- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Summer is coming. That means pools will be opening, and schools will be closing for more than 60,000 students in Southern Maryland and their families.
For working families, summer vacation means finding alternate solutions to going to school every day. Summer camps can be a great substitute, and there are plenty to choose from. Kids can sign up for recreational camps with field trips to Washington, D.C., to those that focus on the outdoors and those that keeps kids’ minds active during the hazy days of summer. Here are some options:
Finding the right fit
“Most commute to Washington D.C., and they can know they’re leaving their kids with responsible adults,” Kelly Layfield, a center supervisor at the Charles County Parks and Recreation, said about the majority of parents who commute to and from Charles County for work.
Parks and recreation is known for offering a wide variety of camps throughout the summer. The camps run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and with before- and after-care programs available, as well, Layfield said parents can trust that their children not only are safe but are learning and having fun, as well.
This summer, 17 camps are being offered including five summer play camps, 11 specialty camps and a camp for children with special needs. The camps run for six weeks with the exception of one of the specialty camps, Campnastics in Waldorf, referred to by Layfield as the summer’s most popular camp and maxed out at 70 kids last summer. Because of the camp’s popularity, Campnastics will run for an additional two weeks, leaving only one week from the end of the camp to the beginning of the school year.
Other specialty camps include a radio broadcasting camp, a theater camp and multiple sports camps. Layfield said the summer play camps offered feature two field trips a week, visiting local pools, museums and landmarks.
Information about the camps was posted on the City of St. Charles Parks and Recreation website Wednesday. Layfield said the first summer camp kickoff open house will be from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, April 5, at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf. Each camp will be represented with directors and information available for parents.
“Parents can come out and shop for what camp will be best for their child,” Layfield said.
Layfield said planning for summer camps is a year-long process.
“We literally plan by the time we’re in the camps, we’re already gearing up,” Layfield said. “We’re always trying to come up with the next best idea for the kids and their parents. We think about it year round.”
In addition to the parks and recreation camps, several other organizations offer day camps where kids can just be kids, no matter what their circumstances are.
Lions Camp Merrick in Nanjemoy offers activities such as canoeing and swimming and a chance for kids with Type 1 diabetes to learn about their disease and how to properly manage it. Each day children learn about diabetes through activities, such as blood testing or how to give an injection, according to the camp. The camp allows children an opportunity to build a network of friends who are going through the same thing they are and maybe even forget they have a disease for a few hours.
The American Diabetes Association used to run the program in Baltimore and called it Camp Glyndon. The ADA continues to support the program through funding and advertising, according to the camp’s website. Children with diabetes pay a subsidized rate and some receive scholarships.
Camp Accomplish at the Melwood Recreation Center, also in Nanjemoy, fosters the idea of inclusion and serves children with a variety of ages, abilities and interests. The camp is for children ages 5 to 18, and day camp as well as overnight camp options are offered. There also is a special equestrian camp, swimming camp and other specialty camps available.
Dirt won’t hurt
One of the best features of summer vacation is the opportunity for endless outdoor activities. The warm air practically begs kids to get outside and dig in the dirt, familiarize themselves with native species and explore their own backyard.
Summer camp lineups at the Calvert Marine Museum, the Battle Creek Nature Education Society and Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum now are available and feature outdoor activities for children.
As part of the No Child Left Inside Coalition, JPPM strives to encourage environmental education among young children.
“It’s important because we see these kids come in, and they’re completely out of touch with their natural environment,” Kim Popetz, director of education at JPPM, said. “We would get older kids, and they wouldn’t want to get dirty.”
The park drives this idea home with their camp, Dirt Alert, where Popetz said kids have donned themselves in full, natural camouflage made entirely of mud.
“These kids are coming into a world where our culture, we live most of our life indoors, and there’s this disconnect of being outside, and being active and moving is a healthy thing for them, and we want them to experience that,” Popetz said.
The most popular camp, called Native Skills, takes kids through a re-created Native American village, mimicking what it was like to live completely with the land. The camp is offered twice during the summer because of its popularity.
“There’s an inherent interest of a different way of living, and kids are naturally curious about how to build your own shelter or building their own boat … they just love it,” Popetz said.
“I think it’s incredibly stimulating as opposed to passive recreation,” Anne Sundermann, executive director of Battle Creek Nature Education Society, said. “This is very active, and you’re learning something, and you’re getting hands-on experience and sharpening your skills. There’s nothing passive about that.”
BCNES has 11 camps running throughout the summer involving kids directly with nature by hiking, kayaking, observing reptiles and amphibians and even learning photography techniques. Sundermann said the naturalists with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources create the camps focusing on their areas of expertise, so campers will benefit the most from professionals.
Registration opened for BCNES members Monday and will kick off Monday, March 17, for non-members.
Despite the different camp themes, Sundermann said the connectivity between the elements of nature and each child expressing their own creativity through journaling, photography and other mediums.
“That’s what I think is the most important thing about our camp is kids are getting out there and doing things and learning things and having fun,” Sundermann said.
To help those interested in Calvert County camps, the Calvert Library in Prince Frederick will be hosting a Summer Camp Fair on Monday, March 10. The idea behind the fair is for local organizations who run camps during the summer will have an opportunity to show them at one location, said Beverly Izzi, youth services coordinator for Calvert Library. Izzi said the fair used to be run by the Calvert County Parent Teacher Association, but the library took over when the PTA no longer could organize the event.
“We thought it was important for our community,” Izzi said.
After the fair, the library will release a guide of Calvert County summer camps with contact information and registration information.
Fun with a purpose
Summer also can be a time to extend the school year for students. Opportunities for children and teens to spend their summer days continuing learning can be a great way to retain all they learned throughout the year. Often, many camps feature instruction for half the day and fun activities in the afternoon.
From STEM projects to exploring historic landmarks and learning the science of cooking and healthy eating, summer camps also can be a time to recharge students’ minds.
“They spend all day in a classroom during the school year, so we make sure every activity has them learning but in a fun way,” said Rhonda LaFleur, camp director of St. Mary’s Cub Scout Day Camp. “I’ve noticed if you keep kids moving and make things a game, they don’t realize they’re learning, but when it comes down to it … it’s amazing to see what they retain when it’s more fun.”
For one week each summer, the Boy Scouts of America take over the St. Mary’s County Fairgrounds in Leonardtown. Among activities such as science experiments, arts and craft, and demonstrations from the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office and Calvert County Search and Rescue squad, the BSA has rolled out a STEM program, encompassing science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and Nova Awards to recognize those that enjoy the challenge. Taught by professionals in their fields, LaFleur said the instructor’s enthusiasm translates to the scouts.
“They don’t realize they’re learning during the day because they’re having so much fun,” LaFleur said. “It keeps them off the video games and TV … we call it fun with a purpose.”
For a camp that runs five weeks out of the summer and begins right when public schools let out, there’s Summer Knights, a summer program at St. Mary’s Ryken High School. Crystal Dunkin, program director for Summer Knights, said the camp offers everything from girls basketball to Chinese to sailing, but the SAT prep and AP Bootcamps courses are the most popular to prepare students for college.
“All of our camps are enrichment programs, so it’s about growing academically and as a person as well as enjoying it,” Dunkin said. “All of our programs are taught by experts in their fields but are also passionate about what their content is. You get a good mixture of enrichment and enthusiasm.”
Dunkin said while the camp takes place at the private, Catholic school, the majority of Summer Knights students are from outside the SMR community, and the largest age population for the camp is middle school students preparing for high school.
Registration for Summer Knights began March 1, and space is limited on a first-come, first-served basis. The deadline for registration is dependent on space and the first day of camp.