There are undeniable benefits to sending your kids to camp. And in Orange County, the camping possibilities are endless.
By Jessica Peralta and Megan Feighery
Ask any kid what he or she liked about summer camp and the response might go something like this:
“It was fun!”
Though the underlying theme of most camps—whether day or overnight—is indeed fun. Kids who attend camps are getting much more.
“As children grow, they face a variety of developmental tasks as they transform and become more sophisticated in how they think, feel and behave,” said Dr. Sabrina Karczewski, pediatric psychologist at CHOC Children’s. “It is hard work for kids and teens to build their identity and discover their strengths, while also developing flexible social skills and maintaining positive relationships. Traditional school environments may not be able to fully address these needs, as time is spent teaching important academic and life skills. Many families turn to extra-curricular activities during the school year to provide additional enrichment to their children’s lives.”
She said camps offer a unique opportunity for children, adolescents and teens to immerse themselves in a world that is separate from their daily life, meet diverse peers and role models with common interests, as well as try new things in a social environment with a clean slate.
“High-quality camps provide a safe space with adult supervisors who are energetic, accepting, supportive and who set appropriate boundaries,” she said. “Camps tend to have a culture of fun in which any negative attitudes may fizzle while positive participation is enthusiastically praised and reinforced by adults and kids alike.”
Karczewski said that because camps offer children freedom of choice within a range of structured activities, they are innately motivated to choose what interests them, take initiative for trying something new and master an area they may not have known.
“Without the influence of known peer groups, media or family expectations, camp may allow children room to deepen independence and self-sufficiency, foster positive identity and resilience, and hone decision-making and problem-solving skills,” she said.
Camps run aplenty here in Orange County. As you begin your research for the upcoming camps season, we’ve rounded up some unique themed camps for your perusal. When finding the right camp for your kids, remember to pay attention to their interests and individual passions.
A report by Americans for the Arts found that children who regularly engage in artistic activity can develop skills that allow them to think outside the box when faced with challenges and are more likely to try out a variety of solutions to overcome obstacles, rather than give up. The report also found that encouraging creativity through art led to improved academic performance in all school subjects. The National Institutes of Health states that learning basic skills like how to draw a circle, use scissors or hold a paintbrush develop fine motor skills that are essential for a young child’s growth. A 2010 study published by the American Journal of Public Health found a strong correlation between art and mental well-being as art can be a way to reflect, express and work through a variety of ideas and issues.
Carla Hutchison is director at No Limits Creative Arts in Yorba Linda and Los Alamitos, a program that offers dance, musical theater and tumbling classes to special needs children. She said she has seen firsthand the impact that artistic expression can have on the students. Not only do their singing and dancing skills improve but their communication, memorization and social skills do as well.
“My proudest moment of developing and running this program was when I had a very shy and introverted boy with disabilities who joined our classes,” she said. “He enjoyed coming to class and you could tell as he would slowly come out of his shell on a weekly basis. He never performed with his peers on the stage because he never felt comfortable and we were OK with that. After two years of coming to our classes this young man joined his school play and had a speaking role. I went to see him perform and couldn’t have been more proud.”
Brittany McKee, a counselor at Quest Camps in Fountain Valley, a therapeutic summer camp for kids and young adults, has seen similar growth in her campers.
“My favorite part is getting a front-row seat to the social, emotional and behavioral growth that all of our kids are working so hard on every day,” said McKee. “It warms my heart to hear kids and parents tell us that they had their first playdate, first sleepover, made their first friend or used a skill to regulate emotions that are typically tough for them to regulate. That is a huge part of what makes this job so rewarding to me.”
Of course there are many other creativity-based camps in the county—ranging from youth art classes to the aerial arts (think Cirque du Soleil).
Youth Art Classes at the Festival of Arts in Laguna Beach teaches kids all about ceramics, mosaics, printmaking, painting and more in classes taught by professional artists. Their art will even be displayed for parents to view throughout the festival grounds. Ruby Karen Project in Costa Mesa allows kids to fly through the air with great ease at the Kids Summer Circus Camp (ages 5+), or start training for Cirque Du Soleil at the Intensive Aerial Camps for Kids (6-12) or the Adult and Teens Aerial Progressive Training (13+).
Fashion Camp in Tustin teaches little fashionistas the ins and outs of the design world. Campers learn how to operate a sewing machine, select fabric, follow a pattern, then sew it all up for a fashion show at the end of the week for friends and family. While Lil’ Chefs Summer Camp in Irvine takes kids on unique culinary journeys that will delight their tastebuds and ignite their passion for cooking. Topics and themes include everything from “French Cafe” and “Everything Chocolate” to a scrumptious “Ice Cream Parlor n’ Sandwich Shop.”
Budding writers can experience the Storymakery Young Author Summer Camp in Irvine, where kids develop their own storybooks from start to finish. Meanwhile PRIDE Summer Camp, with locations in Mission Viejo, Irvine and Yorba Linda, plus in-home services, offers intensive summer reading camps, including specialized one-on-one reading, writing and comprehension training.
For those kids who love rocking out, Fullerton’s Rockstar Academy provides an immersive music camp where students will learn how to play guitar, bass and drums as well as get hands-on experience in music production, technology and studio recording. Students will also receive lessons from professional musicians. The whole camp concludes with a concert where campers can show off their new rockin’ skills.
On the more active side of things, Camp Air—part of Big Air Trampoline Park—in Buena Park and Laguna Hills lets kids jump for joy during summer camp, where they receive unlimited jumping access every day, participate in a variety of games like dodgeball and Battlebeam, make one-of-a-kind arts and crafts, or just relax and watch a movie with fellow campers.
