Rethinking Summer Camp

By Carolyn Richardson

Seek out options that create a stronger sense of self.

Summer Camp 2016

Kidspace Children’s Museum offers camps with structure and open-play opportunities. PHOTO BY ZEKE RUELAS

In choosing a summer camp, hours, location and schedules matter, but if you dig deeper, you can book a camp experience that gives your child more than just a place to hang out. While a good amount of the school year has likely been focused on achievement, fitting in, doing what everyone else is doing and being a “good” student, summer camp is a chance to go beyond your child’s ability to make the grade and explore how to bring the best of what’s inside out.

An Independent Streak

Whether your kids are entering kindergarten or you’re knee-deep in middle school anxiety, independence is something you want for them, but it is hard to teach. Because parents can find it tough to step away, most children can benefit from a little freedom in their summer camp experience.

“Parents want a camp that allows them to make the transition from preschooler to elementary student,” says Brooke Applegate, education manager at Kidspace Children’s Museum in Pasadena. “Camps that allow for some structure, but a lot of open play opportunities, like ours, are ideal for children at this age.” Kidspace’s summer camp focuses on a different theme each week, including “Amazing Animals,” which can help lessen kids’ fear of animals such as snakes and Madagascar hissing cockroaches.

Independence means testing boundaries, but also learning safety skills, at Aloha Beach Camp in Zuma Beach and Paradise Cove. The goal is to allow campers ages 4-14 to become familiar with the ocean while having fun. “Many kids in our Keiki Camp [for ages 4-7] are not familiar with playing in the ocean environment,” says owner Eric Naftulin. “We teach them how to be independent, but also how to be safe and get along with others. They may have some separation anxiety, but we compare that to learning how to just jump right in and get wet. A week goes by, and they are learning how to surf.”

Summer Camp 2016

A group of Pali campers enjoy a thrilling ride on the triple swing. PHOTO COURTESY PALI ADVENTURES

For older kids ready to strike out on their own, either by your leading or their own account, overnight camp is a possibility. Pali Adventures, in Running Springs in San Bernardino County, is an electronics-free camp that rarely allows campers outside contact during their week-long stay. Pali Campers ages 8-16 choose from 21 programs – including Motorsports and Flying Trapeze – as well as more than 70 enrichment activities. That might seem like too many choices, but Assistant Director Brian “Baloo” Babauta, says it’s supposed to be challenging at Pali Adventures.

“So many kids are isolating themselves when they’re home. Here, they are going to be held accountable for their choices and they’re really going to have social interactions without a cell phone, email or anything,” he says, adding that the disconnection from the familiar and the freedom of choice helps kids build resilience by doing things they’ve never tried, and some they’ve never even heard of.

Outside-the-box Thinking

Finding kids an opportunity to create something with a personal touch can build confidence that spills over into schoolwork – and beyond. The Sewing Camp at Sewing Arts Center in Santa Monica allows campers to play creatively as they pick patterns and colors, and do the work to make a finished product. “Learning to take something flat and make it into something 3D, something they can wear and use, is a profound experience,” says owner Russell Scott Conte. “They also learn spatial acuity, dexterity and geometry in the process of sewing.”

STEM-focused camps also have a creative streak. Mastering science, technology, engineering and math concepts through activities such as programming and coding gives kids a platform that allows them to create almost anything they can imagine. iD Tech Camps throughout the Southland offer students ages 6-17 a collaborative, hands-on learning experience – and the chance to finish a project they have conceptualized in just one week. “Through programming, coding apps, making films, creating video games and designing through 3D printing, we allow the student to be creative and collaborative with students who share the same interests,” says Karen Thurm Safran, vice president of Strategic Partnerships for iD Tech Camps. One camper even created a game based on her love of recycling.

Quirks and Confidence

Summer Camp 2016

Traditional Equitation School is one of only a few riding schools that teach horsemanship in a camp environment. PHOTO COURTESY TRADITIONAL EQUITATION SCHOOL

Camps that get kids outdoors offer perks that go beyond finished projects kids can show off, building life skills and stoking kids’ sense of adventure. Tom Sawyer Camps, a 10-week summer day camp for ages 3 to 14 based in Hahamonga Watershed Park – above Devil’s Gate Dam in the Arroyo Seco – is one such camp.

Outpost Camp Director Kathy Garcia, who’s celebrating her 27th year with Tom Sawyer, is still surprised by the transformation she sees in campers and has many stories of kids’ growth in character and self-confidence. “In Outpost, [kids entering grades 6-9] are trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in,” Garcia says, adding that campers celebrate quirks and unique traits in their peers. She says Tom Sawyer offers kids a chance to work out their identity in a safe place away from their usual friends, family or school environment.

Camp activities such as archery, horseback riding, rock climbing, windsurfing and the challenging ropes course may seem like tween thrill-seeking, but Garcia says these activities translate to the classroom – and life – in interesting ways. She recalls one parent’s story of her tween daughter, who was preparing for a big school presentation. When her mom asked if she was OK, the girl responded, “I can climb up a telephone pole and jump off.” “At just 11 or 12 years old, the challenges they experience in Outpost transfer into the classroom by building confidence and self-esteem,” Garcia says.

