The themes can be as different as technology, theater and tennis, but today’s summer day camps have the same goal – powering up kids’ bodies and brains.
That’s good news for parents who think their kids might lose their academic edge if they spend all their time playing. And, it’s good news for parents who worry that kids who would rather be solving science problems won’t get the chance to play.
At the annual summer computer day camps called ID Tech Camp at San Antonio’s Trinity University, “our kids have tons of fun,” says Karen Thurm Safran, the national ID Tech program’s vice president of strategic partnerships.
The program matches kids 6 to18 by age groups in teams of eight for a week of outside play and project-based problem solving. “By the end of the week, they can design a video game, they can code an app or they can make a website,” Safran says. “They are learning 21st century skills and using products that professionals use, so it’s very empowering.”
While coding an app can seem like the very opposite of playtime to non-technology minded adults, Safran says part of the fun for ID Tech Camp kids is meeting others their age who share the same interests in science, technology, engineering and math. “They’re having fun because they’re doing what they love in a dynamic environment,” she says.
It’s kids like that who grow up to do the research for studies that show the very act of playing a role on stage or mastering a sport outdoors can also build intellectual skills and boost academic outcomes.
“Studies have shown that kids who are involved in the performing arts are able to translate what they have learned throughout their participation into academic success,” says Andrew Gordon, education coordinator at the Carver Community Cultural Center’s Carver School of Visual and Performing Arts in San Antonio.
Kids on stage
The Carver’s summer day camps this year include three-week theater camps led by the Renaissance Guild for beginners ages 6 to 11 and intermediate-level kids 12 to 18. Two-week dance camps led by Dallas Black Dance Theatre are for kids 8 to18. Performances open to the public mark the end of each summer day camp session.
In addition to measurable increases in English and math aptitude stemming from participation in theater and dance, “it also helps a lot of kids come out of their shells,” Gordon says.
“Participation in the performing arts has been a breakthrough moment for some of the shy kids,” he says. “If children demonstrate an interest in theater or dance, it’s an opportunity to associate with kindred spirits, and that might help them find the confidence that they need to open up to the world a little more.”
San Antonio’s Green Tree Tennis Club becomes an all-day playground in summer months for kids who can learn or boost their tennis and swimming skills at half-day and full-day camps that teach either sport or both, says owner and director Courtney P. Mayer.
Kids on the courts
Last year, more than 800 kids ages 6 to 16 attended Green Tree Tennis Club’s 11 half-day and full-day camps, where there’s also plenty of space to play basketball and horseshoes on the club’s eight acres.
“Physical exercise makes your brain work better. They complement each other,” says Mayer. “I’ve been an athlete my whole life, and I’m what you call book smart,” says the graduate of the University of North Carolina and successful business owner. She has operated Green Tree for 29 years.
“Look at the school or college tennis team, and you’ll discover that those kids are the ones who are making the best grades,” she says. “Tennis players are smart kids.”
Kids’ camp operators have been learning, too, says Mayer. Camps like hers used to operate for four hours a day for just three days a week. As both parents working full-time became the norm, day camps adjusted. “It became obvious that everyone’s going back to work, and parents needed something more. We were at the forefront of adding all-day camps.”
Today’s day camps also offer more variety, offering parents more ways to match what kids love or want to learn, to camps that combine specific themes with traditional activities.
Day camp variety
For kids who love animals, the San Antonio Zoo offers summer day camps that allow kids to see and learn about animals. It’s all about puppies and kittens, as well as the occasional guest horse, at the San Antonio Humane Society’s Camp Humane day camps for kids. Kids can see whales, dolphins and other sea life while learning about marine biology at summer day camps at SeaWorld San Antonio.
For creative kids in San Antonio, there’s Camp Ink for budding writers ages 8 to17, Camp Showbiz at The Magik Theater for ages 3 to 17, summer theater camp at The Playhouse San Antonio for ages 4 to18, and Little Brushes Summer Camp at Pinot’s Palette in San Antonio for ages 4 and older.
For nature-loving kids, Cibolo Nature Center & Farm offers art and nature day camps. Texas State University in San Marcos offers a two-day Aquatic Science Adventure day camp that allows kids to identify underwater creatures and plant life from a glass-bottom boat.
For young sports fans, archery, swimming and hiking are on the menu at summer adventure camps run by the YMCA of Greater San Antonio. The NBA’s San Antonio Spurs franchise offers summer basketball programs for kids.
For parents on a budget, the San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department’s eight-week summer youth program for kids 6 to 14 costs as little as $25 for income-eligible families. Other day camps offer early registration discounts and scholarships. If you’re on a tight budget, camp operators’ advice is to call and ask about available discounts.
Renee Haines is a San Antonio freelance writer.