Even a kid with two dogs, a cat, some goldfish, and a hamster won’t turn down a visit to the local animal shelter. Instead of the quick trip in-and-out, the Denver Dumb Friends League (DDFL) invites kids from third to sixth grade to hang around all day during its Winter Critter Camp.

Held during winter and spring school breaks, the campers explore everything from pets to wildlife through educational activities. “Everything goes back to education,” says Kelsey McLellan, the DDFL’s humane education manager. “We want them to know about responsible pet care lessons, body language, and real-life situations.”

The six-hour camp kicks off with a behind-the-scenes tour of the DDFL to parts of the facility normally reserved for staff. Kids will immediately want more direct contact with the animals, but McLellan says that’s where the first lesson comes in. “We teach them about body language,” she says. “We have kids practice learning to meet unknown animals.” Cats and dogs are slowly introduced to the campers before one of the more anticipated events of the day: the rat railroad. The campers sit in a tight circle where rats are introduced and allowed to climb on the children. “Initially a lot of kids are afraid of the rats,” McLellan says. “But, this is an opportunity to get to experience and work with animals they may not have known they liked. We have had multiple rat adoptions after camp.”

The rest of the day includes games like pet care Jeopardy and crafts like creating cat beds and toys. “It’s not just playing for six hours,” McLellan promises. “They are actually going to be learning something all day long.”

The details: Camp costs $50 and will be held on December 30 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Buddy Center in Castle Rock, and on January 2 at the Denver Dumb Friends League Quebec Shelter. All campers need to bring lunch and a water bottle. Families can sign up online ddfl.org.

Follow assistant editor Lindsey R. McKissick on Twitter at @LindseyRMcK.