A young girl works on a science project

Growing Early Minds (GEM)

Thank you for your interest in GEM!  Both enrollment and our waitlist for Summer 2024 classes have reached their capacity and registration is now closed. As we prepare for Summer 2025 we would like to know of your interest!  Please complete the Google Form linked here to be added to our mailing list.  You may also email  Lauren, the program coordinator, at lauren.oldenburg@wisc.edu with any questions.

The Growing Early Minds (GEM) program is designed to inspire and engage students in grades 2–4. Students will be exposed to concepts and themes that feed their curious minds. Social and emotional curriculum components focus on fostering autonomy, encouraging development of a growth mindset and developing effective collaboration skills. GEM is open to all interested students; scholarships are available.


The GEM program was created for our youngest learners and is unique in that we offer two opportunities to participate during the year: our traditional in-person summer camp or a winter session offered over five consecutive Saturday mornings. There will be two summer sessions. Students can choose to attend the first session, the second session, or both sessions.

GEM students may or may not have been identified as advanced. The program offers any young learner an entry-level challenge and engagement opportunity to discover their interests. It is also designed as a resource and community for parents and students who are searching for a way to stimulate young minds outside of a traditional classroom setting.

Students will be exposed to new concepts to feed their curiosity. Each class is small (up to 15 students) and crafted to enrich learning and introduce new areas of interest, helping students expand their knowledge about the world and discover how much there truly is to learn.

What to expect

As a GEM student, you will engage in — and be inspired by — a subject of interest to you! With the support of your instructor, you will face new academic challenges with like-minded peers, discover how to become more independent as a learner and increase your confidence in approaching challenging academic tasks. By the end of the program, you will have a better understanding of your strengths, your talents and yourself! It is our hope that you will continue to challenge yourself and grow as a lifelong learner.

Upcoming Classes

Session 1: June 10–14, 2024 Session 2: June 17–21, 2024
Mystery Detectives: Intro to Forensic Science (Grades 2-3) Jurassic Mythbusters: Exploring Paleontology (Grades 2-3)
Thinking and Tinkering: Intro to Engineering (Grades 2-3) Thinking and Tinkering: Intro to Engineering (Grades 2-3)
Noes to Toes: Intro to Human Anatomy (Grades 2-3) Matter Matters: Exploring Science (Grades 2-3)
Word Play (Grades 2-3) Mayor Madness (Grades 2-3)
The Actor’s Toolbox (Grades 2-4) Creative Writing (Grades 3-4)
Adventures in Coding (Grades 3-4) Adventures in Coding (Grades 3-4)
Gross Biology (Grades 3-4) Gross Biology (Grades 3-4)
Inside Out/Upside Down (Grades 3-4) Game of Economics (Grades 3-4)
The Green Team: Intro to Environmental Science (Grades 3-4) A Walk Through History (Grades 3-4)

At a glance

Program Dates

Session 1: June 10-14
Session 2:June 17-21
9 a.m. -4 p.m.


In-person on the UW–Madison Campus

Grade Level

For students completing grades 2-4

Application Opens

November 28, 2023

Apply by

Registration for the 2024 GEM program is closed.


Non-refundable registration fee: $35
Tuition: $470 per session

$20 multi-session registration discount available

Limited financial aid available. Tuition due at the time of registration.

Instruction Hours

10 hours of instructional materials

GEM schedule

Winter GEM schedule

Winter GEM will not run in 2024.
The virtual Winter GEM program runs for five consecutive Saturday mornings. The course features a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning. All synchronous learning meetings take place 9–10:30 a.m. The schedule below is shared to give a general idea of how the Saturday sessions are run. It is subject to change based on the course and daily activities:

Time Activity
9–9:30 a.m. Welcome, information discussions or activities, daily overview
9:30–10 a.m. New course content with interactive activities and group discussions
10-10:15 a.m. Short break, time for clarifying questions or work time
10:15–10:30 a.m. Recap the day, explain homework for the following Saturday

On the last Saturday of the program, GEM classes will feature final project discussions and presentations.

Summer GEM schedule

This is a general overview of the Summer GEM program. Afternoon times are subject to change based on the daily field trip schedule.

Time Activity
8:45–9 a.m. Student drop off.
9–11 a.m. Class content
11:30 a.m.–1 p.m. Lunch and free time.
1–4 p.m. Field trips/Afternoon activities. Activities vary by day.
4 p.m. Student pick up

On the last day of each week, families are invited to visit at the end of the morning instructional block from 10:45 to 11:30 a.m.

