Whatever your child likes to do, there’s a summer camp for that
It may be difficult to think about sand castles while patches of dirty snow linger on the lawn, but now is the time to explore summer camp options, because the most coveted programs fill up fast.
“Before I had kids, I had no idea this was the time of year you had to plan for summer. . . . I mean we’re barely out of winter and we have to get our game plan together,” said Heather Jones, 39, president of the Greater Newburyport Mothers and Families Club, an organization with more than 800 members. “It’s a huge concern, what to do with the kids when they’re out of school.”
Years ago, parents sent their kids outside to play until the neighborhood street lights came on. Then it was time for dinner and a bath. Children fell asleep exhausted from the day’s Kool-Aid-fueled adventures: running through sprinklers, riding bicycles, building tree forts.
Today, most parents think they have to find programs that will keep their children safe and interested without busting the budget.
“With media and social networking, the moment something happens — whether down the street, across the country, or halfway around the world — we know about it. As a result, there’s a lot of anxiety for parents,” said Dr. Michele Casoli-Reardon, a child psychiatrist at North Shore Medical Center in Salem. “We’ve become hypervigilant, thinking things aren’t always safe for our kids, but in reality, it’s not any less safe now than it was when we were children.
“I think it’s very important for kids to have opportunities to venture out, to get some sense of autonomy without exposing them to dangerous situations.”
Many local programs strive to strike a balance between learning and play. Whether it is cooking in Newton, recording music in Haverhill, or farming in Cohasset, they offer more than the traditional summer camp experience for a week or so by appealing to the varied interests of children.
For example, Summer Discover at the Joseph P. Keefe Regional Technical School in Framingham is giving kids age 7 and up the chance to explore more than a dozen vocations — from woodworking to graphic design — while enjoying the outdoors with such games as ultimate Frisbee ($550 per two-week session).
“Our main thing is to make sure the kids have a ton of fun, get a lot of outdoor time, and stay away from TV screens and video games,” said Jeffrey Beling, 24, a Keefe Tech teacher and summer camp counselor who grew up down the street from the school and attended Summer Discover for five years.
“I loved the different shops, exploring the different areas. I made a chair one year. In culinary, I brought home food every day,” recalled Beling. “That freedom, at a young age, was really awesome. Now, as a teacher, it’s great to be a part of that, to see other kids enjoying camp the same way I did.”
In Newton, budding chefs age 7 and older can explore new cuisines in an international festival of flavor, or take a virtual road trip through the United States and delight in regional specialties at the Create a Cook school ($425 per week for half day; $625 for full-day).
North of Boston, children with a passion for working with their hands can learn to make clay pots and master the potter’s wheel at Cynthia Curtis Pottery in Rockport ($290 for a weekly class that meets eight times; ages 7 to 12).
“It’s great to be able to create something yourself,” said 12-year-old Corinna Brunning of Manchester-by-the-Sea, who has been taking classes at the Curtis studio for five years. The lessons have “given her a feel for how things are built and made,” added Brunning’s mom, Michelle Pelletier.
“For a child who’s artsy, it’s a good outlet,” Pelletier said. “They’re not only working on the wheel, they’re also working on hand building and learning how to dip the glaze.”
Others can write and record their own music, build machines and mechanisms, or explore the chemistry behind spa products at STEM College for Kids, held at Northern Essex Community College’s Haverhill campus ($220 for a full week of classes, ages 9 to 14).
The Whistler House Museum of Art in Lowell lets children as young as 10 get creative in several media during its Youth Summer Art Program ($165 per week).
Now in its second summer, the program pairs hands-on classes in drawing, painting, sculpture, and printmaking with lessons in art history. At the culmination of the four-week camp, the youngsters’ works will be displayed at the museum’s Parker Gallery.
“The students get the feel of what it is like to exhibit their works in a contemporary gallery and museum,” said Sara M. Bogosian, the museum’s president and executive director.
South Shore children as young as 3 who like getting their hands dirty can dig in at Holly Hill Farm in Cohasset ($200 per week and up). The youngsters “have a chance to be involved in the growing process and organic food movement,” said Jon Belber, the farm’s education director, noting that farm favorites include playing with worms while learning about compost, and creating art with plants and other objects found in nature.
At the South Shore Natural Science Center in Norwell, campers 3 and up dabble in oceanography, geology, and biology.
Children develop an appreciation for the natural world while exploring various habitats, from woodlands and ponds to meadows and the shore. (Half-day programs start at $100 per week; full day at $290.)
No matter the program, organizers said, parents should register early. Even if a camp is filled, there are always cancellations. Jo Horner, proprietor of Create a Cook, advises parents to “get on the waiting list.”
Finding the right camp
MassCamps lists day and overnight camps in an online directory organized to help families “zero in” on the types of summer programs offered throughout New England. In Massachusetts alone, the site shows 324 day and 70 overnight camps. Go to www.masscamps.com.
The American Camp Association accredits 2,400 overnight and day camps, including 145 in Massachusetts. They can be found on the organization’s searchable camp database at www.acacamps.org/findacamp.