Stereotypical visions of summer camps usually involve either macramé and canoeing or staging Bible story reenactments. In reality, however, there exists just as many thoroughly awesome opportunities for bored, vacationing students as one can imagine. Parents hoping Little Buffy and Junior actually learn something during the long summer months have plenty of local, national and international options to keep their growing minds stimulated. Plenty of seriously cool overnight and day camps exist beyond the ones listed here, of course. But these 10 represent some of the more devoted, intensive and regarded academic programs in America — not to mention serve as a cross-section of what might be available on a comparatively more micro level.
This famous program from Huntsville, AL, allows campers to experience an astronaut’s life without ever leaving the atmosphere. Participants between the ages of 9 and 11 choose one of three different tracks — aviation, space or robotics — with different programming to pique their unique interests. Depending on which path they take, kids can experience Shuttle, astronaut, Mars and jet fighter simulations, survival lessons, history classes, science experiments, a Lego robotics competition and more. Regardless of whether or not they enter into a related science or technology field later in life, they all walk away from Space Camp with a valuable, hands-on education.
Although the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Colorado offers programming for tweens as well, their high school camp stands out as especially exciting. For one whole week, campers work alongside professional archaeologists and receive hands-on lessons about the Pueblo peoples of the American Southwest. Excavations sites vary from year to year, of course, but all participants spend one day at the World Heritage Site of Mesa Verde National Park. And, of course, enjoy the unique opportunity to actually work both in the field and the lab for a comprehensive glimpse at what archaeologists do every day.
Kids between the ages of 10 and 12 with a particular affinity for sea mammals might want to visit Milwaukee’s Oceans of Fun in Wisconsin for a week. Their camps bring participants face-to-face with sea lions and their trainers, offering up some incredibly valuable — and hands-on! — lessons in a variety of biological fields. Along with the basics of animal training, programming also teaches the importance of ecology, conservation, environmentalism and other strategies for keeping the planet safe and healthy. For the shy or financially-strapped, 90-minute options bringing kids up close and personal with a couple of friendly sea lions are available as well.
For parents who think Buffy and Junior spend a little too much time on the Xbox, these eclectic camps challenge them to channel that energy into something both educational and engaging. Junior high and high schoolers alike have a bevy of amazing options at their disposal, all of them involving computers and technology. No matter their skill level, they can choose from different courses involving game design, programming and robotics, 3D game modeling, graphic and digital art, video editing and digital photography and sports technology. iD Tech Camps are available in several different states and major American cities, hosted by various colleges and universities — most participants won’t have to travel nearly as far as they would for some of the other programs listed here.
Budding linguistics buffs choose from day or immersion camps helping them bolster their skills in Farsi, German, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Arabic, Russian, Italian or Japanese. Open to anyone between the ages of 3 and 18, the Colorado International School offers a number of different options depending on a participant’s interest, budget and desire to stay overnight (in the Rocky Mountains, no less!) or only the day. No matter which route they ultimately take, though, the programming involves an intense lesson plan in more than just languages. Along with grammar and vocabulary, kids also learn about accompanying cultures, with comprehensive discussions of art, athletics, food and pretty much everything else one can imagine.
Missouri-based couple Scott and Lori Martin own “the only overnight animal camp in the country,” with a USDA-licensed zoo of more than 300 specimens from over 100 species. Participants ages 7 to 17 enjoy activities involving an impressively broad selection of both scientific and artistic subjects. But the real attraction, as one can easily imagine, involves its devotion to promoting a better awareness of animal behavior and conservation. Whether through overnight or daytime camps, Cub Creek kids gain firsthand experience in everything from veterinary medicine to safaris in the Ozark wilderness. Among a plethora of other things, of course.
The TIC Summer Camp program stimulates mind and body alike through its unique curriculum. Depending on their age group, campers enjoy three hours of either technology or sports training in the morning, with the reverse following lunch break. Open to anyone between 7 and 16, sessions occur in northwest Washington, D.C., McLean, Virginia and Bethesda, Maryland. The tech portion involves one option per session so kids can better focus their energy on completing one intensive project. Digital art and music, computer programming, robotics, animation, filmmaking and web design are all offered. When it comes to the sporting portion, they choose from basketball, soccer, volleyball, capture the flag, dance, gymnastics, “crazy games,” softball, flag football, team handball, ultimate frisbee and street hockey. Younger participants (ages 7 through 10) enjoy a nice variety of physical activities, while their older peers must choose one per hour per day. Extra services and programs in drama and tennis are available for additional costs, save for the free shuttles to and from courts.
Various colleges and Universities throughout the United States host this impressive, oft-lauded summer camp every year, so parents need to check and see which nine are available before determining feasibility. Available as a 10-day program for high schoolers and a week-long counterpart for the junior high crowd, Supercamp’s intensive schedule provides them with valuable professional, academic and life skills. Through a diverse selection of courses, they walk away from the experience with improved grades, self-esteem, motivation and confidence — all essential components of permanent academic success.
Bay Area students (as well as those willing and able to make the trip) flock to San Jose to strengthen their writing and journalism skills with the Lekha Publishers Summer Camp. Using the Lekha Method, which focuses on improvement through quantifiable components, participants choose between critical and creative writing paths. No matter which one they choose, however, all campers end up exploring a wide range of different styles — from poetry to drama to journalism to prose (and everything in between). By the end of the program, they should walk away with a lovely little portfolio in which they should take considerable pride.
Pretty much all of University of Pennsylvania’s Julian Krinsky Camps and Programs are worth exploring, with a nice variety of programming for junior high and high schoolers alike. Among the seriously cool offerings is this four-week camp, where participants select a creative “major” and “minor” (save for architecture, which encompasses both). Digital and traditional studio arts are both represented, with all the perks, resources and even field trips of a college-level class without the hassle of grades. To enhance the experience, students even stay in dorms and interact with RAs and other undergraduates. This is the perfect program for any high school kid considering an art or architecture degree, as they’ll learn firsthand exactly what to expect. Although one would hope UPenn includes “How to Handle being the First Department to Receive Budget Cuts” on the syllabus. Because that’s the one thing every art major is going to have to deal with at some point.