East Bay kids that are hot for adventure will find cool, creative, summer day camps offering everything from art to trapeze.
For many summers while I was growing up, I attended Grandma’s Day Camp while my parents were at work. The camp’s two primary activities were reading Harlequin romances–she had a whole bureau filled with them–and watching General Hospital. Lunch was either a bowl of Kraft macaroni and cheese or a baloney sandwich. By the time my parents shipped me off for a week of YMCA sleep-away camp in August, I was usually desperate enough that even nonstop rounds of “Kumbaya,” hordes of mosquitoes, and the dreaded Pajama Breakfast sounded good.
Things have changed since I was a kid, and East Bay parents have many more day camp options for their “vacationing” children than a summer of soap operas. Does your kid love soccer? Rocks? Painting? Flying trapeze? There’s a camp out there for her. Does he like something low-key, maybe a little crafting, a little swimming, and a nice PB&J on the grass? You got it.
But interesting is just one criterion for consideration. There’s also logistics, particularly if you work and have more than one child. Heaven forbid you spend your summer taking one child to trapeze camp in Emeryville and the other up to Tilden to study frogs, while trying to get to the office on time.
Fortunately, the range of camps available allows parents to meet their requirements and their kids’ interests, too.
Parents with flexible schedules may find that stringing together a few camps over the summer appeals to their child’s hunger for variety; others may want one camp that takes the whole family from June through August. Last summer, Renee Orozco of Kensington coordinated an assortment of camps for her then five-year-old son, Jasper. She plans to do the same this year. “He likes adventure,” she says. “He’s much more engaged when he gets to try a few different programs.”
A good place to start if you’re looking for a general interest camp is city recreational departments or the local YMCA, which often run day camps that expose kids to a medley of activities–including field trips–at affordable rates. Another general interest camp, the Renaissance School in Oakland, provides a Montessori program in the morning, with additional activities like language, sports, music, dance, theater, science, and art in the afternoon. “The Montessori environment allows for a program to be designed for those elementary aged children who need focused attention on a particular academic skill such as in math or language,” says Leslie Hites, Head of School.
Berkeley Montessori School’s full-day program explores physical arts like swimming, team sports, and group games; studio arts like sculpting, knitting, and drawing; performance arts like drama, drumming, and guitar; and living arts like gardening, cooking, and creative writing.
For a cultural spin, check out Hip Wah Summer Program, a full-day camp held at Redwood Day School in Oakland, introducing children of any cultural background to Chinese culture, music, art, and language. Launched by a small group of East Bay Chinese-American parents in 1984, Hip Wah began as a co-op. That first year, a handful of campers met in a Berkeley church basement. Last year, campers numbered 130.
“The original idea that the founders had, to teach Chinese culture and tradition to future generations, is still going strong today,” says Susan Tom, director. “We want our children to understand where they’ve come from and recognize where they’re headed.”
The Berkeley-Richmond Jewish Community Center offers two four-week camp sessions with the themes of “Building Community” and “A World of Peace.” In addition to activities that support these themes, like cooking for loved ones, planting trees, and meeting people who are actively working for peace, campers can explore woodworking, drama, capoeira, and Jewish music, arts, and crafts.
Two years ago, when Jane Kemp’s son Kieran was transitioning out of preschool, the Berkeley mom knew she wanted to find a science camp for his summer before kindergarten. Kemp enrolled Kieran in one of Sarah Shaffer’s Sarah’s Science camps. “That first summer, on the first day of camp, I thought he’d be shy, but he never looked back. He came home and said, ‘Mom, I’m not sure science is supposed to be this fun,’ ” Kemp says. “He’s learned about entomology, zoology, physics, archaeology, all without realizing he was discovering science.” Kieran has attended a Sarah’s Science summer camp, called This Land Is Your Land, every year since then.
This Land Is Your Land is held in two, outdoor locations: Roberts Regional Park and Tilden Regional Park. Kids might make a wristwatch catapult for sneak attacks, set an underground insect trap to catch bugs, construct a weather station, solve secret pirate code, dissect owl pellets and reconstruct the tiny skeletons inside, or design a salt-powered lava light.
” Our whole goal is to give kids an old-fashioned, roaming-the-woods, joyous summer,” says Shaffer, who also operates academic-year science programs in many of the East Bay’s public schools. “I think science is the most fun thing a kid can do, and kids learn when they’re having fun.”
Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland has weeklong, half- and full-day camps during which participants might make a spectroscope; explore a redwood forest in search of plants and animals; learn how telescopes work and build one to take home; brew their own root beer; or design a Lego robot. Kids in grades three to five can explore biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, architecture, and engineering at the Lawrence Hall of Science full-day camp. Half-day camps let kids ages four to fourteen hunt for creatures on the forest floor, dig for fossils, make footprints in clay, build astronomical tools, explore food chemistry, or build their own Web page.
Last summer, Alisa Jenny, recently transplanted to the Bay Area from Alaska, wanted to find a summer camp for her then five-year-old son, Duncan, that would build on his existing love for the outdoors and encourage him to learn about the environment. “He already had an interest in spending time at the beach, and finding rocks and bugs,” she says. “I wanted to foster in him a broader sense of the physical world.”
Jenny found Kids for the Bay’s Aquatic Science Adventure Camp. Campers fish for crab, study damselfly nymphs, and enjoy nature hikes at Lake Anza, Strawberry Creek, and the Berkeley Marina. Kids ages eight to ten take a boat trip on the San Francisco Bay to study animals and plants living in the open water, and study environmental issues affecting Berkeley habitats. Duncan thrived. “He’s still talking about all the cool things he learned when he got to search for crabs down at the Marina,” Jenny says.
The Oakland Zoo runs camp sessions for preschoolers through high-school seniors. Younger campers learn about wildlife through stories, games, crafts, and encounters with small animals, while older ones discover our planet’s diversity through scientific observations and ecology experiments.
Most unusual science-y offering: a Lego camp through Play-Well TEKnologies for those budding hard-core engineers. Don’t expect to find the usual, living-room Lego creations at this camp. The highly trained instructors impart technical engineering principles such as torque, pneumatics, and suspension while working with Lego pieces not accessible in stores. Camp locations are throughout the Bay Area.
Portrait of the artist as a young camper
Kids serious about art will thrive at one of the three California College of the Arts (CCA) summer programs, held at CCA’s Oakland campus. The Young Artist Studio Program (YASP), for sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders, is taught by a mix of CCA faculty and artists from around the world.
Young artists select a morning class for the whole session, choosing from painting, black-and-white photography, cartoon drawing, animation, or clay animation; in the afternoon, everyone takes a drawing class and another elective such as mosaics, printmaking, or computers and art. Each session ends with a student exhibit for family and friends. “Parents come to us and tell us that YASP was the highlight of their child’s summer,” says Nina Sadek, CCA’s Dean of Special Programs.
Marianne Costello’s daughter Jenny, a San Ramon resident, attended YASP last summer at the age of 12. “Jenny is totally right-brained, and we wanted a camp that would offer art experiences she can’t get at school,” Costello says. “She loved it. Not only did she learn how to use new tools and experiment with different mediums, like using a blowtorch to make jewelry, she got a sense of what art school might be like.”
For first-year high school students with more art experience, CCA runs an advanced program called Summer Atelier. In addition to classes in drawing, alternative photographic processes, and book arts, Summer Atelier students meet local artists in their studios and take field trips to the Berkeley Art Museum.
Finally, the Pre-College Program for high-school sophomores, juniors, and seniors offers three college credits: Its purpose is to give students a taste of the art-school environment. Half of the 200 participants are local, and the other half comes from around the country and the world.
Younger kids, or those who want to try a variety of mediums in a less structured way can check out Oakland’s Museum of Children’s Art (MOCHA) camps and learn to make papier-mâché parrots and animal masks, bread sculptures, cave paintings, shadow puppets, spaceships, or medieval castles. MOCHA also offers an Advanced Studio Camp for ten- to fifteen-year-olds with choices like Cartooning, Sculpting, Painting, and Drawing.
Windrush School in El Cerrito holds a full-day, arts-based program that also includes a sampling of other activities such as sports, games, and cooking. At Windrush, kids ages six through eleven can try their hand at ceramics, carpentry, printmaking, painting, stained glass, jewelry making, sculpture, and architecture.
