Jenny Caskey of Fairfax Station, Va., never worries that her 13-year-old daughter, Taylor, will be bored at Camp Horizons in Harrisonburg. She chose the traditional-style camp because it exposed Taylor to a wide variety of activities. "We liked that she could do a high-ropes course in the morning and then perform in a play or direct a movie in the afternoon," Caskey says.
Anita Dunn of Chevy Chase, Md., whose 16-year-old son, Stephen, also attends Camp Horizons, is of the same mindset when it comes to choosing a traditional camp experience. "Stephen has developed new interests and has been exposed to many things [because of camp]," she says.
While many parents like Caskey and Dunn opt to send their children to a traditional camp, others such as Margaret Reynolds of Richmond prefer their children attend a specialty camp that gives them the opportunity to explore an activity or interest in-depth. Reynolds' 14-year-old son, Jess, has been attending one of the specialty camps at the School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community (SPARC) for eight years. "My son has enjoyed the writing aspect as much as the acting, singing and dancing," she says, noting that he has made lasting friendships at the camp.
SPARC was also the right fit for Carolee Duncan's 13-year-old granddaughter, Emily. "She loves every minute of it," Duncan says.
Camps, whether they are traditional or specialized, are realizing that campers today have different needs and wants than they did in the past. "The majority of camps are still traditional, but at the same time, camps are changing to try to be more responsive to the desire of kids to specialize in things," says Diane Tyrrell, vice president for public awareness for the American Camp Association in the states of Virginia and West Virginia and camp director for Camp Motorsports in Alton, Va. "Camps are trying to meet the diverse needs of kids today."
"We introduce the younger campers to everything," says Kim Betts, director of administration at Camp Horizons, which has campers ages 6 through 17. "As campers get older, they get more choices."
The residential camp offers a wide variety of activities. "We try to make sure that kids, not mom and dad, are choosing their own activities," Betts says.
Camps such as YMCA Camp Thunderbird in Chesterfield offer both day and overnight experiences for campers. "We are here to develop the whole person," says Dave Hennessey, camping-services director. Campers can choose from one- or two-week sessions, or they can attend camp throughout the summer and participate in a variety of activities, including archery, zip lines, swimming, and arts and crafts.
Many children who want to focus solely on the performing arts attend one of SPARC's summer camps, which range from Sparclers Junior for rising kindergarteners and first-graders to Advanced Bravo for rising eighth- through 11th-graders. "It gives kids the chance to do something they are passionate about," says executive director Ryan Ripperton. "They learn how to be confident on stage, how to introduce themselves to people and how to build comprehensive thought."
The camps serve a wide variety of schools and geographic areas. "[Campers] learn to interact with new people, and they get a lot out of that," Ripperton says.
Children from across the nation who are interested in music and musical theater travel to Richmond to attend one of seven camps at Summer Music Institutes. Camps focus on harp, chamber music, guitar, choir, piano, music exploration and musical theater, and most offer beginner, intermediate and advanced instruction. "We have over 100 students that come every summer," says founder Lynnelle Ediger-Kordzaia. "Our institutes provide a rich opportunity for students to advance musically in a way they are not able to do in another setting."
The Harp Institute, the oldest camp in the program, offers a five-week session with one week in Europe. All of the other camps offer one-week sessions. "We attract faculty from leading conservatories and schools of music," Ediger-Kordzaia says, noting that this summer, guest faculty includes the former principal harpist of the New York Philharmonic.
Youth interested in sports have several options, including Camp Motorsports in Alton, Va., where there is a focus on everything from safe driving to physics and aerodynamics. The coed residential camp offers one- and two-week sessions for youth ages 9 through 16. "We take kids at all levels," says Tyrrell, who serves as camp director. "All of our instruction is individualized based on skills that need to be developed."
At St. Joseph's Villa, the school's Day Support Program offers a specialty summer camp for children with developmental disabilities, including autism and cerebral palsy. Camp activities include music programs, swimming, movies, miniature golf and painting. Each week carries a different theme. "The traditional opening week is a Luau theme where we welcome them Hawaiian-style," says Bruce Cauthen, vice president of public relations.
The camp also holds special events such as Villa Idols, during which the children can perform songs. "Our goal is to have as much participation as possible," says Cauthen, who also finds that the children enjoy field trips. "We try to get our kids to have as much of a summer-camp experience as they can have. The kids enjoy it a lot."
While they may offer different activities, both traditional camps and specialized camps help children become more self-confident.
Camp also helps children develop life skills that will help them in the future. "The value of the experience comes back to kids having real life social interactions," says Tyrrell, "learning how to make friends and learning about cooperation."