Education Insight: The Benefits of Summer Camp
Finding the Right Fit for Your Child
By H.M. Cauley
Squirrel Hollow Camp, a summer program of The Bedford School.
The lazy days of summer are months away. But for parents whodon’t want those lazy days to become days of lazing around, it’s not too soon to start thinking about summer camp. The metro Atlanta area is filled with many kinds of camps to keep children engaged during their summer break. If you’re considering enrolling your child in a summer camp, the time to begin your search is now.
Why Summer Camp?
“There are a million reasons why camp is beneficial,” says Katie Johnson, Southeastern field office director for the American Camp Association, a national organization that provides education about camps. “But the best is that camp is one of those places that build soft skills for children, where they can work on social skills and being part of a group while also having the opportunity to play.”
Camps can also extend educational experiences, provide different activities and adventures and zero in on a child’s curiosity. In Atlanta, the extensive offerings of camps cover a range of interests, from science and nature to computers, writing and even the circus arts.
One of the most popular special-interest camps takes place at the Georgia Aquarium. Beginning in June and lasting for eight weeks, Camp H2O draws children from around the Southeast who want to get a peek behind the scenes of the aquarium, meet marine biologists and get up-close with a variety of sea life.
“Our camp has an educational side, so while we do activities like journaling, arts and crafts, team-building activities and scrapbooking, we also focus on the science and math side they get from meeting the care specialists and researchers one-on-one,” says Stephanie Johnson, spokeswoman for the Georgia Aquarium. “It’s great for children who are intrigued by that.”
Nature and the Outdoors
Kids who love nature will also find an array of adventures at the camps run by the Chattahoochee Nature Center. The center’s 11-week sessions accept students from kindergarten through high school who want to mix educational environmental activities with canoeing, swimming and hiking.
“Our hikes have ecological themes tied to the native wildlife that live on the property with us,” says Camp Director Tim Reidy. “We add themes every two weeks, so one focus is reptiles and amphibians and the next is what lives on the river in our backyard. It really appeals to the kids who love to be outside, whether they’re big biology fans or not.”
The Nature Center camps recently added overnight trips for older students, who stay in some of the state’s national parks. “Especially for the 8th and 9th graders, it’s all about adventure—white water rafting, mountain biking, cave exploring and recreational tree climbing,” says Reidy.
Similarly, High Meadows Camp, offered by the High Meadows School, is a traditional summer camp heavy on outdoor pursuits like archery and canoeing, with a special emphasis on hands-on, experiential learning for children ages 3 through 15. The aim is to introduce campers to new skills and experiences that will help them grow and achieve success.
Academics and Special Interests
Other camps feature a focus on academics in addition to workshops and recreational activities. At Pace Academy in Buckhead, academics are combined with activities, so students might work on improving their Spanish or calculus skills while also enjoying swimming, art and drama. The seven-week camps also offer sessions that focus on driver’s education, sports, space and cooking.
The Atlanta Girls School, an independent school for girls, offers a “SMART Girls” camp that combines instruction in math, science and technology with afternoon art and theater workshops that aim to foster creativity and build confidence.
The Bedford School, a school for students with learning disabilities, hosts Squirrel Hollow Camp, which blends small-group tutoring sessions with traditional fun camp activities. The day begins with intensive work on reading, math and writing, followed by afternoons of swimming and sports.
“We only take about 60 students, from rising first grade through rising ninth, and the tutors are mostly Bedford staff,” explains Betsy Box, the school’s founder and director. “It’s ideal for students who need an academic boost in the summer. They usually make significant academic gains because their learning isn’t stressful; it’s fun.”
Asking the Right Questions
Before settling on a particular camp, parents should talk with their children about which kind of camp experience the child will most enjoy. And one of the most important parts of that discussion is determining whether a child is interested in or ready to handle staying at an overnight camp.
“Picking a day camp or resident camp really depends on what the family’s schedules and needs are,” says Johnson. “But the bottom line is, what most benefits the child?”
