traditional summer camps are a wonderful option for many kids, but for children looking to explore a different side of themselves or hone in on a piqued interest, a specialty camp is an excellent way to step safely out of the ordinary. there is a camp for nearly every pursuit, and the process of choosing one requires research (see sidebar for useful tips). but to help start your search, we've compiled a list of some specialty camps that stand out:
randall's island sports camp (randall's island, ny): run by randall's island golf center, this day camp lets kids focus on a different sport each morning, with afternoons devoted to fun activities like sailing, volleyball, mini-golf, relays, and more. (randallsislandsportscamp.com)
children's museum of the arts summer art colony (governor's island, ny): if your child prefers mark rothko over tiger woods, the children's museum of the arts is running a summer art colony on governor's island, where kids can explore many different forms of the fine, performing, and media arts. (cmany.org)??long lake camp (adirondacks, ny). this 39-year-old sleep-away camp on a 200-acre private estate melds the traditional hallmarks of camp with a hands-on approach to performing and fine arts, focusing on theater, music, dance, and film. there are even circus and rock band courses for an aspiring trapeze artist or riot grrrl. (longlakecamp.com, 1-800-767-7111)
id tech camps (various locations around the united states): with its focus on technology (the name stands for internal drive) and courses in tech, gaming, film, and programming, this should satisfy any budding techie. weeklong day camps and overnight extended "academies" for both beginners and advanced students are held at more than 60 prestigious u.s. universities, like mit, columbia, and nyu. (internaldrive.com, 1-888-tech) stagedoor manor (loch sheldrake, ny): this sleepaway camp in the catskills has become a portal for many a movie star, including robert downey jr., natalie portman, and mandy moore. intensive instruction in four performing arts basics-acting, voice, dance and television-are offered, along with an introduction to the film business, including set decoration, costume design, and lighting. every three weeks, campers audition for one of 12 performances throughout the summer, with industry professionals and casting directors frequently dropping in. (stagedoormanor.com, 1-888-stage-88) kutcher's sports academy (great barrington, ma): nearly every individual and group sport is taught here. there's something for everyone, from the beginner learning the basics to an experienced athlete hoping to fine-tune his or her game. sports range from the traditional, like baseball, to the offbeat, like fishing. located on a brand-new campus in the berkshires, the 40-year-old academy offers overnight and day camp sessions of various lengths. (kutsherssportsacademy.com, 1-866-857-7678) windsor mountain international (windsor nh): the draw of this camp is its belief in community service, making arrangements for campers to donate time, for example, at a boston soup kitchen or maintain trails for the national forest service. separate "bridge" programs take this philosophy abroad by transplanting the camp experience to foreign countries, from china to peru, or cycling through the pacific northwest. (windsormountain.org, 603-369-6088) appel farm (elmer, nj): since 1960, this residential summer arts program has created a supportive, nurturing environment for young artists. campers "major" in a core program of their choice and "minor" in two smaller endeavors, like folk dancing or mural painting. campers help tend and eat from an organic farm. beginners are welcome. (appelfarm.org, 1-800-394-8478) ******************** finding the right camp experts offer tips on for choosing a specialty camp that best fits your child's interests and personality. consult your child. "don't pick something for your child because you're trying to relive your own childhood," says renee flax, director of program services at the american camp association. when deciding on a camp, she recommends parents "know who their child is, not who they want them to be."
consider the curriculum. "in choice camps, children select their own programs," explains joanne paltrowitz, of camp experts and teen summers. camps with many electives can overwhelm young or shy children, especially first-time campers. "this is for the more independent child who can make a decision and navigate this road for himself or herself," flax says.
avoid burn-out. if your child has never tried a specific activity, consider a camp that offers a range of programs in instance the child does not like his or her original choice. for children experienced in something they love already, an intensive program focused solely on that activity for anything longer than a week could turn them off, flax notes.
dorm versus bunk. many specialty camps are located on college campuses with dormitory-style housing. translation: no cabin counselor. paltrowitz warns, "if someone is being bullied or feeling homesick, the counselor wouldn't know." dorms may be better for the slightly older or mature camper.
talk with the camp director. "many camp directors will come to your house, sit down, and meet with your family," flax says. children can ask their own questions, which alleviates anxiety. also, she notes, "if you're not a good fit, they will be honest with you."
consult an expert. the american camp association, which accredits hundreds of camps based on stringent guidelines, offers a free advisory service (acacamps.org, 1-800-777-2267). another knowledgeable organization is the camp experts and teen summers, which functions as a matchmaking service, recommending summer camps based on extended visits made by their experts to camps all over the world (campexperts.com, 212-288-7892).