked to create and share with their families, as they strategize ways they can work together to make positive changes. “We firmly believe that, while experiences like Explorer Academy Adventures are fantastic ways to inspire the youth of today, the real behavior change comes from what they do with the information they learned,” Levine noted. “Engaging the guardians and families in that long-term process is a key component toward that goal.”