The length of the stay is another conversation parents will need to have; many overnight camps can last from one to four weeks. “Many camps have first-timer sessions to provide an orientation about being away from home,” says Johnson. “That’s a good place to start if your child has never been gone overnight.”
For day or overnight camps, “It’s also good to ask what a typical day is like,” says Reidy. “If a kid hates being outside, then a camp where they’re outdoors for most of the day isn’t going to be a good fit.”
Parents should also talk with camp directors about the staff that will interact with their children. Ask if counselors are certified or accredited, how they’re trained and how much experience they have.
“Who are they? How are they picked? Those are good things to know,” says Reidy. “They show how committed a camp is to getting good people. Counselors can make or break a camp experience.”
Whatever camp you end up choosing, your child is sure to enjoy a life-changing experience.
“Camping is about learning skills, developing character and making friends,” says John Hicks, executive director of the Pruett Community Center Family YMCA in Canton. “Few environments are as special as camp, where kids become a community as they learn how to be more independent and how to contribute to a group as they engage in physical, social and educational activities.”
Five Tips For Choosing The Right Camp
- Plan ahead. Some specialty camps have limited spots that can disappear quickly. Waiting until the end of the school year may be too late.
- Research the camp’s history and reputation. Look for user reviews on sites like Yelp or ask other parents about their experiences. If possible, ask the camp for references.
- Investigate the camp’s philosophies and values to see if they match your own.
- Make sure you’re satisfied with the camp’s policies regarding safety. Is there adequate supervision at all times?
- If possible, visit the camp in person to get a feel for the environment. Don’t send your child anyplace that makes you uncomfortable.
The Atlanta area is home to many excellent summer camps, offering everything from traditional outdoor fun to academics and creative pursuits. The following profiles represent a selection of some of the options available to Atlanta campers. For additional information on the camps listed below, including location, age ranges, cost and more, refer to our “Beyond the Basics” chart here.
High Meadows Camp
High Meadows Camp offers a traditional outdoor day program with unique facilities on more than 40 acres of meadow and woodland in Roswell, Ga. Campers ages 3-14 learn about themselves and the world around them, are encouraged to try new experiences, and build lifelong relationships.
High Meadows campers are arranged in groups by age level. Each group generally consists of 12-15 campers and two counselors. As campers’ age levels increase, so do their opportunities to exercise responsibility and decision-making skills.
Ants (preschoolers) participate in a half-day program that includes pony rides, nature, crafts, introductory swim and playground time. Grasshoppers (rising kindergarteners) enjoy a full day of camp featuring a variety of age- and skill-appropriate activities. Juniors (rising first- and second-graders) spend the majority of their day outdoors, while Super Seniors (rising third- and fourth-graders) make their home in rustic, outdoor shelters and participate in additional activities including archery and woodworking.
Senior campers (rising fifth- through ninth-graders) develop and follow their own schedule of classes and events. They may participate in classes mentioned above plus many others such as darkroom photography, pioneering, animal care, canoeing, performing arts and many more. Seniors may choose to take part in the Knighthood program, which features challenges and activities that hone their skills as they work to attain the elusive level of Knight.
High Meadows Camp offers an exciting and challenging experience that will stay with your child for a lifetime. For more information, call 770-993-7975 or visit www.highmeadowscamp.org.
Smart Girls Summer Camp At Atlanta Girls’ School
Girls enrolled in SMART Girls Summer Camp learn to be curious and confident young mathematicians, scientists and artists. Students can choose from two of four available morning academic sessions, in which they learn important math, science, technology, and/or creative writing skills through eye-opening experiments and hands-on research.
After lunch, campers participate in drama and art or puppetry workshops designed to inspire creative thinking and build confidence. Girls will sing, dance, and perform Broadway hits; build their own puppets and stage a puppet show; and create masterpieces from recycled goods.
SMART Girls Summer Camp offers two one-week sessions, June 2-6 and June 9-13. Cost is $375 for one week or $700 for both (after-care until 5 pm is free). Call 404-845-0900 for more information, or register online at www.atlantagirlsschool.org/summercamp.