Roll Over, Beethoven
Debbie Gilman’s six-year-old son, Adin, began showing interest in music as a toddler, particularly the violin. The Berkeley family is musical: Adin’s dad plays saxophone, and the family’s circle of friends includes many musicians who bring their instrument when they come to visit. “[Adin] would sit quietly, even as a young child, and ask for more,” Gilman says. He started violin lessons just before he turned four, and even though most of the other children who started with him have stopped he’s still going strong. “When he’s playing, he’s very focused, with this concentrated look on his face. He loves to play,” Gilman says.
If music tickles your child’s ears, the East Bay has excellent camps guaranteed to encourage him to play. There are three different camps at the Jazzschool for Music Study and Performance, located since 2002 in the historic Kress Building in downtown Berkeley’s hip burgeoning arts district. Painted in rich colors, the Jazzschool’s studios are well equipped and roomy; Lee Tanner’s black-and-white photographs of jazz greats line the hallways. The half-day Rhythm Rocks camp, for musicians ages seven to ten, focuses on percussion instruments. The full-day Summer Youth Program for middle school—age musicians exposes them to different styles, like jazz ensemble, Latin ensemble, drumming, reggae, funk, and blues, says Rob Ewing, events manager and youth program coordinator. “These kids all have some musical experience, although not necessarily with jazz music,” he adds. The session includes four private lessons on the camper’s instrument, and at the end of each day, students get to blow off some steam with a Brazilian martial arts and dance class at the Capoeira Café down the street.
For the first time this year, the Jazzschool is offering an Advanced Summer Youth Program for six high-schoolers who form a jazz sextet with saxophone, trumpet, trombone, piano, bass, and drums; the ensemble practices each day for three hours and attends a two-hour composition class. Each student is also paired with a professional musician who plays the same instrument, including Susan Muscarella, piano; Michael Zilber, saxophone; Tim Bulkley, drums; and John Shifflet, bass.
Jennie Clyne of Martinez has two sons, Pat, now 16, and Joe, 14, who play piano and guitar, and piano and bass, respectively. Last summer Clyne wanted a camp for them that would challenge them to reach for the next level in their musical exploration. For her, the schedule, variety, and thoroughness of the Jazzschool’s program were a big draw. “We wanted a full-day camp, so it was a good fit that way,” Clyne says. “But we were also excited that the boys would not only get a chance to play in an ensemble and take individual music lessons, but also study music theory. And the capoeira dance has been an added bonus–dance isn’t something the boys would have tried, but because it was built into the program, they did, and they’ve enjoyed it.”
Crowden Center for Music in the Community runs a variety of camps, including Scrape, Squawk, and Bang, which introduces five- to eleven-year-olds with little or no musical experience to music theory, percussion, violin, cello, piano, and recorder. For older and more experienced musicians they have a camp exclusively for string players and one for brass musicians.
Let’s Get Physical
Got a kid who wants to run away and join the circus? Let her try it out first at Trapeze Arts, an Oakland circus arts facility that runs week-long summer sessions that culminate in a circus show each Friday. Circus professionals teach groups of 30 kids, ages 7 to 14, the finer points of flying trapeze, trampoline, tight wire, juggling, unicycle riding, and acrobatics in a noncompetitive environment. And parents can relax: The flying trapeze is over a net, and kids wear safety harnesses.
” Kids who at the beginning of camp say they will never try a particular activity are first in line for it by the end of the week,” says co-owner Lili Gaudreau. “And all the campers really support each other, cheering when their friends succeed.”
Marguerite Young’s son Ben, seven, of Oakland, was one such child. Two summers ago, he started his camp week determined to master the trapeze. “He became laser-focused on learning it,” Young says. “He would come home and dream about it. He told me, ‘Mom, I close my eyes and see myself being caught.’ By the end of the week, he had it.” For Young, finding a camp that would allow Ben to exercise his body and his determination in an unusual way was a perfect fit. “He’s not particularly team-oriented,” she says, “but the camp helped him to develop cooperation with other kids as well as his own skill.”
Parents, take heart. With a bit of research you can find a camp that will teach your child new skills, help her to make some new friends, expand his sense of what he can do, and introduce her to more of the big wide world. In September, your kid will go back to school energized, and you can rest assured that they’ve gotten the most out of the not-so-lazy days of summer. l
Freelance writer Kate Madden Yee is grateful to get paid to research summer camp options for her two boys.
