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Day camp or sleep-away? Specialty camp or general interest? Should a camp kick your kid in the butt or let him or her enjoy downtime? What about safety concerns? Is the program worth the price? And how much input should the child have on which camp you choose?
“Summer camps can give kids things that can’t be gotten any other way,” says Eve Eifler, whose business, Tips on Trips and Camps, matches kids aged 7-18 with summer programs that range from classic overnight camps to community-service travel opportunities for high schoolers. Her business also works with more than 600 camps and teen programs, with consultants in 15 cities. Tips on Trips is paid by the camps.
Of course, you can start by flipping through local publications that attract a lot of camp advertising (as Baltimore does), but Eifler also suggests speaking with friends and teachers for suggestions. “There’s really something for everyone out there,” says Eifler, but before you jump into the process, you need to assess your child’s needs and desires, she says. “Does your child need to develop new interests or do they have passions they want to focus on?” A kid who needs to build self-esteem might benefit from an adventure camp, while one with a talent for the cello or who is obsessed with Star Wars might be happy in a specialty camp like one of the many focused on arts and science.
Older children interested in building their credentials for looming college applications can choose from dozens of volunteer trips and internships, from a community-based program abroad to helping a scientist with research in a lab. Or they may opt for language-immersion programs, living with a host family and attending classes. Eifler even represents several family programs, from service learning in places like Costa Rica to trips abroad that children can take with their grandparents.
Parents have considerations of their own when it comes to choosing a camp, says Eifler. Sometimes those concerns have to do with money. In other cases, the daily schedule and transportation to and from camp come into play. Camps that are convenient to a parent’s workplace or offer transportation can rise to the top of the list. Even so, Eifler says, most children will benefit from overnight camps.
“Going to camp can give kids experiences that can’t be gotten any other way,” she points out. “Where else can you send a kid and know that they’ll be well cared for, well fed, and busy?”
We’ve compiled a fairly comprehensive list of camp experiences in the region, but also have visited a handful of them that seem particularly interesting or unique. Then comes the tough part: choosing just one.
Forget hiking in the woods: When it comes to choosing the right summer camp for a child, it can be a jungle out there.
>> A SUMMER OF ART
Kids come out of The Walters Art Museum program “comfortable in the museum space,” says Colleen Oyler, education coordinator for the museum. The weeklong program involves a mix of art appreciation and art-making, as well as getting outdoors to explore the Mt. Vernon neighborhood. “We take walks to the Enoch Pratt and the Peabody Library,” says Oyler. “We went to the Basilica and each camper had a digital camera to photograph different features.”
Inside the museum, activities include scavenger hunts or searching for features in paintings on the wall. “For little kids, that may be as simple as finding a happy face and a sad face,” Oyler says, while older campers might be tasked with tracking down art periods or painting techniques. Groups pull out costumes to act out imagined scenes that revolve around museum artworks.
Kids also have plenty of time for painting and drawing, and even pottery-making using the museum’s kiln.
The camp is open to grades 1-8, with sessions divided by age. Groups of 20 campers have three counselors. The camp strikes a balance between the enrichment parents are looking for and the enjoyment kids need. “Parents feel that their kids are learning,” says Oyler. “The kids are just having fun.”
>> WET AND WILD
Last fall, on a blustery day, Ed Dryer stood on the shore at the Annapolis Yacht Club and watched his 11-year-old daughter, Marina, sail solo. “It was really blowing out there,” says Dryer, who lives in Ruxton and owns Atlantic Maritime Ship Supply. Marina, all 70 pounds of her, handled the boat beautifully, says her dad, as did the other kids in the Atlantic Coast Championship. “Not long ago, those kids would have been terrified. Now you see smiles.”
All three of Dryer’s children—the other two are Will, 13, and Veronica, 9—have participated in the Baltimore County Sailing Center’s (BCSC) summer program (which has a far-reaching metro bus service). The day camp is on Hawk Cove, part of Rocky Point Park in Essex. It’s shielded by a barrier island that keeps the water calm. Even so, says BCSC’s executive director Eileen Fahrmeier, “We get wind every day from the south. There are very few places in the country as conducive to learning to sail as this is.
“We start at the beginning: This is a boat. This is port, this is starboard,” says Fahrmeier, who studied engineering in college, but recently made a career switch to run the camp for kids aged 6-16. “Campers learn how to sit in the boat, how to steer,” she says. “By the end of the two weeks, these kids can sail a boat.” Along with sailing, there are opportunities to learn about the Chesapeake Bay. The camp leaders in the Chesapeake Child program (for ages 6-8) are elementary school teachers. Young children paddle small kayaks and collect creatures and shells from the
water. “They love playing in the sand,” says Fahrmeier.
Older campers learn more advanced sailing skills and can follow one of two tracks, a recreational track or an emphasis on racing. Eighth- grader Will Dryer is in the latter group and trains to compete in regattas.
Ed Dryer points out that his children have learned more than just how to sail. “There are so many different elements and rules of the road,” he says. “They’re also responsible for their own equipment. They have to rig their own boats and break them down when they’re finished.” In addition, he says, they learn a unique type of independence: “When you’re part of a soccer team and the team is doing well, you do well. When you’re sailing, you’re alone.”
>> TAKE IT OUTSIDE
Chris Hartlove calls Nature Camp “the camp that time forgot.” His son Emmett, 12, gets to explore the woods, hop into a canoe for a paddle, or carve things out of wood and soapstone. “I used to call it the camp without lawyers,” says Hartlove, a Baltimore-based photographer. “They run around with sharp sticks. They get wet and dirty. And the kids come home every day really, really happy.”
Emmett’s brother Win, now 15, also attended the day camp, participating in such activities for teens as a 26-mile bike ride to an organic farm, followed by a week of farm work, and a five-day hike along the Appalachian Trail.
Emmett wants to take it a step further and hopes to become a counselor. “He’d go all year long if he could,” says Hartlove.
Nature Camp, located on 230 acres of Nature Conservancy-protected land off of Big Falls Road in Monkton, was established in 1974 with the goal of providing “transformative experiential education programs,” according to Don Webb, the camp director. Kids are encouraged to choose the activities they participate in. For Hartlove’s boys and their friends, that means enterprises ranging from nature hikes to a favorite “Spying on Camp Puh’tok,” a neighboring overnight camp. Nature Camp, says Hartlove, “lets kids be kids.”
Carol deNeufville’s daughter Anna, 9, has attended Nature Camp for two summers and loves “to muck around in the woods,” says deNeufville, who works as a nurse at Maria Health Care Center. “She’s a child who loves to be wild and unstructured. She gets enough structure at school.” Anna has done time at other camps, including horseback riding camp, and at Park School, which she attends during the year. “Nature Camp is her favorite,” says her mother.
2016 Camp Resource Guide
>> TIPS ON TRIPS AND CAMPS
Contact: Eve Eifler tipsontripsandcamps.com 866-222-TIPS