Summertime – Few words invoke more happiness in an American child’s heart. Kids love the summer. After nine months of structured learning, being told how to sit and when to speak, kids look forward to a fun respite from their school day routines. Popular since the 1880’s and now embedded in American culture, camps arose as a consequence of newly enacted laws that eradicated school in the unbearably hot days of summer. Parents with extra money to spend on their children’s entertainment looked for a productive and structured environment in which their children could return to a more natural setting. Although recently some U.S. school districts have attempted to return to a year round school system, the vast majority of states require approximately 180 days of school per year, which leaves plenty of time for camp diversions.
Today, summer camps offer a tremendous variety of activity for families who can afford them. If you are a student looking to spend your summer in the U.S. the way young American students do, you’ll need to put down your books and get ready to be an American camper. It’s a fun and efficient way to improve your comprehension and verbal fluency through complete immersion into the American language and culture. What is the allure of camps for kids, and what are campers doing during their days?
From wilderness training to drama camp to cooking camp to swim camp, children can choose from an encyclopedia of summer experiences that suit their passions. While many camps now specialize to suit specific interests, the traditional day camp remains incredibly popular and offers a variety of activities in a camper’s day and week. Typically, campers at a traditional day camp range in age from 4 to 13. Camps modify the intensity and challenge of its activities depending upon age. At Mohawk Day Camp in Westchester, New York, kids are divided into three different divisions: a “Little Camp” for ages 3 to 5, a “Middle Camp” for campers aged 6 to 8, and a “Senior Camp” for children 9 to 13. Kids have an opportunity to experience activities that they otherwise wouldn’t or couldn’t try during the year. At Camp Olympia in Rockville, Maryland, a typical day for the 8 and 9 year olds starts with swimming, followed by an instructional sport (which ranges from gymnastics to tennis), then lunch, free swim, horseback riding, and finally a team sport (like flag football or soccer). Children 5 and under have pony rides on their schedules daily.
Some traditional day camps allow campers the freedom to choose many of their activities. At Coutts Day Camp in East Charleston, Vermont, campers select the activities they would like to do on a daily basis, including bike track, canoeing, woodworking and theatre. Through this ability to choose their own opportunities, kids can take chances and open themselves to new interests. As stated in Elmwood Day Camp’s on-line brochure, “being exposed to new activities and taking safe risks is what allows children to develop a passion.” In addition to a laundry list of electives, Elmwood brings in outside experts to teach Karate, Magic, and Drumming.
To add to the fun, camps offer special themes for each week of summer, giving every week a separate holiday-like feeling. At Rancho Solano Day Camp in Scottsdale, Arizona, three to six year olds start their first week of camp with a beach party theme, have a Star Wars Padawan Academy Adventure by the third week and on the last week enjoy a deep sea exploration. In addition to these weekly themes, camps will mix in “special days” throughout the summer including days like “Wacky Wednesday” when kids and counselors dress in crazy, mismatched outfits, and Super Hero and Villain Day, when campers and staff arrive at camp costumed as their favorite heroes and villains.
Lunches are included at many day camps, and some camps take pride in serving kid-friendly, healthy gourmet cuisine. A typical lunch can be chicken or cheese quesadillas with Spanish rice and steamed corn or pasta bar with steamed broccoli and Caesar salad. Of course, for choosier campers, they offer daily staples including bagels and cream cheese, cheese sandwiches, yogurt, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. Because many children suffer from nut and peanut allergies, many day camps are either nut and peanut free or nut and peanut aware.
Day camps can also offer off-site trips. At the Bullis Bulldog day camp in Potomac Maryland, weekly field trips include adventures to the National Zoo, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Butler’s Orchard and Adventure Park USA. At Kenwood Summer Day Camp, kids look forward to outings to amusement parks, water parks, mini-golf courses, and laser tag.
While some day camps can be incredibly expensive –- Eight weeks of Buckley Day Camp in Long Island costs $7995 — there are many throughout the country that provide a fun, safe environment for children without the prohibitive cost. At the Stuart YMCA in Florida, weekly tuition for camp is a much more reasonably priced $125 for non-members.
With so many options for the summer, camp can be a wonderful time of exploration, relaxation and fun for your camper.