It may only be March, but Emily Shane already has summer camps on her radar. She wants to make sure her 6-year-old daughter, Violet, and her 8-year-old son, Max, have a full lineup of camps during their summer break from school.
Shane’s preparation for summer break is labor intensive. She starts by plugging summer camps into an Excel spreadsheet. She determines where each child will be during the week and collects information about each camp. “It’s a lot of coordination,” she says. “There could be a different camp every week, and they may start at different times.” After the spreadsheet is complete and Shane reviews it with her husband, Whit, she presents it to Violet and Max to gauge their level of excitement for each camp. If she senses some hesitation, adjustments can be made. The spreadsheet helps her map out the various locations of the camps and their times of operation. To make it even more complicated, her son and daughter typically do not attend the same camps. “Having that Excel spreadsheet helps,” she says. “I put everything into our family calendar so we have a general sense of where we are supposed to be every Monday.”
Typically, each camp has a different focus. She tries to match her children’s interests to the camps. “Our son loves reading so he has a reading camp,” Shane says. “My daughter may go to a cooking camp. Trying to find the best program for your child’s interest is challenging.”
In previous years, Shane’s son has attended soccer, climbing, acting, reading, and outdoor camps where campers meet at different parts of the river to take part in activities such as river rock jumping and animal tracking. Max also has attended Boy Scout camp.
Violet has been to reading, cooking, pool, yoga, art, and nature camps, as well as Passages Adventure Camp. “The reality for my daughter is that she has to have another friend there to be happy. I could send her to the best camp, but if she doesn’t have a friend, she’s not happy,” Shane says.
Shane typically schedules camp every other week during summer break. Her ultimate goal is to expose her children to new experiences. “What summer camp allows us to do is a lot of different activities in a small amount of time,” she says. “It gives them an opportunity to test something out they wouldn’t have wanted to test out for the entire semester. It’s also an opportunity to get good at the things they like.”
At the end of each week, she has her children rate the camps to get a better idea of what they will participate in next summer. “I like to try to have a mix of fun things and academic things,” she says, noting that camps normally range from around $100 a week to $400 per week. “There can be inexpensive options. It just depends on your interests.”
A proponent of summer camps, Shane believes they lend structure to her children’s lives. “The kids bicker so much when they are at home and unengaged,” she says. “Camps give them a reason to wake up at the time they need to wake up. Camp is also a time to be with other people. It’s sort of like the anchor for the day. Summer can be so monotonous when it’s not structured, and we like structure.”
Learning through Camps
Summer camps today allow kids to learn about a variety of subjects, everything from cooking to operating drones. Activities at each camp vary according to the camp’s focus. Many, however, offer some type of physical activity that helps them get outdoors and exercise. A 2017 study, “Children’s Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity Attending Summer Day Camps,” published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, notes that outside of regular school, summer day camps are the largest setting where kids can be physically active. It finds that more than seventy percent of kids (ages five through twelve) at day camps are getting more than the recommended amount of sixty minutes per day of vigorous physical activity.
Children participating in camps at The Steward School have several sports and activity camp options, everything from volleyball and tennis to fishing. “We have a new mountain biking camp with Virginia Outside that we think will be popular,” says Mary Hopkins, the school’s coordinator of auxiliary programs.
The school’s afternoon adventure camp takes campers off campus to explore the city. Campers have gone to the Science Museum of Virginia, a Richmond Flying Squirrels game, and the Federal Reserve on Byrd Street in downtown Richmond. “We run that camp all summer long,” Hopkins says.
The school offers camps in four areas of interest – academics, arts, innovation, and sports. The number of camps being offered has increased since 1984 when Steward began the camp program. “This summer we have over eighty camps,” Hopkins says. “We have week-long camps June 10 through August 12. If you sign up for a full summer, it’s a financial savings overall.”
Steward offers its tried-and-true offerings, but adds new camps every year. “Our cooking camps are a big deal. We have a beautiful kitchen in the Bryan Innovation Lab,” Hopkins says. “Every summer, we add more cooking camps.”
Another popular camp involves community service. “This year we’ve added two more options for different age groups,” she says.
It’s important to have camp instructors who make learning fun, she adds. “If the instructor is excited and energized, it makes all the difference. That is why we have Steward faculty as instructors. They are excited about being here with the kids.”
The number of kids in a camp at Steward can range from about fifteen to around thirty. “It depends on the camp and the activity. Our biggest camp is our driver’s ed camp, and that can get up to thirty kids,” Hopkins says. “Our sports camps are pretty large. We limit our innovation camps – like drones – to about fifteen campers.”