Berkeley Montessori School, 1310 University Avenue, Berkeley, (510) 665-8800 x260; www.bmsonline.org. A general interest camp that includes physical, living, and theater arts.
Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley, (510) 647-2900; www.berkeleyrep.org. Offers a Summer Theater Intensive exploring skills such as acting, play creation, improvisation, physical theater, design and production, directing, playwriting, and hip-hop dance.
Berkeley-Richmond Jewish Community Center, 1414 Walnut Street, Berkeley, (510) 848-0237; www.brjcc.org. Offers camps with peace and sustainability themes.
California College of the Arts, 5212 Broadway, Oakland, (510) 594-3710; www.cca.edu/summer. Holds intensive arts camps for sixth- through twelfth-graders.
California Shakespeare Theater, 701 Heinz Avenue, Berkeley, (510) 548-3422 x127; www.calshakes.org. Offers a five-week camp at the Bentley School in Lafayette featuring acting, improvisation, stage combat, movement for actors, and dialects. A two-week version of the same program is held at Fairmount Elementary School in El Cerrito.
Chabot Space and Science Center, 10000 Skyline Boulevard, Oakland, (510) 336-7300; www.chabotspace.org. Space-themed science camps.
Crowden Center for Music in the Community, 1475 Rose Street, Berkeley, (510) 559-2941; www.thecrowdenschool.org. Offers music camps ranging from introductory to intermediate levels.
Fountainhead Montessori School, 115 Estates Drive, Danville, (925) 820-1343; www.fountainheadmontessori.org. Year-round Montessori program; children not enrolled for academic year may enroll for summer session.
Habitot Children’s Museum, 2065 Kittredge Street, Berkeley, (510) 647-1111; www.habitot.org. Week-long themed art camps for preschoolers.
Head-Royce Summer Enrichment Program, 4315 Lincoln Avenue, Oakland, (510) 531-1300; www.headroyce.org. Offers a summer program with athletic, academic, and artistic activities.
Hip Wah Summer Program, 3245 Sheffield Avenue, Oakland; firstname.lastname@example.org, www.hipwah.org. Chinese-American culture camp that includes language, brush painting, Chinese music, martial arts, and arts and crafts.
The Jazzschool for Music Study and Performance, 2087 Addison Street, Berkeley, (510) 845-5373; www.jazzschool.com. Offers intensive jazz camps for musical kids.
Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, 2640 College Avenue, Berkeley, (510) 845.8542; www.juliamorgan.org. Hosts an eclectic array of summer camps, including musical theater camps with Stage Door Conservatory, dance camps with Luna Kids Dance, and Berkeley Ballet Theater classes.
KIDS for the Bay, 1771 Alcatraz Avenue, Berkeley, (510) 985-1602; www.kidsforthebay.org. Outdoor science camp that focuses on bay habitats and conservation.
Museum of Children’s Art (MOCHA), 538 Ninth Street, Oakland, (510) 465-8770; www.mocha.org. Offers a variety of theme-based arts camps for elementary-age children.
The Oakland Zoo, 9777 Golf Links Road, Oakland, ZooCamp Hotline: (510) 632-9525 x280; www.oaklandzoo.org. Animal education and conservation camps for preschoolers to high school seniors.
The Renaissance School, 3668 Dimond Avenue, Oakland, (510) 531-8566; www.therenaissanceschool.com. Montessori program that incorporates activities such as language study, art, and sports.
Sarah’s Science/This Land Is Your Land, (510) 581-3739, www.sarahscience.com. Outdoor science camps rich in hands-on activities.
Trapeze Arts, 1822 Ninth Street, Oakland, (510) 419-0700; www.trapezearts.com. Offers weeklong circus arts camps.
U.C. Berkeley Department of Recreational Sports, 2301 Bancroft Way, #4420, Berkeley, (510) 642-6400; www.calbears.berkeley.edu. Physical arts camps featuring gymnastics, martial arts, skateboarding, archery, badminton, baseball, basketball, swimming, and rock climbing.
Windrush School, 1800 Elm Street, El Cerrito, (510) 970-7580; www.windrush.org. Holds an arts-based program that allows kids to explore skills from ceramics and sculpture to painting and printmaking.