Let your child indulge in their creativity. Dedicated to nature, art, writing, dance, history and technology, these camps offer endless fun and learning for children of all ages.
By Ryan Cornell, Tim Regan, Octavia Silva and Yuhan Xu
For the Explorer
Youth Sailing Day Camp Boys and girls from 9-15 years old will cast off from shore and learn how to set sail in Sunfish, Flying Scots and Hobies (those are types of boats, for all of you who don’t speak fluent Sailorese) on the high seas of the, errr, Potomac River. The camp offers a 1:6 faculty to student ratio or better and five full-day lessons for all skill levels, from the most experienced salty dog to the novice landlubber. Running from June through August, Youth Sailing Day Camp covers boat handling, navigation and terminology. So the next time Blackbeardless is topside and is instructed to lower the jib and starboard tack, the crew can stay in the boat, and the water, out of it. A five-day windsurfing course is also available for campers 12 and older. –RC
Camp Mawavi An Iroquois word roughly translated to mean “those with the many outdoor adventures,” Mawavi (just kidding, it’s actually just a combination of the first two letters in Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia) is all about making the most of the summer for kids ages 9–15. Each week, the five-day camp presents a different theme such as reality shows, the Olympics and Mission Impossible. Whether it’s kayaking, canoeing, archery, fishing, hiking or swimming, the nature-oriented camp gets kids active outside and away from the Xbox. Although the days are mostly 9 a.m.–5 p.m., the week of July 8 features one overnight campout. Now in its eighth year, Mawavi begins on the last day of school and stretches into the middle of August. –RC
Prince William Forest Park, Triangle; pwcparks.org; $148-$277
Living Classrooms Summer Camp Who said teenagers get to have all the summer camp fun? Probably someone who’s never heard of Living Classrooms. Located at The Children’s Museum in Glen Echo, Md., the hands-on learning experience of the weeklong programs offered will bring out the inner explorer in children from 4–6 years old. Little Discoverers teaches young campers about the wonders of nature with hikes through the woods, wading in creeks and interaction with live animals, including a bunny, boa, box turtle and ducks. There’s never a dull moment with other projects focused on letting kids create their own volcanic eruptions, dig for fossils and learn how to garden. –RC
Wonder-Space Tech Camp Calling all techies and gamers: don’t miss out on your chance to attend this programmer’s paradise. Created in 2002 by two electrical engineering students from Rice University, Wonder-Space has spread to seven campuses across the country in its mission to familiarize middle and high schoolers with engineering and technology. Some of the programs that the camp offers are fundamentals of media and graphics (ages 6–8), app game design for the iPad/iPhone (9 and up), C++ programming (12 and up) and advanced modding for games such as Starcraft II and Skyrim (13 and up). And that’s only one-sixth of the total available courses! Depending on the hours chosen, a day at camp can start as early as 7:30 a.m., end as late as 6 p.m. or even last overnight. –RC
American University, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC; wstechcamp.com; $719–$1,250
Leesylvania State Park: River seining in the Potomac
Leesylvania State Park Junior Rangers Northern Virginia’s summer camp answer to outdoor survival is here. Running between June 24 and August 7 in four day sessions, the Leesylvania State Park Junior Ranger program teaches children all kinds of outdoor survival techniques through hands-on activities. Junior Rangers get the opportunity to learn about history and identify the nature they can find in their very own backyards through hiking excursions. Each camp day a new nature topic will be introduced and explored. Also, for the very first time this year, the camp will allow for parents to participate in the activities, so they can get a better idea as to what their children are up to in the great outdoors. The Junior Ranger program is offered to three different age groups: 4-6 year olds, 7-9 year olds and 10-12 year olds. Activities slightly vary based on age group. –OS
Meadowlark Camp Grow Camp Grow is all about the fun activities involved with the creation and maintenance of a garden. Specifically, some of the activities the campers will focus on include vegetable growing, hiking, storytelling, music and painting, among others. Camp Grow is also interested in using a variety of different settings as tools for the campers to learn more about nature and gardening. Some of these settings can be gazebos, lakes, forests and open meadows, all of which lend themselves kindly to learning the careful art of gardening. Camp Grow is divided into 3 different camper age groups: Sprouts (ages 5–8), Dragonflies (ages 6–9) and Great Blue Herons (ages 10–12). There is also a Meadowlark Adventure Camp geared towards kids of the latter age group. This camp will revolve around daily field trips to different fun outdoor destinations. –OS
Creative Cauldron As a non-profit arts organization that provides children of rising K through 5th grade opportunities of participating in performing and visual arts, Creative Cauldron offers offers four sessions over the summer. The Sampler program starts from June 24 to July 3, engaging newcomers in the creative process of making original play or visual art project in eight days. Each day features a different nature-based theme. In the signature three-week performance camps, professional artists will guide children age 4-14 through various arts activities, explore nearby parks and enjoy swimming at a local pool. The first session “Tales of Wonder” is from July 8–July 26; “Secret Gardens of Delight” starts from July 29 through August 16. “World of Music Camp,” starts from August 19-30, is perfect for music lovers of all ages. Children will take a look at how the nature sounds and create their own music. –YX
