As parents, we instinctually ask, “What’s the best choice for my child?” when making almost any decision, and that is a natural place to start when choosing a winter camp for your kids. But in a city like Los Angeles, with its wealth of premium resources, isn’t there also space to consider, “What’s the best choice for me, the parent?” After all, it’s your winter holiday, too!
Below is a compilation of camps with a wide variety of wonderful offerings for children, but in this case, they are grouped by what they offer the grown-ups. So dust off your own priorities and let’s explore!
If you all have some vacation time coming, perhaps your family plans to spend much of the break together. Maybe you just need a kid-free morning here and there to wrap gifts or ponder your New Year’s resolutions. Maybe you thought you were going to spend the whole break with your kids, but now it’s Friday and you need a breather. That’s where flexible scheduling comes in.
JAG Gym in Culver City offers camp nearly every day that school is out with lots of scheduling possibilities. For the toddler gymnast who might not be ready for a long separation, there are half-day morning and afternoon options. The older crew can stay the length of a normal school day or a normal workday. Whatever you choose, kids can frolic on the trampoline or rocket into the foam pit while also progressing in their gymnastic skills. “We are fully staffed by professionals. These are educators first,” says Vice President and General Manager J.R. Roughton, “so camp is fun and exciting, but it’s also real gymnastics.”
CodeREV Kids in Santa Monica also customizes campers’ schedules to include single days and half days where they can explore engineering and math concepts while building 3-D games, bringing robots to life and designing “Minecraft” worlds. In addition, campers get a big chunk of outside time so they exercise body and mind. Like JAG, CodeREV also stresses that it selects staff with care. “The instructors that are working with your kids are the curriculum writers for the whole country,” says CEO Evan Boorman. “So, in addition to being really technical, our team is made up of people with extensive experience in the education field.”
It’s also helpful when a camp is willing to help you out early in the morning or late in the day, in case your work schedule doesn’t slow down much during the holiday season. When you opt for the extended camp hours at Valley Trails Day Camp in Tarzana, you can drop your camper off from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. “This is a camp with caring staff, great ratios, intentionality and a purpose behind the program,” says Executive Camp Director Mike Stillson. That purpose revolves around weaving 21st century skills such as communication, problem solving and leadership into daily field trips to roller rinks, mini-golf courses and the California Science Center.
If your scheduling needs fall on Saturday and Sunday, check out the L.A. Dodgers Youth Camp series. Campers play ball at Dodger Stadium on the same field where they watch their heroes play and are coached by some of the Dodgers’ top prospects. Partial proceeds benefit the Dodgers Foundation. Says Nomar Garciaparra, six-time MLB All-Star and spokesman for the camp, “We have the finest instructors, along with the Dodgers of the future, to help the growth and skills of these campers. Being a parent of three youngsters, [this is] the type of programming that I firmly believe in.”
What’s for Lunch?
You’ve resigned yourself to being lunchbox chef during the school year, but you feel like you’ll go completely bonkers if you have to come up with creative presentations of peanut butter during break as well. A camp that provides lunch can be a real sanity-saver.
The Art Zone, with locations in West L.A. and Hermosa Beach, offers camp from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. weekdays during the winter holiday that includes a lunch of pizza or pasta, fruit and snacks. You don’t have to pack food, but make sure you pack a dry shirt because spraying and squeegeeing play in the water room is a favorite. Kids also love creating clay masterpieces loaded with sequins and climbing high to a cozy nook in the play room. There’s a take-home bonus for parents, too. “Parents love sitting with their camper and going through his or her big bag of art at the end of each day to get a real sense of how the day unfolded,” says Aimee Odle, Hermosa Beach manager.
Another camp that’s taking care of tummies is the ABC’s of Dance Winter Camp. When lunchtime rolls around, tiny dancers get to choose from a variety of sandwiches and pastas from The Corner Bakery Café. Another parent perk is the entertainment! On Friday afternoons, the campers dance in a brief performance to show families what they’ve learned. “We bring in a professional face painter, so it makes the kids feel really special,” says owner Amanda Albin. “And their crafts are also their props for the show, so if we do a princess dance they might make a princess crown.”
Everything becomes more complicated when you have multiple children, and that includes camp. By the time you drop your daughter off at dance camp, your son at karate camp and your other son at soccer camp, it’s practically time to pick them up. The solution to this uphill battle is a one-stop shop, a camp that can provide a variety of activities for different interests under one roof.
Monarch Day Camp at L.A. Valley College and L.A. City College has something for everyone, including camps for theater arts, fine arts, STEM, soccer, tennis and gymnastics. But it’s the camp’s location that is the real draw, according to Mike Atkin, community services manager. “One thing parents and kids love about our camp is the facility,” he says. “We have the use of the college facilities, the rock climbing wall room, the teaching kitchen where we can do cooking projects, etc.” Monarch also gets flexibility points for offering extended care (at no additional charge!) from 7:15 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Iverbe Day and Sports Camp also offers campers a range of activities from sports to art to cooking. “We offer so many different activities so that we can really adjust to each camper,” says Marc Weiss, one of the directors. “Our staff is involved, engaged and well trained, so that every kid goes home feeling like they were the only ones at camp that day, that their experience was special.”