For families who are curious about attending The Steward School, “coming to camp is a good way to familiarize yourself with the school and see if it’s the right school for your child,” she adds.
There are hundreds of camp offerings and combinations at St. Catherine’s School, including half-day and full-day, one-week and three-week sessions, academics, STEM, arts, athletics, and leadership. “You name it, we’ve got it,” says Lewis James, director of Brilliant Summer at the school. Even though St. Catherine’s is an all-girls college prep school during the school year, the school opens up its campus to girls and boys ages three to grade twelve for camps.
One of the most popular camp options is Design Your Day Camp. It allows kids to choose up to six special topics to create their own camp experiences. Topics range from playing the ukulele to the Hogwarts Adventure. “There’s even a Design Your Day wish list that parents and kids can review together to make their personalized selections,” James says.
The school additionally offers a variety of special interest camps where kids can dive deeper into specific passions or learn something completely new. Brilliant Summer Detective Agency is one of the newest offerings. “Kids will put their sleuthing expertise to the test to solve mock crimes around campus. They will learn forensic science techniques like ink chromatography, shoe prints, trace evidence identification, and even extract DNA from fingerprints,” James says. A new teen program, Leaders In Training, combines service to the local community with leadership development skills. Summer camp is a unique venue for growth, Lewis adds. “It allows kids to become independent and self-confident while making new friends and learning new skills.”
During the summer, the VMFA offers camps that let kids experience adventures in art, culture, and creativity. Professional artists and educators teach the museum’s week-long art camps. The West Rock Art Education Center is home base for children’s educational programs throughout the year. In the summer, it houses youth camps for ages five to twelve. “We offer camps for ages five to seventeen that are broken down into narrow age groups to provide age-appropriate lessons,” says Megan Endy, youth and family studio programs coordinator.
Teachers focus on each child’s learning styles and development, and they work with students of all ages, giving each individual attention. Camps range from drawing and painting to textiles and fashion.
VMFA summer camps offer students the chance to explore the museum’s world-renowned art collection. “They can see master artists and learn from seeing and appreciating the art,” Endy says. “They can go to the studios and be inspired and create their own works. The art history and content we provide students is like no other in Richmond. Every class will utilize our collection in one way or another.”
Student camps are located in different studios equipped with professional quality materials as well as basic materials students can use at home. Teens can choose from camps in the Pauley Center that put an emphasis on drawing, painting, sculpting, film or fashion.
Cheron Smalls of Hanover County believes her oldest daughter Kayla, fourteen, would be a good candidate for one of VMFA’s camps. “I have my eye on some of those camps,” she says. “Kayla is interested in fashion and they have camps for that.” Smalls began sending Kayla and her 11-year-old brother Christian to camps when they were in elementary school. Smalls’ youngest daughter, 4-year-old Quinn, has not started going to camps yet.
“We’ve been doing this for nine years in different capacities,” Smalls says. “The driving force behind it was that I needed childcare because I work full-time. I also wanted them to have activities and stimulation. I don’t want them to be sedentary. I want them to be outside and experience new things when they are not in school.”
Kayla and Christian have participated in a variety of camps and loved the experience, their mom says. “They have also done camps that Hanover County offers. They are close to home and extremely affordable.” The first Hanover County Parks and Recreation camp the kids participated in after moving to Ashland was impactful. “For them it was a great social experience,” Smalls says. “They got to meet kids they would be in school with in the fall.” Early on, the Smalls’ children participated in just one camp a summer, but now she plans out their weeks. “They may do a few weeks with one of the county camps and then a couple of weeks of a specialty camp that lines up with their interests,” she says.
Like Shane, Smalls tries to find camps that would interest each of her children. “For Christian, I’m thinking a LEGO or Minecraft camp,” she says. “He also likes sports, so it’s easy if the camp has sports.”
Kayla has participated in Girl Scout camp. “They did certain things that if I had asked my daughter to do them she would have said no,” Smalls says of the evening camp. “They did outside night activities. The camp showed her that she could do some things she didn’t think she could do.”
She believes Kayla has become more open-minded and willing to try different things since she’s been going to camps. “She comes home and says how much fun it was,” Smalls says. “Last year, one camp had an archery day and she was skeptical, but she really enjoyed it. The camps get them to try things they don’t try on their own.”
Smalls knows when her son has enjoyed camp. “He’s talking about it when I pick him up,” she says. “That’s my indication that our money was well spent.” And that’s something every parent likes to hear!