No discussion of science camps can be complete without some Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)-themed experiences.
“We believe camp is a time for flexibility and fun, infusing STEM learning throughout all the planned activities. Different than traditional formal science education, science camp allows kids to focus on areas of interest without having to adhere to school and educational standards,” said
Ashley Ukleja, education manager for Discovery Cube Los Angeles and camp director. “This allows for the youth that attends our camp to view science as a fun, interesting, relatable topic with the hope that this mindset carries over into the school year.”
Discovery Cube offers eight different summer camps—including five completely new camps—for summer 2019, in four different locations, including Discovery Cube Orange County in Santa Ana. Among the offerings are Space Camp: Mission to Mars, a week-long science camp where students design their own rocket ship to the Red Planet and explore what it would take to survive the alien environment; and Heroes: “With Great Powers…” where kids learn all about what makes their favorite heroes so powerful while also unlocking their own superpowers.
“These camps were developed as a way to show kids how fun science is, in addition to providing camps that focus on topics both in the news and pop culture,” said Ukleja. “Our space camp and superhero camp dive into some of the misconceptions surrounding these topics to discuss their actual probability.”
Ukleja said their hope with any camp is to inspire a love of learning and the desire to learn more about whatever the camp theme.
“Last year, we launched a full day technology and coding camp,” she said. “This camp culminated in each child creating a product of their choice, designing the program for it, and presenting it Friday afternoon to their fellow campers and their parents. Two campers were very inspired by this topic and took this introduction to programming and coding even further by designing a project that competed at the first national Coolest Projects, a science fair of technology projects later in the school year.”
There are many other science camps in the county helping kids find their STEM-themed passions. Brain Builders, in Laguna Niguel, Tustin and some offsite locations around the county, is a STEM-based learning camp offering different weekly themes including robotics, coding, 3D printing, engineering with LEGOs, Star Wars Makers Lab, Battle Bots and more. Speaking of LEGOs, Bricks 4 Kidz, with various locations throughout the county, brings STEM education to life through the magic of LEGO bricks. Kids can join the Remote Control Mania camp to build moving creations using wireless remote controls or step into the Galaxy Far Away camp to learn about space exploration and build a LEGO rocket ship. The possibilities are endless.
Bionerds, with various Orange County locations, is sure to get your little ones excited about all things science. They will learn all about the human body, insects, marine animals and plants, DNA and decomposition, with hands-on experiments, guest speakers and field trips.
Camp Heritage Oak in Yorba Linda offers a little history and science through its Epic Time Machine summer camp. Every week a different period of history will be explored. Kids will pan for gold during “Pioneer Days,” hunt for fossils in the “Jurassic Times” and play in real snow during the “Ice Age.”
Orange County-adjacent Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach offers summer camps where kids get the chance to learn and interact with a variety of animals and dive deep into marine science. Campers can enjoy games, crafts and activities while gaining a deeper understanding of our world’s oceans.
“Outdoor camps for kids are vital to youth development,” said Jack Nguyen, Newport Sea Base program director. “Allowing youth to learn and get hands-on experience outdoors is such a benefit as it enables youth to put their knowledge and skill to test in real life applications out on the water and on boats in our environment. In sailing, youth are able to get an introduction to the basic parts of a boat and maneuvering skills in the classroom, however, the real learning happens when they’re in the cockpit of an actual sailboat reading the wind and managing their sails and sheets while cruising through the harbor.”
Nguyen said a connection with the outdoors is particularly important in modern times.
“In this growing movement of technology and video games, it is more important than ever to balance this and help our youth understand and get involved in the outdoors, and to experience the beautiful world around us,” he said. “The more aware our youth are of the environment and how they play a part in the health of our planet, the more sustainable our planet will be moving forward.”
Newport Sea Base camps in Newport Beach offers everything from sailing, bay and ocean fishing, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding to marine science, shark dissection, woodwork, engineering, arts and crafts, sports, scavenger hunts and much more.
Speaking of water, JP’s Surf Camp in San Clemente has been around since 2001 and founder Jonathan Pierce is passionate about providing a safe, welcoming environment for campers as they learn about ocean awareness, safety techniques, and of course, surfing. While Dana Wharf Kids Fishing Camp in Dana Point teaches kids the fundamentals of fishing from experienced instructors.
“Kids have a blast fishing all week learning from the experts, on a private boat just for them with Dana Wharf Sportfishing,” said Donna Kalez, general manager of Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching, which offers the camp.
For kids who have a passion for horses, KB Performance Horses Summer Camps in Newport Beach are all about horsing around—while still learning some things. Kids will get educated on proper grooming techniques, equipment and riding, through a variety of fun games and hands-on activities all while spending time outdoors in Newport Back Bay. KB Performance Horses is an Orange County-based horse training facility that prides itself on teaching to all levels of riders and horse lovers.
Rockreation Summer Climb Camp in Costa Mesa will teach kids everything they need to make it to the top. Professional instructors will teach basic safety, how to properly use the equipment and climbing techniques.
For a more urban outdoor experience, Etnies Summer Skate Camp in Lake Forest teaches beginning and intermediate riders the basics of skating along with ollies, flip tricks, grinding and bowl riding. Etnies skate instructors are trained professionals dedicated to providing a safe welcoming environment for an experience that campers will likely never forget.
Karczewski said special interest camps like science, outdoor and creative camps are an opportunity for kids with a specific interest to take a deep dive into their passions.
“Meeting other youth with similar drives and abilities can help to push a child who previously may have been the top of their class, deepen their understanding of a topic, and help them develop new levels of mastery they may not have thought themselves capable of,” she said.