Lola’s Laboratory This summer, Lola’s Laboratory continues bringing programs that will activate children’s imaginations while providing them a fun, unique camp experience. In the first program “The Secret Circus,” which starts on July 15, children will go undercover as circus spies in Dr. Mayhems’s traveling family troupe. In the week of August 19, campers will begin an adventure to Zootopia, where they’ll create their own exotic fake zoo of imagined animals in time for a Princes Royal Wedding. In the last program, “Up Up and Away,” children will meet Wanda Round, bumbling adventurer and human encyclopedia who drops in on unusual situations in her giant balloon; get her out of each pickle she lands in. All the programs will be directed by an arts commissioner and professional artists who are devoted to performing and teaching arts. –YX
Traveling Players Ensemble Roaming the medieval countryside and relying on the boldest imagination to convey the art—that’s what children will experience at Traveling Players Ensemble. In Greek Myths Ensemble from July 29-August 9, rising 5th-7th graders will learn acting and storytelling techniques through rehearsals and theater games. For rising 6th-9th graders, two sessions on June 24-July 19 and July 22-August 16 will offer them opportunities to perform in the comedies of the French playwright Molière. During the last week of the session, campers take the show to nearby camps, libraries, scouts and children’s hospitals, before returning to camp for a public festival. Ninth-12th graders can participate in two sessions from June 24-July 19 and July 22-August 16, where they will perform “Shakespeare in the Park” in Shenandoah National Park while backpacking off the Appalachian Trail. In addition to these sessions, they can also choose among Technical Theatre, Commedia Troupe and Traveling Troupe for one-month experience. –YX
The LMproject Developed by a group of dancers in New York City, The LMproject brings in experts that are committed to inspiring children through movement and spreading love for performing through hands-on experience. They aim to showcase different styles of dance and music while displaying the variety of ways in which these expressions can interact. They offer two programs this summer: The first camp is “Broadway Beginners,” from July 8-12 for children age 9-13. Sponsored by the Reston Players, they will learn the basics of dance, singing, improvisation and stage combat. The other camp, “Broadway Bound,” is by audition only and runs from July 15-19. It’s for children age 13-18 with a strong interest in performing. Campers will work on the fundamentals as well as develop their audition portfolio. –YX
Reston Players Rehearsal Hall, 266 Sunset Park Drive, Herdon; lmprojectdance.com; call for pricing
Potomac Arts Academy
Potomac Arts Academy The George Mason University Potomac Arts Academy offers a wide variety of arts programs and activities between the months of June and August for kids and teens. The academy offers a jazz workshop for children of all ages, an early childhood music and art program for toddlers (ages 3-7), six weeks of acting with Acting for Young People (5-18), children’s choir camp (9-13), vocal training for musical theater (13-18), a computer game design institute (9-18), film and video production camp (9-18), orchestra/chamber music strings course (13-18), a summer dance intensive program (16-22), percussion workshop (13-18), piano accompaniment (13-22), music composition workshop (13-25), and guitar (13-adult). This great variety of activities offered has something for nearly everyone in the family to enjoy. –OS
Synetic Family Theater The Synetic Theater in Crystal City offers a different themed summer arts program every year and this year they’re doing “Hobbit Land: Journey to Middle Earth.” Consisting of six separate sessions spanning the course of the summer starting June 17 and ending August 30, Synetic Theater’s summer program has something for thespians-to-be of all ages. Little Stars (ages 4-6), Young Artists (ages 7-9) and Thespians (ages 10-14) represent the three age categories for the performing arts program. The campers will focus on “Hobbit Land: Journey to Middle Earth,” a play written specifically for the program. They will work on costumes, choreography and set design as well as acting. Each session will culminate in a performance of “Hobbit Land” at the Synetic Theater. This will be the grand finale so the campers can show off both what they’ve learned and their own natural talents. –OS
The Renaissance Child’s Place Founder and Director Linda Weber Klages employs STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Match) techniques to facilitate learning in a fun, nurturing environment. During Lego We-Do camps, kids ages 5-11 conceptualize, design and build their own Lego creations from 16 kits before hooking them up to laptops and unleashing them on the world with the help of knowledgeable coaches. Littler ones grow their minds during Lego Jr. camps, which forego robotic parts and computer programming for simple gears and basic physical laws. In addition to aiding in Lego learning, the counselors run an American Girl camp, where doll-lovers bring in a favorite toy to frolic and play among other dolls from the camp’s toy box. To take part in the educational fun, kids need only bring their creativity and a homemade, nut-free lunch. –TR
115 Park Ave., Falls Church, 311 N. Washington St., Alexandria; therenaissancechild.net; $225 to $320 per week (full or half days)
