Beyond boredom

June 13, 2005|by HEATHER KEELS

Right now he might be a bored 9-year-old, filling his suddenly school-free days with television and video games, but in two weeks, Randy Lohman will be a farmer-in-training, learning about agriculture through hands-on activities such as nature projects, grocery store scavenger hunts and bug collecting.

Lohman is registered for the Farm Fun Day Camp at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center, one of many specialty day camps in the area that give youngsters a chance to learn more about their interests or hobbies as they step into the shoes of artists, athletes, detectives, chefs and veterinarians for a week.

"Short-term camps can help a child explore different kinds of interests, whether that's a sports skill they want to improve or music or computers," said Fanny Crawford, executive director of Apples for Children, a nonprofit organization that links parents with child-care providers in Western Maryland.


Specialty camps have seen a boost in popularity over the past few decades, virtually replacing the traditional summer camp experience of swimming, canoeing, capture the flag and other athletic outdoor activities, said Mary Rotz, who has directed the Antietam Recreation summer day camp since 1977.

"Kids then were a lot more active," Rotz said, recalling a 24-mile bike trip to the Antietam aqueduct and back that used to be one of the camp's most popular activities. "If you did something like that now you'd get maybe three people. We're in the computer age. ... Kids now come to camp for lots of different reasons."

By mixing arts and crafts, theater, reading, games and specialty classes with traditional camp activities and introducing weekly themes, the Antietam camp has remained one of the popular day camps in the area.

Also popular is the more classroom-oriented College for Kids program at Hagerstown Community College, which offers 42 week-long themed summer camps.

"There are no tests, no homework. Its just getting back to the very basics of learning for learning's sake and making it fun," said Anne Myers, College for Kids program manager.

Some of the most popular classes this summer - all full - are the Pet Academy and Vet Academy, the "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince" book club and the technology-based Lego My Robot! and Computer Gaming and Animation classes.

Many parents ensured their children spots in their camps of choice by calling in the early spring. Crawford said summer camp inquiries peaked in April, when Apples for Children's locate service got about 30 calls for them - but most camps said a few spots remain.

At HCC, 10 classes had openings, including one session of the Amazon Adventure class for grades one and two, two language classes, two technology programs for older students, a theater class and a new class called What on Earth, about the mysteries and wonders of our changing planet.

Other options for specialty camps include the nature-themed Audubon Discovery Day Camp at Yankauer Nature Preserve in Shepherdstown, W.Va., and the Art Camp in the Park at Doub's Woods.

At the Doub's Woods camp, kindergarten and elementary school students get to work with professional artists on art projects such as making ceramic pottery and creating their own string instruments.

Parents of younger children might want to look into HCC's Preschool Play Camp for potty-trained children ages 3 to 5 or the Hagerstown YMCA's Kinder Camp for ages 5 to 6; for those who want athletic instruction, there's also the YMCA's Youth Sports Camp.

When choosing a camp, Crawford said, parents should make sure it is registered and licensed, includes a variety of activities and has experienced, returning staff members.

"If you're having staff coming back year after year, that means they feel like they're providing a good service," she said.

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