Gwinnett County Parks & Recreation
Gwinnett County Parks & Recreation offers a multitude of adventures this summer for ages 5-13. These weeklong camps offer educational segments designed to encourage campers to learn new things and “play with a purpose” in top-notch facilities. Highly skilled counselors and instructors are certified in first aid and CPR. And low counselor-to-camper ratios ensure that campers receive individual and small-group instruction as they build confidence and increase skill levels in safe, enriching environments. This summer’s camp themes are:
- Reclaim It Round-Up: Reclaim and repurpose stuff and turn it into cool crafts and games. Let’s protect the environment and celebrate our planet!
- Game Show Week: Get your game show on! We “Double Dare” you to “Come on Down” and spin the “Wheel of Fortune!” You have a “Minute to Win It” so “Let’s Make a Deal!”
- Let’s Go Camp-In: We’re campin’ in! Have s’more fun! Discover the fun of camping. Put up a tent, sing and write your own camp songs and make traditional camp crafts.
- Get a Clue: Strain your brain with puzzles, scavenger hunts, riddles and brain-teasers.
- Splash: Dive in to fun! Cool off and chill out with a week of fun water activities.
- Movin’ and Groovin’: Get up, get movin’ and get groovin’! Enjoy some super-fun activities to keep your body, mind and spirit fit.
- Game On: Get excited about this jam-packed week of sports, games and fun challenges!
- Mystery Mix It Up: You are the detective during this mystery camp week! Enjoy a mix of art, games, science and a mystery topic each day! Have a photo scavenger hunt, make disappearing ink, send a secret coded message and more.
- Re-Mix It Up: Want just a little more summer camp fun? Come play backyard games, make natural arts with wood, metal and rocks, create fun cardboard crafts, challenge your outdoor skills and more.
Day camps start at an affordable $125 per week. (Higher fees for non-Gwinnett resident may apply.) For more information, call 770-822-8840 or visit www.gwinnettparks.com.
Adventure Camp at Massanuten Academy
Massanutten Academy, a coeducational, college-preparatory boarding school located in historic Woodstock, Va., offers two great summer programs in 2014.
Students can choose from four summer-school programs available June 28-Aug. 2:
- JROTC: Earn a full course credit in Leadership Education Training! Grades 9-12.
- Massanutten Tech: Spend the summer in Robotics (grades 7-8), Bioengineering or Design Engineering (grades 9-12). These STEM classes are project-based and focused on the future!
- Core Curriculum: Classes are available to improve a current grade, take a new course, explore your interests through electives, improve your study skills, or prepare for the ACT or SAT (grades 7-12).
- ESL: International students can take advantage of an ESL/ESOL immersion program that includes classroom instruction; field trips to stores, restaurants, and interesting sites; and real life in the dorms (grades 7-12).
- Cost is $3,799, including tuition, boarding, uniform and weekend activities. Lab fees, books and/or software will be billed after classes begin.
Just want to have fun this summer? Massanutten’s Adventure Camps (July 20-26 and July 27-Aug. 2) offer one week (or two!) of great activities that include hiking, zip-lining, canoeing, mountain biking and more. Cost is $1,175, and includes boarding, uniform and all activities.
For more information, call the admissions office at 540-459-2167, ext. 1, or apply online at www.militaryschool.com. Space is limited, so apply today!
Squirrel Hollow Camp
Squirrel Hollow Camp, a remedial summer program of The Bedford School, serves children with academic needs due to learning differences, or any students who need an academic boost. Between 40 and 50 students, ages 6 to 14, attend the four-week day camp, which is held on The Bedford School’s beautiful 46-acre campus in Fairburn, Ga. Campers participate in an individualized academic program as well as recreational activities. Students receive instruction in reading, reading comprehension, writing skills and math through a variety of structured, multisensory techniques and materials. The Squirrel Hollow staff consists of Bedford School faculty members as well as carefully selected college tutors. Students can often make significant academic gains by learning in this small-group, highly structured setting. For more information, call 770-774-8001 or visit www.thebedfordschool.org.