Ultimate guide to the coolest kids summer camps

Forget about sitting around the campfire and singing “Kumbaya” this summer.

From high-flying action to four-legged fun, kids’ summer camps are nothing like their parents remember from summers gone by.

Parents and kids are demanding more during their time away from school, and camps across the nation are providing options for developing skills, finding adventure and creating friendships.

“It’s the highlight of their entire year,” said Dee Dee Wilson Barton, a mother of two in Palm Springs, Calif. “They talk about this all year long. It’s the best thing. It’s like Christmas, except that it’s a couple of weeks.”

Wilson Barton has sent her kids to Pali Adventures, located in Running Springs, Calif., for four years. Pali offers 18 different camps for participants to choose from. Her daughters have attended the camp’s extreme girl adventure, rock star, trapeze and fashion camps, among others.

“Summers are long and so I’m looking for some way to keep them in the game, stimulated,” Wilson Barton said. “I love that my older daughter has been able to pursue music while she’s there, but in this fun, relaxed environment… They think it’s fun, but all of these things are feeding into their interests.”

No matter what excites, stimulates or entertains your child, there is bound to be a camp just for him.

Fox News Traveler rounded up nine unique summer experiences lucky kids will have the chance to enjoy after the school bell rings.

1.&nbspDog Lovers Camp


Shadow Hill Training Center

Doggone! A week away doesn’t have to mean time away from a child’s best friend. At the Shadow Hill Training Center in Jackson Springs, N.C., kids can actually go to camp with their favorite four-legged pets.

“I always thought, wouldn’t it be a blast to go to someone’s camp if you’re a dog lover and get started in all of the dog sports that are out there now?” said owner Jane Hammett Bright. “We offer agility, conformation, junior showmanship, rally, obedience and herding.”

Campers bring their dogs and learn how to train them throughout the week.

“If they’re a little on the shy side and have never been away to camp, their dog is always the distraction and needs attention,” Hammett Bright said. “It’s an icebreaker for a lot of kids.”

2.&nbspMovie Stunt Camp


Pali Adventures

“Ready, set, action!” takes on new meaning at Pali Adventures where campers can literally jump into stunts and tricks like Hollywood actors.

“Swordplay, fight scene choreography, high falls from various buildings … What’s not to like?” said Christopher Kelly, Pali Adventures’ Hollywood stunts director. “Our campers develop many new skills during their time in the Hollywood stunt program and make fantastic new friends. Falling from over 30 feet is definitely a confidence booster.”

Building upon the action from day to day, the young Hollywood stars gain confidence by conquering each task at hand.

“My goal is to give them an escape where they can be themselves and relax,” said Pali Adventures camp director Ian Brassett. “The kids these days – their lives are so structured. There’s very little play in this day and age… At camp, they get to choose. They get to develop what they want to do… There’s structure to it, but I don’t want the kids to see that structure. They don’t know that I’m tracking them. They’re having fun and that’s what it’s all about.”

3.&nbspSki Camp


Ligety Weibrecht Ski Camp

Re-experience the best of winter at the Ligety Weibrecht ski camp at Mount Hood in Oregon, which is one of the few places in North America where there is enough snow to hit the slopes in the summer. Several medalists from the Sochi Olympics, including Ted Ligety and Andrew Weibrecht, coach campers in various skiing events.

“The coaches are really, really interactive,” said camp director Miguel Azzarate. “It’s not like they show up, sign autographs and leave until the next day… They train with them. They coach them. They talk with them. They share their experiences… It’s a treat for the kids, for sure.”

Azzarate said the skiers work on basic skills, running gates and other training activities, just as they would during the winter.

“Many people are treating skiing like it’s only a winter sport,” Azzarate said. “But if you want to really, really improve and dedicate yourself a little bit more, you need year-round training.”

4.&nbspSecret Agent Camp


Pali Adventures

Kids who want to be James Bond learn what a career in international intelligence and espionage is all about at Pali Adventures’ secret agent camp. Spy training and secret agent games are just some of the non-covert fun packed into one week.

