Summer camp is no longer just a place to park your kids between school sessions. Today’s camps help kids expand their minds, try out an artistic talent or get back to nature. They teach kids how to do magic tricks, sing with a rock band or maneuver a stand-up paddleboard.
And even if they’re learning, “It’s not like school. They’re having fun,” said Terry Kaufman, president of IMACs, which runs technology camps. “And it keeps their minds sharp.”
If your kids need a break from academic pursuits, there are plenty of nature and exploration camps to discover Florida’s lush tropical landscapes, diverse habitats and beautiful beaches. Take surfing camp.
“It’s about sending them home with smiles on their faces, and having them learn to enjoy and appreciate the ocean,” said William “Skeeter” Zimmerman, who runs Living Water Surf School.
For a round-up of summer camp activities in South Florida, visit MomsMiami.com. Here’s a round-up of a few unusual camp offerings in Broward:
Get into tech
If strapping on goggles and soldering electronic components gets your child’s motor running, then the IMACS Hi-Tech Camps in Weston and Plantation may be a good fit.
Started 20 years ago, these math and science camps typically attract motivated, above-average kids who don’t get enough time during the school year to experiment, said Terry Kaufman, president and co-founder.
A computer programming and virtual robotics class has kids learning how to program computers and control virtual robots. An electronics class teaches kids how electricity is conducted, and has campers setting up simple experiments using wire, LED lights, resistors and other components. A logic puzzles class uses math puzzles to teach strategic reasoning, Kaufman said.
“They’re having fun, plus a lot of these kids end up majoring in electrical engineering and computer science,” Kaufman said. “If you get kids excited about technology when they’re young, they’re more likely to get into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.”
Most campers are third- through eighth-graders, though advanced camps for high school students are available. Campers can take a single class, half-day or full day camp. Hours are 9:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., and fees range from $99 to $544 a week. Classes are taught at 2585 Glades Cir. in Weston and 7435 NW Fourth St. in Plantation,. Call 954-791-2333 or visit www.imacs .org/ florida camp.
Getting your hands, feet and clothes dirty is part of the fun at the Nature Detectives half-day camp at Fern Forest Nature Center in Coconut Creek. Campers will slog through creeks and waterways with their scoop nets as they explore the terrain, said Nikki Hochberg, the nature center’s naturalist and manager.
Two weeklong sessions, June 24-28 and July 15-19, help kids ages 8 to 11 explore a different habitat each day.
On Mondays, kids begin by taking a walk through the tropical hardwood hammock and the cypress maple swamp, she said.
“We climb over the boardwalk, so the kids get wet,” Hochberg said. “It’s not the regular place a park visitor would be able to see.”
Using their nets, the kids catch mosquito fish, minnows, water beetles, frogs and tadpoles.
“They have to be into nature,” she said. “There’s no squeamishness here.”
After they explore, they do a craft, which highlights whatever they did that day. They might take leaves they collected and make a leaf identification book using rubbings, Hochberg said. Or it could be making a stuffed tadpole that grows into a frog. At the end of the week, kids go on a scavenger hunt to find the things they’ve learned about each day.
“We’re trying to introduce nature and exploration back into childhood,” Hochberg said. “With all the technology, computer and video games, kids don’t get out and get dirty or explore nature anymore.”
The center is at 201 Lyons Rd. South in Coconut Creek. Call 954-357-5198. The cost is $75 per child for the week, 9 a.m. to noon. Space is limited and pre-registration is required. Visit www.broward.org/parks for information about this and other Broward County park camps.
Use an iPad to bring a character to life, animate it and create a digital cartoon strip at Young at Art Museum’s Cartooning Camp in Davie. At the camp, held in two-week sessions, an iPad preloaded with apps will be available for each camper, said Marie Segre, Art Institute Manager.
The class, for ages 8 to 14, will begin with instruction on traditional drawing and cartooning techniques, then campers will learn how to transform their artwork into a digital format. Depending on the session, they will animate a short film, design digital cartoons or create a simple video game. Advanced cartooning for ages 10 to 14 is available for campers who have taken a previous class. Syndicated cartoonist and animator Rob Cabrera of Fort Lauderdale is one of the instructors.
“This camp is for kids who like to draw and want to take it to the next level,” Segre said. Campers will be able to display and sell work at the museum’s Comic Convention on July 19.