Confidence is best if it’s coupled with discipline and personal responsibility. Campers at Traditional Equitation School, which runs weekly summer sessions at L.A. Equestrian Center in Burbank for ages 6-12, learn to ride, but also learn horses’ characteristics, breeds and colors, as well as how to feed, groom and tack up. Taking responsibility for themselves and a horse teaches kids how to lead, give clear instructions, and be concerned with how our actions affect others. “The most rewarding part of this job is seeing the confidence, work ethic and compassion horseback riding instills in the kids,” says Equitation riding instructor Liz Peltola. “Having to communicate with and control such a large animal really gives them confidence to tackle any other situation in their lives.”

A Sense of Perspective

Summer Camp 2016

The emphasis of Outpost Tom Sawyer Camp for kids entering sixth through ninth grades is on rock climbing, windsurfing and the challenge ropes course. PHOTO COURTESY TOM SAWYER CAMP

A time-tested character-building exercise is to try to put yourselves in someone else’s shoes. Kids in Cheryl Fudge’s Philanthropy Fashion Camp in Santa Monica do just that. The camp program came about when Fudge did some work with Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC). “Kids need to brainstorm how to bring joy to other kids,” Fudge says. “After I saw the kids at Children’s Hospital Orange County, some who have to be there for months at a time, I thought what better way to teach kids entrepreneurial skills than through charity work for other kids.”

In Philanthropy Fashion Camp, kids ages 8-12 and 13-16 raise funds, gather donations and create and prepare materials that bring the fashion camp experience to CHOC patients. In addition to designing for kids at CHOC, campers create three items of clothing and three accessories for themselves. Philanthropy campers don’t get to meet the kids they help, as they’re not allowed in hospital rooms, but they do get to share in giving the gift of fashion to those who are focused on getting well.

LA Opera Camp, meanwhile, gives kids ages 9-16 the chance to learn – and tell – stories of other people’s struggles. “No matter where they are in their artistic journey, we instill deeply that as young artists, they are entrusted with the power of storytelling,” says Senior Director of Education & Community Engagement Stacy Brightman. “We always pick stories that have an important social message, usually of civil rights and social justice. Once you’ve sung it and performed it, in a sense walked in another person’s shoes, you see the world differently.”

In a sense, Brightman sums up what this summer can mean for your ever-changing child, making them more curious about the world around them, and the world inside.

Camp Resources

Summer Camp 2016

Sewing Arts Center’s four-day sewing camps are open to girls and boys ages 9-16. PHOTO COURTESY SEWING ARTS CENTER

Aloha Beach Camp: Sessions at Zuma Beach and Paradise Cove, 818-932-4600; Single-day and weeklong programs are available for ages 4-14 June 13-Aug. 19. Single day $98, full week $490 until March 31. Free transportation from pick up points. Open House: 1:30-3:30 p.m. March 13 at Zuma Beach Lifeguard Tower 6.

Cheryl Fudge Fashion Camp: Santa Monica Place Mall, 395 Santa Monica Pl., Ste. 244,
Santa Monica; 310-393-3333; Philanthropy Fashion Camp for ages 8-12 and 13-16 runs June 4-Aug. 31. Single day: $85. Weekly sessions: $350.

ID Tech Camp: Locations throughout the Los Angeles area, including UCLA, Marymount High School, Loyola Marymount University, Mayfield Junior School, Cal Lutheran University and California Institute of Technology, 888-709-8324; Overnight and weeklong day camps are available for ages 6-17, with fees from $799-$1,618. Scholarships available for a limited time.

Kidspace Children’s Museum: 480 N. Arroyo Blvd., Pasadena, 626-449-9144; Spring Break Camp March 14-18 and 21-25, weekly summer sessions June 13-Aug. 12 for ages 5-9 with half- or full-day option. Themes include Amazing Animals Camp,  Mad Scientist Camp, Outer Space Camp,  Art Adventures Camp, Mystery Detectives Camp and Bug Band Camp. Little Learners Camp available for ages 4-5. Fees: $225 half day, $450 full day. Scholarships are available.

LA Opera Camp: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 North Grand Ave., L.A., 213-972-3157; Auditions are March 16 and 19, and the information link will be live Feb. 22. Camp runs July 25-Aug. 7. Fee: $600.

Pali Adventures: Running Springs, CA, 909-867-5743; Overnight camps for ages 8-16. Weekly fee: $2,045.

Sewing Arts Center: 3330 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, 310-450-4300; Sessions run 2 ½ hours and are available Mon.-Thurs. June through August. $249. Spring Camp available.

Tom Sawyer Camps: 707 West Woodbury Rd, #F, Altadena, 626-794-1156; Offers programs for kids age 3 to those entering ninth grade.

Traditional Equitation School: Los Angeles Equestrian Center, 480 W. Riverside Dr., Burbank, 818-569-3666; Spring Camp is March 21-25 and weekly summer sessions run June 6-Aug. 19 for ages 6-12. Fee is $475 per week or $125 per day.

Carolyn Richardson has three kids under 4, and is Assistant Editor at L.A. Parent.

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