Iverbe is a double treat when it comes to parent-pleasing because they also excel at satisfying a picky eater. Lunch is included, and campers can choose from a variety of entrée options that include burgers, quesadillas, deli sandwiches and tacos.
If you want to ignite your nostalgic love of cabins and campfires in the next generation, consider an overnight camp. This winter, the Culver-Palms and San Pedro branches of the YMCA are offering a four-night sleepaway camp in the snowy mountains near Big Bear. Your kids can experience a true getaway from everything L.A. while snowshoeing, sledding and even building igloos! Meanwhile, you get to have a bona fide staycation.
If your family likes the idea of overnight camp but the mountains seem too remote, there is one overnight winter camp within the boundaries of the city of L.A. At Griffith Park Boys’ Camp, boys ages 7-14 stay in one of 16 cabins at the park and eat all their meals in a full-service dining hall. And, according to Recreation Coordinator Marci Berumen, the camp seems to bring out the adventurous spirit of its boys. “Archery is big, and hiking,” she says, “but the boys really love the high ropes course because there’s a zip line on it, and it’s all 40-50 feet up in the air.” While your son is getting back in touch with nature, you can be getting back in touch with your Netflix queue or, better yet, your spouse.
Balancing the Budget
While all of these features are appealing, sometimes it just comes down to the bottom line. This is especially true during the holiday season, when many of us are not feeling at our most flush.
One of the most affordable camps in the area is also one of the most novel in concept – camp at the L.A. Zoo! Camp is $65 a day for 9 a.m.–3 p.m., and you can add extended care for $5 an hour. “Parents love that all the content at our camp is tied in to an educational theme,” says Heather Shields, education manager. “That’s one of the reasons more than half our attendees this past year were returning campers.” Kids will love the up-close animal encounters and will learn about how animals adapt to winter and how they play.
Speaking of play, a great deal on play can be found at Adventureplex in Manhattan Beach. A week of camp costs $200, or you can choose a more flexible schedule for $60 a day. Adventureplex also gets parent-friendly points for providing a healthy lunch. The rest of the time, kids will be navigating the impressive play structure, exploring arts and crafts, burning off energy with sport court games and appreciating music. “We’ve been going to Adventureplex for four years and there’s always something new, “says Carrie Anne Blevins, mother to two boys. “Most importantly, the counselors are very attentive and provide a safe environment.”
We all need an antidote to our hectic holiday schedules, and one of these camps is sure to be the equivalent to a deep breath for your season. In the same way that you can reconnect with your camper at the end of an exciting experience, you might also reconnect with yourself at the end of this calendar year, and be revitalized to launch your family into 2018.
ABC’s of Dance Winter Camp, West Hollywood: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Dec. 18-22 and Jan. 1-5, $325/week, ages 4-8. www.abcsofdanceweho.com
Adventureplex, Manhattan Beach: Dec. 18-22, 26-29 and Jan. 2-5, $200/week or $60/day, ages 4-12. www.adventureplex.org
The Art Zone, West L.A. and Hermosa Beach: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Dec. 22-Jan. 5, $64/day, ages 3 and up. www.artzone4kids.com
CodeREV Winter Tech Camp, Santa Monica: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Dec. 18-22, 26-29 and Jan. 2-5, $555/week, ages 6-15. www.coderevkids.com
Dodgers Youth Camp, L.A.: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Ages 7-12 – Dec. 9-10 and Jan. 14-15. Ages 13-18 – Dec. 16-17. Softball for ages 9-16 – Jan. 6-7. $450/weekend (Use promo code LAPARENT50 for $50 off!) www.dodgers.com/camp
Griffith Park Boys’ Camp, L.A.: Weeklong overnight Dec. 18-22 and Jan. 2-5, $425/week, ages 7-14. www.laparks.org/camp/griffith-park-boys-camp
Iverbe Day and Sports Camp, Culver City: 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Dec. 18-22 ($375) and Dec. 26-29 ($300), ages 4-13. www.iverbe.com
JAG Gym, Culver City: full or partial days, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 11-Jan. 5, $97-$167/day, ages 3 and up. www.jaggym.com
Los Angeles Zoo Winter Camp, L.A.: 9 a.m.–3 p.m. (plus extended hours) Dec. 26-29 and Jan. 1-5, $65/day, age 4-fourth grade. www.lazoo.org/education/zoocamp
Monarch Day Camp, L.A.: 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. (plus extended hours) Dec. 18-22 and 26-29 and Jan. 2-5, $77/day or $330/week, kindergarten and up. www.monarchcamps.com
Valley Trails Camp, Tarzana: 9 a.m.–4 p.m. (plus extended hours) Dec. 18-29, $75/day, kindergarten-grade 10. www.valleytrails.com
YMCA Winter Whittle Camp, Culver City: 11a.m. Dec. 26-noon Dec. 30, $515, ages 11-18. www.ymcala.org/metro/classes/winter-camp
YMCA Winter Whittle Camp, San Pedro: 11a.m. Dec. 26-noon Dec. 30, $395, ages 7-18. www.ymcala.org/metro/classes/winter-camp
Kate Korsh is an L.A.-based writer and mom of two.