Another specialty camp offered by the museum is the Ceramic and Sculpt Camp, Segre said. In this two-week camp, for ages 8 to 14, kids will hand build 3-D sculptures and spin their own creations on the potter’s wheel.
“They will be using a Japanese firing technique called Raku, and do pit firing, where you dig a hole in the ground,” Segre said. “Those are things they don’t get to try anywhere else.”
A Museum Exploration Camp with three to four art activities a week also is held. Camps are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Weekly sessions are $235 for members; $260 for non-members. Two-week sessions are $500 for members and $550 for non-members. Young At Art Museum is at 751 SW 121st Ave. in Davie. Call 954-424-0085, ext. 5031, or visit www.youngatartmuseum.org/.
Put South Florida’s beautiful beaches to use with a camp that teaches surfing, skim-boarding, stand-up paddle boarding and snorkeling, such as Living Water Surf School in Pompano Beach. Run by William “Skeeter” Zimmerman, 28, a professional surfer, the camp is offered half- and full-day. The focus is surfing, but a variety of activities to have fun in the ocean are mixed in.
The camp begins with a short introduction to the sport of surfing, its history and dangers. Kids learn about the parts of a surfboard and how to paddle and stand up, which they practice on the beach before hitting the water. Some kids want to just surf all week, Zimmerman said, but others want to mix it up, so they’ll enjoy tubing behind a Jet Ski, beach games and other water sports.
The camp is geared to kids ages 5 to 16, and campers must be able to keep themselves afloat without assistance. Beginners start off with a soft foam board that won’t scare them if they accidentally get conked in the head, Zimmerman said. And instructors will be on hand to do the hard work, pushing the kids into the waves, because they are usually not strong enough to do it on their own.
Instructors are matched to campers in at least a one-to-five ratio, and kids learn about ocean safety and about the marine life they see on a reef when snorkeling.
“But it’s mostly about having fun in the water,” Zimmerman said.
Camps are $179 for half-day, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and $249 for full day, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at North Ocean Park in Pompano Beach, 954-673-8933. Visit www.livingwatersurfschool.com.
Get on stage
Kids who crave the excitement of acting in a live theater production can try the Fort Lauderdale Children’s Theatre’s Summer Stage Camp for second- through 10th-graders. Organized into two four-week sessions, each session produces a musical: Snow White, Honk, Jr., Pirates of Penzance or The Magical Land of Oz.
“We get a big mix of kids, some who are trying acting for the first time, and those who have done theater for years,” said Lauren Formica, associate director of the summer camp. Campers audition for all parts, but everyone gets cast in the show, she said.
Besides rehearsals, the kids also work with a choreographer for the show and to learn an all-camp number. They work on art projects like props, smaller set pieces and take-home crafts. They study vocal techniques such as projection, and learn the songs in the show. At the end of each camp, the kids do a day performance for about 1,000 kids from other camps, and a night performance for parents.
Young theater enthusiasts ages 4 to 7 can try Storybook Adventures Camp, which offers arts and crafts and games that bring stories and books to life, Formica said. At the end of each weeklong session, kids dress in costumes and act out stories for parents on a studio stage.
“This is a much smaller and younger group, but they still get to do a production,” Formica said.
Summer Stage Camp is $850 per four-week session from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Galleria Mall, 2542 E. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Storybook Adventure Camp is $250 a week from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Galleria. Before- and after-care is available. Call 954-763-6882 or visit www.flct.org.
Saddle up for some horseback riding fun at LFE Riding Institute in Southwest Ranches, where kids will not only get to ride horses, but learn a little about self-exploration, said Luisa Escudero, owner.
“Through the horses, they learn that every action has a reaction,” Escudero said.
Campers will learn basic equine and barn management, including horse nutrition and behavior. They’ll learn proper tacking and saddling, and have riding lessons on the eight horses available on the 2 ½-acre property. The horses are of the Paso Fino breed, which has a smooth gait, not the heavy trot of a Quarter Horse, Escudero said. It’s a good match for beginning riders.
“When you ride, your body hardly bounces off the seat,” she said.
Escudero, who moved to the United States from Colombia when she was 2, said her father was one of the first to bring the Paso Fino breed into the United States. She uses the time spent around the horses to help kids explore their own emotions. Campers work on a group art project, including one where they paint the horses with nontoxic paint. They also play on water slides and do other water activities.
The camp is $250 a week from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 17331 SW 65th Ct. in Southwest Ranches. Call 305-879-9244 or visit www.lferidinginstitute.com.