How to apply

  1. Look through the course options available and choose your first-choice course for your session(s) of interest. Please note that applications are reviewed on a rolling basis and courses fill on a first-come, first-served basis. Early registration will increase the likelihood of being placed in your first-choice course. If your course selection is full, we encourage you to contact our office to be placed on a waitlist. You will be notified if a place becomes available.
  2. Log in and complete the online application, indicating your first-choice course when prompted. Enrollment in a particular class is not guaranteed as we process applications in the order in which they are submitted, and course availability is subject to change. In the event that a course is closed, you will be contacted by Badger Precollege to select an alternative course. You will also have the option to be placed on a waitlist.
  3. Submit the application, along with the application fee. You will receive an email confirming your submission immediately and be notified of your acceptance decision via email within 3–4 weeks.

If you are interested in applying for a scholarship, please visit our financial aid page.


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Where is the program located?

The GEM Program is located on the beautiful UW Madison campus. Our students eat lunch at Gordon Commons, located on the SE side of campus (770 W Dayton St.) and classroom locations are within walking distance to Gordon Commons. Badger Precollege works closely with UW Central Campus Reservations and individual building managers to secure space. This process takes time, as there are many other campus departments and programs scheduling space during the same blocks of time each summer. Individual classroom locations are not confirmed until late May at the earliest.

Is lunch provided?

Yes! Lunch for your student is provided as a part of the cost of tuition. Gordon Avenue Market is an undergraduate residence dining facility serving cafeteria style options that offers many food choices each day. Badger Precollege staff will be supervising your child and assisting them in making healthy food choices. If your child has any dietary restrictions or allergies we need to be aware of, please be sure to include this information in your CampDocs online health profile. If a student has severe food allergies or a very restricted diet, they are welcome to bring their own lunch. (Tuition is not prorated in cases where a student brings their own lunch.) A good resource that includes daily menus may be found here. You may also email the nutritionists at UW Housing directly for more information or with questions/concerns at dietitian@housing.wisc.edu.

How do afternoon field trips work during GEM?

During GEM we plan 3-4 field trips per week following lunch. Field trips are supervised by our educational assistants and Badger Precollege Admin staff. Please keep in mind that ALL field trips are walking field trips around campus. Venues are chosen based on their proximity to the SE side of campus to accommodate young students walking, as well as being mindful of the very hot temperatures which often occur during GEM. For example, while a trip to the Children’s Museum on the square would be nice, this is simply too far to walk with this age group.
Occasionally, “field trips” come to us, with engaging speakers and presenters visiting our students in the afternoons. Past examples would be visits from the UW Insect Ambassadors and presenters from the Wisconsin Institute of Discovery.

What is the afternoon field trip schedule?

Similar to securing classroom locations as described above, Badger Precollege partners with many other campus departments to secure field trips. Scheduling is complex, and many venues do not begin taking reservations for summer until the beginning of the Spring Semester (Late January) or much later. Venues need to secure staffing (typically UW undergraduate students) first to accommodate larger groups and this often does not occur until later in the spring. Past field trips include: UW Madison Campus Tours, The UW Geology Museum, The Chazen Museum, and more.

What are the afternoon activities during GEM?

The afternoon block is supervised by Educational Facilitators, educational assistants, and Badger Precollege Admin staff. In addition to field trips, each afternoon includes a planned lesson, as well as an opportunity to explore various stations and socialize with classmates. Planned lessons may feature a sample lesson from one of our GEM courses not offered that session, or another topic of interest to the instructor.

What do I do if I need to drop off my student late or pick them up early?

Requests for late drop off and early pick up should be directed to the program manager/program coordinators. Advance notice is greatly appreciated.
While we try our best to accommodate requests, it is not always possible to accommodate specific times. The volume of requests we received increased tremendously over the past year, making this process more challenging. Our staffing numbers are based on a 1:10 staff to student ratio which we must maintain at all times.
Requests to pick up in the middle of the lunch/field trip block cannot be accommodated, as all staff are need to supervise lunch, we may be in transit during those times or already at a field trip location, and our schedule varies greatly from day to day. Similarly, if a student is picked up early it may be challenging to accommodate a request to drop the student back off later in the afternoon, for the same reasons stated above.
As a general rule, if your student has another commitment in the afternoon, we request that you pick up your student up at 11:30, following the morning instructional block.