“Who hasn’t wondered at some point in time what it would be like to be a secret agent?” said camp director Axel Newton. “There is nothing like the thrill, excitement and pure joy that can be seen on every camper’s face as they launch a raid – armed with shaving cream and water balloons.”

5.&nbspEntrepreneur Camp


Camp Inc.

Get your business on! At Camp Inc. in the mountains above Boulder, Colo., 7th through 12th graders learn what it takes to make an idea become a reality. Young entrepreneurs are encouraged to develop a product, start a business or create a non-profit organization, with business specialists guiding them through the process. Chief camp officer Josh Pierce says the camp does more than help kids see their dreams through to fruition.

“It’s a great resume builder for college,” Pierce said. “People don’t realize how transformational a two- or three-week camp can be at that age.”

At the end of camp, the teenage business executives present their plans to real investors for feedback – and possibly more.

“They can definitely win prizes and possibly seed money,” Pierce said. “The investors that are in the audience or on the panel that are judging – it’s up to them. If they want to get involved, they definitely can.”

6.&nbspGame Design: 3D Game-Making & Intro to Programming Camp


Tech Know How

It’s nearly every teenager’s idea of a perfect summer: endless hours of video games. Tech Know How, based in Foster City, Calif., takes things up a notch with its game design: 3D game-making & intro to programming camp.

It’s much more gratifying than just playing games because, when the summer’s over, these campers can show their friends the two-person racing game they created.

“Robotics is their future and so they want to learn more about it,” said camp director Sue Mofsie-Stevenson. “Kids are playing games all the time now. I think that instead of just playing games, parents want them to take the next step, and the kids do, too, to make their own games.”

7.&nbspGirl Power Camp


Pali Adventures

Paintball, skateboarding and ziplining are just a few of the high-adventure activities offered in Pali’s girl power camp.

“We provide a safe and supportive environment for girls to experience a number of outdoor adventure-based activities, without having to worry about the presence of any boys,” said director Simone VanAsbeck. “Our girls are empowered to try new things and step outside of their comfort zone, and there is still time for some manicures, pedicures and facials.”

8.&nbspLego Motor Madness with Intro to NXT® Robotics Camp


Tech Know How

The classic building blocks may be toys, but Lego motor madness with intro to NXT® robotics camp, which like the video game camp is also with Tech Know How is anything but simple playtime.

“Our lego creations go beyond what they could buy in a store,” Mofsie-Stevenson said. “We have proprietary builds. The kids learn about motors, electricity, gears… We are teaching them a little about science and engineering, but they’re having a lot of fun, too.”

Besides stacking up new possibilities and learning how to make extreme Lego creations, the director says participants gain problem-solving skills they can use in high school math.

“It also teaches them patience in putting a problem together and empowers them,” Mofsie-Stevenson said. “It helps them with social skills in a more academic environment.”

Final Tips for Choosing the Right Camp

While the kids are still in school, parents should do their homework to figure out what type of camp fits their child’s needs.

Pali Adventures camp director, Ian Brassett, offers these tips to parents:

– Check to see if the camp is accredited by the American Camp Association. That shows a baseline for safety.

– Call the camp director. “Don’t be afraid to be on the phone for an hour or two hours,” Brassett said. “If the director doesn’t have time to talk to you as a parent, then you should not send your child to that camp.”

– Ask for references. Try to talk to other parents whose children have attended the camp before. Better yet, visit the camp for a tour.

– Find out about the camp’s staff-to-camper ratio and health care situation.

– Look into what type of feedback you can get about how your child is doing at camp.

Brassett says Pali posts about 1000 photos daily for parents to view online. He says the reassurance that gives them while their children are away is priceless.

“Parents know if they look at a picture of their kids if they’re having a great time,” Brassett said. “Since we started doing that, their comfort level with the camp has only increased, because they can see they’re having a good time.”

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