Outside, it’s a typical Baltimore City summer day, with soaring temperatures and shirt-soaking humidity. But step into a former rec center at 1045 Light Street in the heart of Federal Hill, peek into any air-conditioned classroom and, save for the shorts and T-shirts worn by kids from 7 through 17—many of whom peer studiously into computer screens—the oppressive heat seems a million miles away.
In one of the classrooms, a spacious room with couches on one end and a cluster of computer stations in the other, a dozen or so gangly teens, mostly boys, huddle around a single computer. “Show me your design,” instructs the camp counselor. A brave adolescent boy steps forward and explains the aircraft design he constructed on the computer, which he then attempted to print with the center’s 3-D printer. It didn’t go as planned—the tiny plastic-looking object the printer spat out was somewhat mangled and much smaller than expected. The group troubleshooted ways to improve on the outcome, then the next experimenter stepped forward to share his project.
These kids could be sleeping in late or canoeing on a lake at some traditional, overnight summer camp. Instead, they’re honing their computer-aided design and innovation skills at a MakerCamp dubbed Digital Design & Fabrication. Sponsored by the Digital Harbor Foundation, a nonprofit founded by former Digital Harbor High School teacher Andrew Coy, the summer camp aims to kickstart kids’ entrepreneurial and technology skills. The nonprofit’s other summer camp offerings include Circuit Adventures, Game Development, and Aerial Pursuits. Pretty neat camps for kids who like to mess around on computers and build stuff.
Then there are the summer camps sponsored by The Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth. With the center’s mission to identify and develop the talents of the most advanced K-12 learners worldwide, applicants need to do more than show an interest in attending. They must prove their academic superiority by performing better on standardized tests than most high school seniors.
The rewards of entry? The luxury to dive into an academic passion, be it literature or science or something completely different, and to meet other kids whose brains fire at the same rapid-fire pace as their own. The center works with kids from grades 2-12 who explore topics like Crystals and Polymers, Flight Science, and Civic Leadership. Some classes are held at Baltimore’s Hopkins campus; others in Berkley, California and other hotbeds of intellectualism.
Parents of today’s crop of campers would be hard-pressed to find summer camps like those run by Hopkins’ Center for Talented Youth or the Digital Harbor Foundation when they were kids. True, not many people were tooling around on computers for kicks back then. Nonetheless, the amazing choices available to keep kids occupied in the summer these days are way more voluminous than ever. Here in Baltimore, budding zoologists, want-to-be chefs, and extreme watersports fanatics can all find a summer nearby camp to satisfy their passion.
Not all parents are crazy about the idea of their kids playing chef in their kitchen, but they’ll gladly send them elsewhere to mix up a mess on the countertops. That’s where summer cooking camps come into play. There’s one in Reisterstown, For the Love of Food, and another, right in the kitchen of the upscale Fells Point restaurant Pierpoint and run by renowned chef Nancy Longo. Both camps aim to teach kids how to make everything from sweet pastries to Mexican cuisine; some even offer reality-show style cooking competitions. Sounds like a blast.
So does zoo camp—especially for those kids who never tire of a trip to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. The younger campers at Zoo Detectives Camp spend a lot of time exploring the zoo’s exhibits from a safe distance. Kids craving behind-the-scenes action, from what the animals eat to how their living quarters are maintained, can sign up for A Day in the Life of a Zoo Keeper camp, but they have to wait until they’re in at least third grade before experiencing these more up close and personal animal encounters.
That’s about the age when the fun begins at summer camps offered by Ultimate Watersports on Baltimore County’s Gunpowder River. Kids ages 9 through 16 can try their hand at just about every water sport imaginable, including windsurfing, sailing, kayaking, and—new this year—stand up paddle boarding. It’s a bit of a hike from the city, but the camp provides round-trip transportation from McDonough School in Owings Mills. Plus, the ‘wow’ factor of this camp outweighs the drag factor of its distance.
All of these summer camp options seem pretty appealing, and they represent only a small percentage of what’s available locally. If you dig deep enough, you’re likely to find a fit for even the choosiest kid. The main drawback? It may be too late to enroll in one of these camp sessions this summer; they fill up fast and savvy parents typically have their summer camp plans wrapped up by spring. But you may want to file these ideas away for next year; summer vacation has a habit of creeping up fairly quickly. Oh, and if you know of any equally exciting local summer camps for kids, tell us about them in the comments.