A nine-month school year leaves little time for children to develop their passions outside of the classroom. A week of summer camp can help fill in that gap. But how many kids have a chance to play sports, cook or take a hike all in the same place?
A variety of summer camps that serve the Washington area offers a range of activities for campers to discover abilities and interests that had not yet been realized.
Ramah Day Camp of Greater Washington, located in Germantown allows kids to take three electives per week in addition to mandatory swimming and Jewish educational activities like Israeli music and dance. The electives feature every type of activity from candle-making to cooking to robotics and engineering.
“We want kids from any age to explore their interests and passions in a more in-depth way,” said the Conservative camp’s director, Rabbi Rami Schwartzer.
Schwartzer said Ramah also offers 10 sports, which include both individual and team sports. The goal, he said, is to keep the games friendly but competitive enough so that campers with different levels of athletic ability feel included.
“Part of the magic of camp is to try things you wouldn’t have thought of before,” he said. “We have kids who aren’t very competitive but have a chance to try skill building in different kinds of sports in a friendly environment.”
That same philosophy of “try everything” applies at Coppermine Fieldhouse — a Baltimore sports camp that offers both summer camps and year-round classes in soccer, lacrosse, baseball, football, gymnastics, dance, tennis and squash.
Founder Alex Jacobs started Coppermine Fieldhouse in 2011 as a program that would organize multiple sports under one roof so that parents would not have to transport their kids to multiple places around the city for clinics in different sports during the year. Jacobs said this setup gives him an advantage, in that campers who sign up for multiple weeks can develop a passion for a new sport.
“When they come into our facilities, they might have come in for soccer or gymnastics, and then they want to try lacrosse,” he said. “We encourage kids under the age of 12 to try as many sports as possible, and then after that they can get more specialized.”
Coppermine Fieldhouse’s summer camps also include activities other than competitive sports, such as sailing and nature exploration. The “Kaleidoscope” camp includes rock climbing and archery as part of its lineup. Jacobs said many families send their kids to as many as nine different weekly camps each summer because of the confidence they have in the camp staff.
“They trust the counselors that are running those programs for them,” he said. “Their child may have done Kaleidoscope camp and the kids know their coaches from adventure camps, so they’ll break out of their comfort zone and say, ‘I’m going to try that,’” he said.
On the campus of Friends School of Baltimore, it is not uncommon for normally athletically minded campers to spend a week in drama camp after a week of football. Assistant Camp Director Steve Cusick said Summer at Friends offers 15 different day camps for kids between the ages of 4 and 13, which are offered in one-week, two-week and four-week chunks. The camp offers everything from a literary-inspired cooking classes to “Robots and Rockets,” where the campers build models out of Legos.
“The camp experience is so great because campers can come in and try something they didn’t do during the school year,” Cusick said. “It’s learning without the kids realizing they’re learning. It’s very hands-on.”
Cusick was a camper at Friends starting at the age of 4 and remembers participating in the soccer camp before transitioning to Robots and Rockets. Ultimately he fell in love with the camp so much that he never left, and is still working there at age 26.
He said that even though many camps only last one week, campers often attend multiple programs, such as the sports camp, which five different sports in as many weeks.
But in some cases it is the wisdom of the parents that keeps the kids coming back year after year.
“Mom kind of twisted their arm into trying the camp and then they come back and keep doing different levels of it,” Cusick said.
Campers between the ages of 6 and 13 who attend the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s summer day camp have the opportunity to practice every skill from martial arts to tennis. Camp administrator Gary Wohlstetter said participants rotate activities throughout the day, which include dance, fitness and two swimming sessions.
“We try to expose the campers to new activities and experiences that in the community they were not able to be exposed to,” Wohlstetter said. “Someone who said, ‘Gee I didn’t know I liked dance’ ends up being there for multiple weeks.”