If your idea of summer camp is limited to getting out of the city, telling stories around campfires, singing camp songs and spending time in the great outdoors, think again.
Of course, such traditional camp experiences still exist and are loved by kids every summer, but these days there also are camps for things like the physics of superheroes, filmmaking, computer coding, martial arts and flying trapeze.
Specialized summer camps have become a popular way for kids to spend their months of freedom learning a new skill, discovering a passion, mastering a hobby or even beginning to build a résumé.
Katie Kimball, owner of Twin Cities Trapeze Center, said that as a parent, she seeks out a variety of new experiences for her son during the summer.
“I’m always looking for something for him to do that he doesn’t get to do other times,” she said. “It’s fun to explore something crazy that maybe you never thought you’d like.”
She said that the trapeze center’s camps serve this purpose, calling it a fun, “run away and join the circus week.”
With specialty camps that last between a few days and a week, kids have the opportunity to attend multiple programs focusing on a variety of topics over the summer.
Anna Larsson, a mother of two, said that because she and her husband both work, letting their kids try these specialized camps was the perfect option for the summer. One of their favorite programs is via Articulture, which provides arts experiences through classes that combine learning about the creative and artistic process with hands-on activities involving cooking, animal science and nature in the city.
“We liked the idea of giving our kids in-depth, immersive experiences in a variety of different things,” Larsson said, referring to science, arts and technology camps her kids have attended in the past. “By choosing specialized camps, it really gives the kids a chance to sink in and dig their teeth into something new.”
For 13-year-old Elsa Reilly, trying something new meant going to a Flying Colors Trapeze camp last summer. The facility offers a range of circus and trapeze camps. Because she’s a competitive swimmer, Reilly didn’t have time to sign up for a regular gymnastics or acrobatics class. The three-day trapeze camp gave her a chance to explore this hobby.
“I only mainly do swimming, but I took the time off for this, and it was totally worth it,” Reilly said. “It was super-fun, and it was nice to do something different for a change.”
The founder of Flying Colors Trapeze, Sherri Mann, said that empowerment in the face of a bit of fear is one of the integral values taught to kids through the summer camp programs.
“I think because we’re doing so many different things, they’re really getting to learn about themselves,” she said. “They get to see what they’re capable of.”
Providing campers with adventures is part of what gives specialized camp programs their appeal, agreed Jessica Haverstock, director of the Lake Minnetonka Sailing School. The “adventure” begins with doing something that differs from their normal lives. At the beginning of each day at the sailing school, for instance, campers board a pontoon boat that takes them to an island where all of the sailing classes and activities take place.
Graham Pierce, 10, has been to the sailing school summer camp programs since he was 5. Even though he said that sailing can be a little scary on windy days, he now can sail on his own, and he plans to continue to go to camp.
“It’s interesting to learn, and it’s fun to be on the water. And the island is nice,” Pierce said.
Beyond the fun and excitement that comes with experiencing new things, some specialized camps provide direction for campers’ futures.
Every summer since 2011, high school and college students have participated in the World Without Genocide Summer Institute to learn about ways they can take action against mass atrocities.
“The students who come to us have a real commitment to human rights,” said Ellen Kennedy, executive director of World Without Genocide. “They could be playing tennis, hanging out on the beach, going out with friends … but these are students who are really unique. They have a real concern for social justice.”
Jarret Fisher was a participant in the summer institute right after she graduated from college. She wants to be an international human rights lawyer, specifically a prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, and said her experience at the summer institute was unique and inspirational.
She said that high schoolers benefit from the program because of the great preparation it gives for college and their future careers.
“It definitely opens up your eyes to a potential career track,” Fisher said. Many alumni of the institute end up pursuing careers focused around fighting for justice.
Right on key
Tatum Schoeppler, 13, also found her passion and the career she hopes to pursue through a specialized summer camp. She’s a musician in Eden Prairie’s School of Rock.
Schoeppler began in the programs three years ago and went on the summer tour program in 2016 and 2017. This summer, she’ll hop on a bus with students from Eden Prairie, Australia and Winnipeg on a tour that will go to Houston and back. The 16-day trip will include 14 performances in 12 cities and will conclude with performances at Summerfest in Milwaukee.
“They teach you what it’s like to be a real musician,” Schoeppler said. “It’s such a great experience.”
Memorable experiences are truly what summer camp has always been about. Stacey Marmolejo, the owner of Eden Prairie School of Rock, said that specialized summer programs parallel the desire for specialized schools and accompany other longer-term programs well.
“These specialized camps provide the perfect opportunity for kids to explore what they think might be a passion, without having to make a six-month commitment to something. I think that’s why these specialized camps resonate with parents,” Marmolejo said.
“The great thing about being a child is you get to explore the world. That’s the beauty of being a kid — we get to try all these things in life to see what we love.”
Lauren Otto is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.