Help Your Child Explore Their Hidden Talents
By Aaron King
Summer may be months away, and not in the forefront of the mind, but finding a place where children can relish in the bliss of not sitting in a classroom, yet still enhance their minds, is as hard as choosing where they spend the rest of the nine months during the year.
Here in Northern Virginia, parents are lucky to reside in an area where summer camps are not only close, but thought-provoking. So get out the calendar, and the checkbook, and plan a summer fit for any enterprising mind.
TIC Summer Camp
The philosophy at TIC Summer Camp is that children should experience equal parts technology and sport. Therefore, during the six-hour days at TIC, campers spend half their time playing, half their time working on technology-based creative projects.
Executive Director Emily Riedel says that campers can choose from seven different fields from which to learn: programming, robotics, digital music, digital art, animation, Web design and filmmaking. “We call our curriculum ‘spontaneous curriculum and creation.’ It’s totally based on what each camper wants to do. They have a main project that they choose and work on for their session. Some examples are adventure computer games or board games. You can also do some really clever projects like artificial intelligence. Some of our more advanced campers have made computer chess games. They create beautiful graphic designs. With robotics, they build robots and towards the end have a “battle of the bots” where they tear each other up. The kids love it. We direct their efforts just to make sure that [the] project can be completed in two weeks.”
“We don’t use WYSIWYG [superficial software],” Riedel says, “because we really want [campers] to learn coding. For example, they learn html, java and C++. We’re giving them the tools to use their problem-solving skills and critical thinking skills without even knowing it.”
As for the sports component, campers are rotated through athletics such as soccer, basketball, Frisbee and baseball, as well as less traditional games. “A lot of our campers, if you can imagine, are more suited to computers,” Riedel says. “They haven’t had very positive team experiences. So we try to make it as fun as possible. It’s somewhat competitive, but it’s really just a good time.” Sessions cost $820. Sessions run from June 20 to August 19. 4620 Dittmar Road, Arlington; ticcamp.com; 571-765-0329
CoMMotion Dance Intensive
Compare CoMMotion’s summer curriculum to other dance programs and you will find that its variety of classes immediately stands out among competitors. Campers take daily lessons in tap, jazz, ballet, hip-hop, musical theater and Pilates. Dawn Hessler, co-director of the program, says, “It’s definitely intensive. We put on a full-scale showcase, consisting of 17 to 20 dances, at the end of each two-week session. The parents usually can’t believe how much their kids have learned. One of the camp’s other attractions is its location, the James Madison University campus. “It’s great for anyone who is thinking of being a dance major because they get to meet and train with the JMU faculty,” Hessler says. “We’re also using the JMU’s brand new performance theater, which we’re really excited about.”
The camp accepts girls and boys, ages 13-18, intermediate and advanced. “We usually have a total of 20 to 30 students, so 10 to 15 in each level. Once campers get here, the very first thing we do is an audition process. Then we divide them by level.” The CoMMotion program is a sleepover camp. Campers alternate between dance classes from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and then enjoy afternoon activities such as games and movies. “The games we play help to build teamwork. On the weekend we go to a waterpark and go out to dinner,” Hessler says.
The program runs from July 17-30. The camp costs $1,775 early, $1,885 after April 2, and $2,050 after June 2. 13097 Wisteria Drive, Germantown, MD; commotion.me; 301-515-8908
Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing
Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing is an all-outdoors program for ages 10-18 with a focus on developing leadership, confidence and teamwork. The program offers one- to four-week-long backpacking trips. Campers are outfitted with everything they’ll need for the trip, according to Steve Allen, director of activities.
“We give them backpacks, camping stoves, fuel, sleeping bags—everything. We instruct them in what they need to know. Then we have two leaders head out with 12 participants.”
During their treks, groups will rendezvous with rock climbing instructors, spend time canoeing and camping islands, explore caves, mountain bike, kayak, ride ziplines and perform on high and low ropes courses.
“A lot of the kids find it quite challenging,” Allen says. “Sometimes they might complain about it, and then they come back summer after summer. The kids like testing themselves and pushing their comfort zones to find out what they’re capable of.
Allen has received as much positive feedback from the campers as he does from their parents. “We get [a] letter from the parents saying ‘Oh my goodness, what have you done to my child? I tried to make them a sandwich, and they wouldn’t let me.’ The kids have a whole newfound respect for doing things [themselves] and being self-sufficient.”
Allen finds it necessary to emphasize that there is no residential component of the camp. “There are always parents who show up after registering their kids wondering which cabin the kids will be bunking in.”
One-week sessions start at $875. Campers can choose sessions devoted entirely to one sport, such as rafting or rock climbing. Camp runs from June 19 to August 13. Located outside of New Castle; wilderness-adventure.com; 800-782-0779
Summer Camps on the River
Campers at Summer Camps on the River are taught how to crab, fish and sail in one of the Chesapeake’s most beautiful areas. “They learn everything from rigging to competitive sailing techniques,” director Amanda Porter says. “We have a camp for the very beginners who have never been on a sailing vessel before, all the way up to competitive high-school racers.” Porter says that campers enjoy themselves because they have hands-on tasks. “When they leave they feel that they’ve accomplished something. They like that they learn something new, and the thing they say is “’I didn’t know I was learning.’”
