In the sixth grade, Maggie Small already knew she liked ballet, but she turned a corner at the Minds in Motion program run at her school by Richmond Ballet, which helped reinforce her love for the classical dance.
She's now a third-year member of the ballet company, featured in a Schubert pas de deux and as The Nutcracker's Snow Queen — a few years after starring as Clara. Ballerinas are only one of many dream professions that children spout out when asked what they want to be when they grow up.
A few, like Small, get to take on their childhood fantasies in the grown-up world, but, in the meantime, the region harbors a wide variety of programs and camps for children with special professional interests. Some maintain a fun, camp-like atmosphere, while others are of a more serious nature.
Science/Air and Space
For children looking to uncover the physical mysteries of the universe, the Science Museum of Virginia offers a variety of programs allowing young scientists to interact, experiment and learn a thing or two away from home and school.
At the museum, children can search the horizons and learn about constellations with members of the Richmond Astronomical Society in the Sky Watch program, or sleuth their way through crimes using forensic science at overnight Camp-Ins.
The museum also will come to local public schools through the Science Connections program, which introduces kids to the fields of optical physics, mineralogy, geology, evolutionary biology, ecology and cytology. Fifth-graders at Blackwell Elementary School on Richmond's South Side participate in the 10-week Science Connections program and, with Science Museum staff, engage in activities such as creating a periscope, a model of the ocean floor, a prism and a statically charged glass rod. "We made a cell with green goop and a marble," says Henry Taylor, one of the fifth-graders.
"This is the part of school that we really enjoy because it takes us beyond the mundane things, like getting prepared for this test or that test," notes principal Conrad Davis.
Sky Watch is a free program for all ages. Camp-Ins are for grades 1 to 6 and cost $45 per child. An adult chaperone must attend for $20 and can chaperone up to four children. Additional adults must pay the full $45. The Science Connections program is coordinated between the Science Museum of Virginia and Richmond Public Schools. For more information about these and other programs, contact the Science Museum of Virginia (864-1400 or smv.org).
The Virginia Aviation Museum offers a few programs that can help children determine whether they have the right stuff for a career in air and space flight. Introduction to Aviation, a one-day program, shows kids ages 10 to 17 the fundamentals of operating an aircraft, while satisfying requirements for the Boy Scout Aviation merit badge. Out of Sight Flight is a similar program geared toward Girl Scouts in which girls will test-fly paper airplanes and learn a little about great female flyers. Two other programs offered at the museum are Weather Watch for Girl Scouts and Introduction to Weather, the Boy Scout equivalent.
The Introduction to Aviation program costs $35 per child, $25 for museum members. Introduction to Weather, Weather Watch and Out of Sight Flight are all $15 per child. For more information about these and other programs, contact the Virginia Aviation Museum (236-3622 or vam.smv.org).
For kids who just cannot help but play doctor, Virginia Commonwealth University provides a great atmosphere to do so in a productive and educational fashion. Summer Enrichment Day Camps walk fourth- through sixth-graders through multiple health-care professions, including doctor, nurse, dentist, pharmacist, occupational therapist and physical therapist.
One program, A Week in Scrubs, allows middle schoolers the opportunity to visit an operating room, an emergency room and even the neonatal intensive-care unit.
High-school students also have the chance to volunteer, shadow health-care professionals and gain hands-on experience through programs such as VCUME Junior Volunteers, Project ACEe, Project Inquisitive Minds and the Dental Careers Exploration Program.
The Summer Enrichment Day Camp runs from June 22 to July 17 and costs $75 per week over four weeks, and A Week in Scrubs costs $205 per child. For more information, contact VCU (828-9782 or vcuhealthsciences.vcu.edu/sassdss).
The Richmond SPCA will begin its sixth year of Critter Camp this summer. Here, children ages 6 to 10 spend half days for one week learning about cats, dogs, pet adoptions, animal training and medical care. Activities include arts and crafts, games, animal-safety training, skits on animal care performed for parents on the final day of camp, and, of course, lots of love for the critters.
Twenty children are permitted per sessions, with 14 sessions running from late June to late August. Morning and afternoon sessions cost $165 per child. For more information about Critter Camp, contact the Richmond SPCA (643-6785 or richmondspca.org).
The art of dance has long fascinated and mesmerized children. The popularity of the Richmond Ballet's annual performance of The Nutcracker proves that. The troupe's Minds in Motion program gives fourth-graders at 22 local schools an opportunity to someday reach that stage with the help of professional teaching artists. Modeled after the work of Jacques d'Amboise, Minds in Motion uses everyday performance movements to the accompaniment of music.
Brett Bonda, the Minds in Motion director, says, "We have so many kids who continued their dance training because of it." Maggie Small, who participated in Minds in Motion at the Richmond Montessori School, says that the performance experience gained through the program and its corresponding curriculums was important to her.
Students showing great potential in dance can audition for Team XL and, later, Team XXL for a continuation of skills learned in Minds in Motion. "I want to be a professional dancer," Trayonna Wallace, a 12-year-old member of Team XXL, says. "I think it's very important that we have to do teamwork."
For further information about Minds in Motion, Team XL or Team XXL, contact the Richmond Ballet (344-0906 or richmondballet.com).
If peanut butter and jelly just is not challenging anymore, check out the children's culinary classes and camps at Sur La Table at Stony Point Fashion Park. Classes for children occur every month while camps are in session during school breaks. Camps are split into age groups of 8 to 12 and 13 to 17. Themes for the camps and classes range from baking and pasta to Chinese and French cuisine (inspired by the film Ratatouille).
Eleven-year-old Olivia Marino, whose mother, Wendy, is a sales associate at Sur La Table, has taken a handful of classes with cooking program coordinator Lee Chaharyn and other instructors at the store. Her favorite dish she learned was a cheese ravioli with tomato sauce recipe. "I wanted to make it for my birthday dinner," Marino says.
Individual classes for children cost $45 per child, and two-day camps cost $90. The price for this summer's weeklong camps has not yet been released. For more information about cooking classes and camps, contact Sur La Table (272-7094 or surlatable.com).
The Richmond Police Department offers opportunities for exposure to crime fighting for children as young as middle school. Youths ages 14 to 20 who show interest in joining the police force may look into the Police Explorers program. Richmond's Explorer Post 610 meets every other Tuesday night at the Richmond Police Academy and covers different topics each meeting, including K9 work, forensics, the duties of a mounted police officer and traffic signaling. Explorers also take trips, such as a recent visit to the FBI Academy in Quantico.
They also have helped the police with crowd control at large events. "We get them out in the field," says Officer Perry Barber.
If they so choose, Explorers ages 18 and older will have a smooth transition into the Cadet program at the Richmond Police Academy; completion of the Cadet program results in acceptance into the police force.
The Explorers program holds an open house in late September at the Richmond Police Academy. Contact the Richmond Police Department (646-5100 or ci.richmond.va.us/police).