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Pick the perfect summer camp

Child care: With summer almost here, it’s time to think about the best places for your kids

Posted: May 13, 2010 7:47 p.m.
Updated: May 14, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Swimming is just one fun activity typically found at summer camps for kids.

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Elizabeth Johnson’s 12-year-old son Graham is into computers and engineering experiments.

So when Graham told his mom he wanted to take a pottery workshop for summer camp, Johnson was shocked. “I never would have chosen that for him and he is so excited,” she said. “Sitting for four hours at a wheel is just something I wouldn’t have chosen for him.”

When it comes to summer camps, Johnson can attest that sometimes parents know what their children want — but not always.

“Sometimes a parent knows best, but sometimes they don’t,” said Johnson, a Harvard graduate and director of community outreach at the Huckleberry Center for Creative Learning.  

As the summer approaches, Johnson recommends that parents ask their child one question before sending them off to any camp: “What’s your wildest dream?”

Parents might be surprised at the answers they get in return.  

Exploring passions
Johnson believes summer camp should venture away from typical school activities and instead focus on a child’s potential passion.  

The Huckleberry Center, in Newhall, will host its first summer of diverse camps this year such as “Art of the Orient,” “Fun with Film” and “Camp Create 101 — Make It & Take It Fun.” Camps start June 14.  Kids in the “Week at the Spa — Lotions & Potions!” camp will create lotions, massage oils and facemasks. They will also learn about skin care, stress reduction, some yoga poses and more.

Those who opt for the “Science is Fun” camp will for one day play with pipe insulation and marbles, as they explore concepts of kinetic and potential energy.

“We’re not only going to be learning about Newton’s laws, we’re going to be doing Newton’s laws,” said Johnson, a science teacher.

Summer camp should not be filled with worksheets and curriculum, Johnson said.  Most of a child’s year is spent in the classroom building up their “tool box.” Summer can be a time for kids to use those tools.

“Let’s give these kids a chance to rejuvenate, explore and reconnect with their love of learning,” Johnson said. “Let’s not just continue school into summer. Let’s take what they’ve learned and apply it.”

Health and stimulation
The Boys & Girls Club of the Santa Clarita Valley is a veteran when it comes to operating summer camps. From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday starting June 14, kids who register for the club will have a buffet of activities to choose from such as painting, drawing, dance, arts and crafts, handball, ping pong, hiking trips and relay races.

The club recently received a grant from McDonalds for 10 new Macintosh computers allowing kids to participate in activities such as filmmaking, said Program Director Rubisela Gamboa.

Another grant will allow female children to get more involved in science through robotics, Gamboa said.

Summer camps should keep the mind active, she said. “Even though they’re doing something fun and engaging, it should still stimulate their mind whether it’s a Red Rover game or soccer game.”

A summer camp should not operate like a day care, she said. The Boys & Girls Club aims to build social skills and leadership in its participants. Allowing kids to choose their summer camp activities fosters a sense of independence in them, Gamboa said. Even if they don’t make the best decision, that mistake can translate into a learning or growth opportunity, she said.

“Summer camp shouldn’t tell a child when they need to read, when to be active and when they need to eat,” Gamboa said. “If you force them to do an activity when they don’t want to do it, they won’t like that place.”

The Boys and Girls Club of SCV incorporates the principals of “Triple Play” — healthy mind, body and soul — into their summer programs, Gamboa said.

The club has ditched snacks such as M&M’s for peanut butter bars in the vending machines and each child must engage in some form of physical activity for a half-hour each day, Gamboa said. “Ever since we changed our motto to healthy lifestyle, we’ve seen an increase in participation in educational programs and a decrease in behavioral problems,” she said.

Tips for choosing
The options could seem endless: sports camp, science camp, great outdoors camp, art camp, academic camp or  an all-inclusive camp. Andy Allan, director of curriculum for Champions Science Adventures, gives the following tips to help make the decision less daunting:
  •  Ask your child about his or her interests and where he or she wants to go to camp
  •  Take a tour of the camps under consideration.
  •  Consider specialty camps.
  •   Look for a balance of learning and fun.
  •  Insist on health and safety basics.
Gamboa, of the Boys & Girls Club, stressed the importance of an engaged staff.  “People in the facility need to care,” she said. “They need to not just be there for a summer-camp staff paycheck.”

For information and costs for the Boys & Girls Club summer activities call (661) 254-2582 or visit 24909 Newhall Ave. in Newhall. For information and costs for the Huckleberry Center for Creative Learning call (661) 476-2144 or visit www.hucklc.org. A list of Champions Science Adventure’s local summer camps locations can be found at www.scienceadventures.com.

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