Writopia This nonprofit camp has one thing on its agenda: helping budding authors ages 8-18 write their masterpieces. Writopia employs a talented mixed of authors and playwrights—all of them published—to instruct young Shakespeares. Though their days are structured, campers may write about whatever interests them; all genres, forms and topics are accepted. Most kids focus on fiction, but other literary possibilities include journalism, poetry, movie scripts or plays. Although the end result of each workshop is the written word, campers also fill their time by brainstorming and discussing the topics at hand. At the end of their literary journeys, participants are invited to read their masterworks at the local Barnes and Noble. Each completed poem, short story or memoir is also published in Writeopia’s online magazine, The Parenthetical. –TR
CSI Camp If detectives could be children, this is where they would train for the job. During the Crime Scene Investigation Camp, ages 12 and up dive in to the week’s greatest mystery: Who killed mystery man Fred Lawe? In groups supervised by actual crime scene investigators, campers will dust for fingerprints, analyze blood spatters and collect forensic evidence to build their cases. The young detectives will discover more and more evidence including witness testimonies, advice from forensic experts and roleplayed suspects as the week progresses. On the final day of camp, attendees face down a jury of their peers during a mock trial that spells the difference between justice and injustice for the victim. Every enrollment includes a museum t-shirt and all investigation supplies. –TR
iD Tech Camp These weeklong programs teach campers ages 7-17 how to take interests such as computer gaming, programming and digital art and turn them into the skills needed for future careers. In personalized classes—all held at eight or fewer students and taught by professionals—students learn the fundamentals of programming in C++, film production and video game design. Some classes even delve into specific games themselves, like game modding and Java coding in “Minecraft” and “Team Fortress 2” custom map design. Despite learning plenty of computer skills, campers also spend additional time bonding, learning life skills and playing sports. And if you think the camps are just for fun, think again: One former student earned thousands of dollars by designing a 99-cent Yahtzee program with skills he learned in the iPhone app-making class. –TR
Sending your child off to camp, even for a day can be somewhat of a scary thing—What if they don’t like it?; Will they make friends?; What if they get hurt? The best thing you can do is your research before you sign them up; make sure the camp is able to deal with the above situations if they arise. To do that, the American Camp Association offers interview questions any parent or guardian should ask before signing up their child for a summer camp.
What is the camp’s philosophy and program emphasis? Each camp has its own method of constructing programs based on its philosophy. Does it complement your own parenting philosophy? Many camps actively promote competition and healthy rivalry among camp teams, as reflected in team sports. For many campers this is pure fun. Some parents feel that learning to be competitive at an early age teaches essential survival skills. However, other parents and educators are in favor of cooperative learning. Research has shown that noncompetitive methods encourage young people to learn more, retain it longer, and develop greater self-esteem and appreciation for others. Knowing your child’s personality and style of learning is key.
What is the camp director’s background? ACA minimum standards recommend directors possess a bachelor’s degree, have completed in-service training within the past three years, and have at least 16 weeks of camp administrative experience.
What training do counselors receive? At a minimum, camp staff should be trained in safety regulations, emergency procedures and communication, behavior management techniques, child abuse prevention, appropriate staff and camper behavior and specific procedures for supervision.
What is the counselor-to-camper ratio? At day camps the ratios range from one staff for every eight campers ages 6 to 8; one staff for every 10 campers ages 9 to 14; and one staff for every 12 campers ages 15 to 18.
What are the ages of the counselors? ACA recommend that 80 percent or more of the counselor/program staff be at least 18 years old. Staff must be at least 16 years old and be at least two years older than the campers with whom they work.
What are desired qualities in camp staff? The same qualities of trustworthiness and dependability sought by any employer are valued commodities in camp employees. Also, the ability to adapt to a variety of situations, empathy for and ability to work with camp clientele, a strong self-image, and an outgoing personality.
What percentage of the counselors returned from last year? Most camps have from 40-60 percent returning staff. If the rate is lower, find out why.
How are behavioral and disciplinary problems handled? This is where the director’s philosophy comes through loud and clear. Positive reinforcement, assertive role-modeling and a sense of fair play are generally regarded as key components of camp counseling and leadership. Rules are necessary in any organization, and the disciplinary approach taken should be reasonable and well communicated. If penalties are involved for violations, they should be applied quickly, fairly, calmly and without undue criticism to campers.
What about references? This is generally one of the best ways to check a camp’s reputation and service record. Directors should be happy to provide references.
Photos: Morgan lane photography/shutterstock.com (hiking); courtesy of leesylvania state park (potomac); courtesy of synetic family theater (stage); courtesy of Potomac arts academy (orchestra); courtesy of CSI camp (science); courtesy of writopia lab (writopia); Monkey business images/shutterstock.com (group of kids)