Unconventional Camp Ideas

Unconventional Camp Ideas

Suggestions for parents still searching for summer activities

Lauralie Kennedy has been knee-deep in frantic online searches. School ends next month and the Alexandria mother has yet to enroll her 6-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter in summer camp.

“I just haven’t put together a plan yet,” she said. “I have a spread sheet with all of the things I’d like for them to do, but I haven’t done anything with it. I am hoping that there will be slots open somewhere.”

As the start of summer vacation draws near, many parents like Kennedy are scrambling to make warm-weather preparations for their children.

While availability at some traditional day camps may be limited, there are other options available to families. From crime-fighting detective work to innovative scientific discoveries, the region has a myriad of in depth summer experiences that may not be found in typical programs.

“The knowledge you gain in a traditional day camp is not as hands-on as it is in a specialty camp, which are a lot more in depth,” said Anne Christensen of the Potomac Horse Center in Potomac, Md. “For example, there are traditional camps that have a riding program, but if you really want to learn about horses, you will learn more at a horseback riding camps.”

According to Christensen, campers at horseback riding camps such as the Potomac Horse Center get two riding lessons each day. Campers learn all things equestrian, including horse anatomy, grooming and breeding. “You also learn ring etiquette. We play games,” she said. “It’s an overall introduction to the horse world.”

Animal lovers and future veterinarians might enjoy spending the summer at a camp run by a local animal shelter. “Camp sessions cover animal welfare and sheltering, careers with animals, local wildlife [and] positive reinforcement training,” said Lindsay Halgerson, youth volunteer coordinator for the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria.

“The knowledge you gain in a traditional day camp is not as handson as it is in a specialty camp.”— Anne Christensen, Potomac Horse Center

FUTURE DETECTIVES can spend the summer solving crimes at CSI Detective Camp at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes SummerTimes Camp in Alexandria, where campers use their intuition and scientific skills as they examine crime scene evidence. They learn crime-solving methods such as hair, fingerprint and fiber analysis.

“To help children with their academic skills over the summer, we also have a Lower School Academic Enrichment program … focusing on math, reading and writing,” said Susan DeLaurentis, director of counseling at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School in Alexandria.

Whether it is robotics and soccer, web design and basketball or film making and street hockey, athletes who are also tech-enthusiasts might enjoy a camp that allows them to meld both passions.

“We offer a half day of sports and a half day of technology,” said Emily Riedel of TIC Summer Camp in McLean. “I think we have really well-rounded children. The camp is stimulating for them both mentally and physically. We’re feeding the body and the mind.”

Children with a penchant for science can spend the summer mixing liquids to discover chemical reactions, build rockets and robots and undertake other scientific adventures at Mad Science summer camps all over Northern Virginia and Potomac. “Students learn about science concepts and put them into practice,” said Monique McMillan-Jackson, director of summer programs for St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, which is offering a Mad Science camp.

A community service camp could be a good fit for children interested in social justice issues. “Students are educated on issues of social justice and then go to a food bank or a senior center and spend time with seniors, for example,” said McMillan-Jackson.

IF A PARENT SUSPECTS that their child is the next Jacques Pépin, a cooking camp might offer summer fun. “Each week we have different themes,” said Anna Reeves of Tiny Chefs with camps in Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Oakton and McLean. “Amazing Asian, Mexican Fiesta, Nutrition Sleuths. We have more time with the children so the camps are relaxed. We make five to six recipes a day in the full day camp and two or three in the half-day camps.”

Andrea Nelson of Creative Kids Kitchen in Arlington said, “The kids always seem to have a lot of fun learning new cooking techniques and recipes. We make a ton of food, enough for each camper to bring food home every day for their families. I think the parents appreciate having the week off from cooking dinner too. I'm totally looking forward to the summer.”

Melissa McGowan of Culinaria Cooking School in Vienna says culinary camps often build camaraderie. “Campers learn how to work in groups. Each day the instructors show the students different skills and techniques,” she said. “It builds confidence, especially for the younger kids. And it will make them healthier adults because they will learn how to cook for themselves and not rely on fast food or junk food.”