7 Summer Camps Your Kids Will Love

Art, Science and Civic Engagement: It’s What They’ll Do on Their Summer Vacation

by Lauren Johnson

Children can still feel like they’re on a fun vacation even when they’re learning—especially if it involves riding a unicycle or starting a band. Summer camps these days extend well beyond the campfire. Here are a few your kids will be delighted  to write home about.

Philadelphia School of Circus Arts
The big top awaits your little one
5900A Greene St.

There’s no need to run away to the circus when Philadelphia School of Circus Arts is right here in your own backyard. Since 2008, the school has been the go-to place to discover the craft and mystique of circus arts, and its summer camp offers opportunities for the novice up to the experienced performer. Campers can try their hands at a variety of balancing and gravity-defying feats including trapeze, aerial silks, clowning, juggling, unicycling, plate spinning, tightwire—along with arts and crafts projects and rest time as needed. This season’s camp offers several options for participation, including Junior Circus Camp (ages 5 through 7), Youth Circus Camp (8 through 14) and Performance Intensive (8 through 18), where students get the chance to show what they’ve learned to family, friends and the general public. Sessions range from one to two weeks, and there is also an A La Carte Camp (ages 8 through 14) in which participants can drop in for a day or two, or stay the whole week. Kids can build strength, courage and flexibility in an environment that—above all—encourages having fun.

Butcher's Sew Shop
Not your mother’s home ec
1912 South St./800 S. 8th St.

Home economics is back with a modern flair at Butcher’s Sew Shop, where kids can learn a craft that’s both fun and functional. Situated inside a former butcher shop, the studio’s name pays homage to those who once learned a skilled trade to make a living. Students learn practicality and problem solving while bringing their creative ideas to fruition. To add to the fun, daily activities such as hula hooping contests, beanbag tournaments and scavenger hunts help keep the creative juices flowing. Summer camp is broken down into weeklong, themed sessions arranged in three different age groups: Super Stitchers (ages 5 through 8), Creative Threads (8 through 11) and Fashion Week (12 through 15). Along with sewing tips and techniques, weekly camp sessions offer themed sewing projects and challenges to help foster imagination. Themes for younger campers (5 through 8 and 8 through 11) include Puppet Theater Week, Super Hero Week, Back to School Week and more. Campers attending the Fashion Week program get to try their hands at designing (à la “Project Runway”) by planning and creating original clothing and accessories from start to finish.

Girls Rock Philly
She’s not with the band. She is the band.
1428 Germantown Ave.

Girls Rock Philly is a nonprofit organization led by a team of passionate, music-loving staff and volunteers whose mission is to encourage, mentor and empower girls and young women through music. Even if you have no musical experience, you’ll feel like a pro in no time as participants immediately learn how to form a band and work together to write, practice, perform and record an original song—all within one week. The program includes instrument instruction (choice of guitar, bass, drums or keys, depending on availability) and is arranged by age. Workshops help develop problem-solving techniques and creative thinking, and visiting artists drop in to teach and share their experiences. Since its formation in 2006, the summer music camp has gone from 20 to 140 campers annually and continues to grow. The organization welcomes aspiring musicians of all social and economic backgrounds, encouraging diversity while building teamwork using music as the connecting point. Tuition for the weeklong summer camps is based on a sliding scale, and the option for lunch and tokens for transportation can be provided.

Camp Invention
Calling all tinkerers and future mad scientists
Various locations

Who wouldn’t want to be the kid to create the next big thing? Camp Invention is just the place for the inquisitive young tinkerer in your life. Inspired by the inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, Camp Invention presents unique, hands-on experiences for children in kindergarten through sixth grade, led by educators in the community. New curriculum topics are introduced annually, and themes this year include Duct Tape Billionaire, in which campers get to try their hands at creating the next big accessory. Kids invent from scratch while learning everything from how to start a business to understanding patents. Other themes include Mission Space Makers, where kids can express logic and creativity to create a new planet for humans to live on. During Operation Keep Out, campers learn how to decode notes written in invisible ink and reassemble electronics to make their own treasure box that only they can open. So whether your child is an aspiring environmentalist, CEO or engineer—or maybe all three—Camp Invention has something to satisfy and challenge every curious kid. Best of all, there are several schools hosting these programs just minutes outside the city.

WHYY Summer
For the young writer, movie maker or budding media mogul
150 N. 6th St.

In an age heavily focused on media and broadcast, WHYY’s summer camps help students develop the tools to do it right. These programs give students the opportunity to create and share stories with an introduction to film, journalism and media production. There are two options for high school students, including Summer Journalists and Summer Filmmakers programs. Summer Journalists is geared toward those interested in hitting the pavement as reporters. In this two-week program, students take to the streets of Philadelphia for a hands-on learning experience that includes everything they need to know to tell  a great story, including developing story topics, honing interviewing skills and understanding audio and video production. Summer Filmmakers (a three-week program) is for aspiring writers, directors and cinematographers. Campers learn how to write a script, and shoot and edit movies on professional equipment while working their way toward the completion of their own short film. WHYY also has a two-week program for middle-school-age filmmakers that covers all aspects of filmmaking, including screenwriting, casting, editing and more. Students learn to work collaboratively to create a final piece using their newly developed skills and techniques. These programs offer a unique opportunity for young people to build confidence while discovering and sharing their voice.

Riverbend Environmental Education Center
Is your child the next Rachel Carson?
1950 Spring Mill Road, Gladwyne, Pa.

If you’re looking for your child to get outside to experience more than just a breath of fresh air, Riverbend Environmental Education Center is the place to be. Situated on 30 acres of lush forest dotted with ponds, streams and nature trails adjacent to the Schuylkill River, the property once belonged to Lenape Native Americans who used the area at the river’s bend as their summer station (thus giving the center its name). Riverbend Environmental Education Center invites campers to fully experience and explore nature. They’ll also—individually and in groups—develop their ability to foster environmental awareness and stewardship in others. These summer camps are broken down into ages 3 through 6, 7 through 11 and 10 through 13, and they include a variety of themes to learn about the natural world surrounding them. Younger campers can choose from a range of activities including acting out photosynthesis, identifying insects, discovering animal “superpowers” and even how to make a campsite. Older campers develop wilderness skills before heading out on adventures such as traveling to the Jersey Shore to learn the importance of clean watersheds, spending time in the Pocono Mountains to hike and canoe, or visiting local farms and community gardens to learn about food, farming and more. In addition, the center promotes good environmental stewardship practices: Students will learn about recycling, energy efficiency, planting native flora, and controlling invasive species throughout the grounds.

Capitol Debate
Start them early on standing up to fake news
Villanova University

For young experts of persuasion, Capitol Debate’s summer camp offers the chance to sharpen communication skills and critical thinking while building confidence through public speaking. The program encourages a new generation to effectively use their voice to advocate for causes they care about, and gives them the concrete skills they need to succeed. The camps offered are for middle and high school students and are composed of small class sizes to maximize participation and give time for instructor feedback.  Students learn from those with many years of experience—teachers are experts in their fields, and many have coached national debate champions. In Middle School Debate Camp, the foundations of public speaking and argumentation are explored in a supportive, encouraging environment to build courage and self-esteem. Participants give speeches, prepare debate cases, learn how to do research, write rebuttal briefs and refute opposing opinions. In High School Debate Camp, students learn how to construct a case, present and analyze evidence and use practicality to successfully argue a point. The camp teaches the necessary skills to lead a successful debate while using informed critical thinking skills in academic, career and daily life—and there’s no sense in arguing with that!