“We’re really lucky because we’re in a rural area on the Chesapeake, an area that hasn’t really been spoiled by a major industry. Campers have wide-open spots where they can sail, crab, get in the water,” according to Porter. She adds, “The jellyfish don’t typically show up until later in the summer, so the kids have the advantage of really experiencing the water.” Porter says that safety is the camp’s main concern; it therefore maintains a camper-to-counselor ratio of 1:5.
Campers can sign up by the week. There are typically 70-80 campers per session, and camp runs from June 26 to July 17. Fees range from $550-$1,000 per week. 49 Seahorse Lane, Christchurch. christchurchschool.org; 804-758-2306
4 Star Camps
4Star Camps, located in Charlottesville, is comprised of three main components: tennis, golf and academics. It is up to campers to combine these components how they will. Campers can fill their sessions with tennis and golf, tennis and academics, or golf and academics.
The camp began as a tennis instruction camp and is nationally recognized for its tennis component. University of Virginia staff and players instruct campers in both the tennis and golf components.
Administrative Director Marietta Naramore says that the academics program is for enrichment purposes. “If you have a sophomore who has to take Algebra II next year, they can take it here over the summer, and they will go into the school year feeling better prepared. We also have what we call [the] American Studies program, which is for international students. These kids are looking to perhaps go to school at some point in the U.S., either to complete high school or begin college. It’s not for kids who have no English; it’s for kids who are looking to improve their English. It is an immersion program, so it’s not just about the language but also about American culture.”
The camp also provides SAT prep. “I recommend the SAT prep for everybody, Naramore says. “It really is to gain test-taking strategy, because there is strategy involved; it’s not just knowledge of the academics.” Other enrichment courses are also available.
A one-week session is $695-$1,395. 4starcamps.com; 703-866-4900
Camp Hidden Meadows
Tom Bryant, director and co-founder of Camp Hidden Meadows, says that the camp was once much more adventure-focused, with its campers sleeping out in tents. “We still do a lot of adventure activities, such as rock climbing, camping and zip lining, but it’s now more of a residential camp.”
The residential nature of his camp has its benefits. “We do things like farming, gardening, horse-back riding, archery. We’re also able to have campfire experiences and cabin activities.” Bryant lives on and maintains the campsite year-round, thus enabling him to keep farm animals and provide gardening experiences for campers in the summer.
Hidden Meadows’ arts program has also expanded thanks to the residential change. “We have traditional arts, such as tie dye and craft making. We also have a more advanced ceramics and pottery program, as well as painting. Kids can sign up for workshops; for instance, a weeklong workshop in painting. Or, if you’re the type of camper who would just like to see what it’s all about, you can come and try any of those arts for a day.”
Bryant limits camp enrollment to 120 children at any given time, something that differentiates Hidden Meadows from other camps. “That allows us to do things like have a farm and garden.”
Campers can enroll for one to eight weeks. Weeklong sessions are $775-$875, depending on age. Longer-staying campers see lower rates. Located near the Virginia border in Barton, W. Va.; camphiddenmeadows.com
Misty Brae Farm Horseback Riding Camp
Director Victoria DeMichele emphasizes that the characteristic that sets Misty Brae summer camp apart from other horseback riding camps is its official status as a United States Pony Club Riding Center. “We focus on dressage, show jumping and a little bit of cross-country. We’re geared toward the Pony Club’s curriculum.” Camp attendees can sign up for half days, which includes one hour of riding, or full days, which includes two hours of riding. The camp divides children into different groups based on their experience, with no more than eight campers in each group. When not riding, children are learning grooming, tacking and stall cleaning. More experienced riders also cover topics such as bandaging, lameness and horse nutrition.
DeMichele notes that the camp is family oriented, and enjoys volunteer help from several parents of campers. “That gives the camp a wonderful family atmosphere.
DeMichele explains that summer is an ideal time to practice horseback riding since “kids have a lot of time to be immersed in those activities during the summer.” DeMichelle was a Pony Club member and competitive rider when she was younger. Her passion for teaching other riders led her to Misty Brae camps. Half-day sessions cost $300; full-day sessions, $450. Located in Aldie, about 11 miles from Chantilly; mistybraefarm.com; 703-403-6422
The Living Classrooms Summer Camp is as outdoorsy and hands-on as a sports camp might be, “except that it’s not geared toward sports, just enjoying yourself outdoors,” the program’s director Anne Zuk says. “The camp’s purpose is to tune kids into nature and the outdoors, and hopefully they come away from it as little stewards of the environment.”
The camp serves children aged 4-14. Much of the program consists of science and education. “The camp is very structured,” Zuk says. “We have a curriculum set out for each week that the kids will learn from.” The curriculum covers such subjects as bodies of water around the globe, gardening and volcanoes. Zuk says she even learns from the campers sometimes. “They really know a lot about dinosaurs and insects.”
One of the camp’s most popular components is one in which counselors teach the children how to camp outdoors. According to Zuk, the children love the idea of sleeping in tents overnight. Another popular component is outings on the Half Shell, an educational ship chartered by the camp that brings campers out onto the Chesapeake Bay. Counselors at Living Classrooms come from either a scientific or early-childhood development background. Costs for the camp vary but start at $295 per one-week session. Living Classrooms are throughout Washington, D.C.; livingclassroomsdc.org; 202-488-0627