Pick your child’s summer camp with purpose

Summer camp should combine enrichment and fun, one UAB professor says.

It’s springtime — the time of year when flowers bloom, the weather behaves and a sinking feeling of anxiety shoots through many parents of children ages 5 and up.

Why? Spring sounds the alarm that it’s time to plan out your kids’ summer activities. That means you have to wade through a local list of hundreds and choose something that is fun and educational that your children will remember fondly.

camps_storyNo pressure, right?

University of Alabama at Birmingham experts suggest a few things to consider when weighing your options:

Pick a camp for its brainpower

When it comes to hunting for an academic-based camp, think enrichment, says Lynn Kirkland, Ed.D., chair of the Department of Curriculum & Instruction in the School of Education. Find “a place where children make choices about their learning, instructors have expertise and creativity is encouraged.” 

Choices are a huge motivator for learning, Kirkland says. Find a camp that has an interesting curriculum that addresses the development of the whole child, she says. “They should combine play and learning.”

And, summer is a great time to pursue your child’s personal interests in topics such as weather, flight or Olympics, she says.

Summer bridge camps, those designed to reinforce the things your child learned during the school year and prime them for the coming one, are a great way to close any educational gaps, Kirkland says. “Studies show that children experience 22 percent loss over the summer,” she says. “Bridge camps close that gap.”

But remember that those camps should be enrichment, not remediation, she says. In other words, learning that’s fun, not regular school 2.0.

“Learning is disguised in authentic, interesting activities and experiences,” she says. 

Encourage your little sports enthusiast

Wanna unplug your kid from the Wii and get them moving in the fresh air? A sports-themed camp is a great way, says Lauren Whitt, Ph.D., UAB Wellness Coordinator and adjunct professor in the Department of Human Studies.

“Allowing children to attend an athletic summer camp where they can be active, run, jump and play will not only benefit them physically but also developmentally,” she says. 

And, the lessons they learn are endless.

“It’s great for a child to learn how to play a game – the rules, boundaries, discipline and life skills each of us needs to be successful in life,” she says.

Sit down with your child and pick a camp together, she says.

“Every child is unique in their abilities and interests, so the more opportunities to expose your child to a variety of activities the better,” she says. “For a child to get the chance to play multiple sports and see what they enjoy is a good thing. And, learning the skills necessary to play different sports will only enhance your child’s primary sport.” 

For the child who dreams of playing in the big league someday, summer’s a great time for exposure.

“A sports camp on a college campus is a great opportunity for them to taste what life is like away from home and experience the dream of playing in some of the world-class college athletic facilities,” she says. “Summer sports camps can be a vehicle for your child’s dreams, so use this as a one-week opportunity for them to grow.”

Got a Van Gogh in the making?

If your child is creative and has a curiosity about the arts, summer can be the perfect time for them to explore, says Kimberly Kirklin, education and outreach director of UAB’s ArtPlay arts enrichment program.

“Camp participation can lead to an increase in creative skills, provide team-building and leadership experience, allow for free creative expression, and the development of life-long friendships,” she says.

And, these days, arts camps are getting more and more diverse, Kirklin says. That means you and your child don’t have to pick the typical one.  

“Ten years ago you could focus on theatre, dance, visual arts or music,” she says. “Today, we see camps that offer those programs and more including culinary arts, African dance, arts and culture from foreign countries, percussion, music technology, 3D printing, mosaics and more.”

Do your homework and find the one that best matches your child’s interest, she says.

And, if your child is already an artist during the school year, summer can be a time for them to take their art to the next level, Kirklin says.

“Camps give children an opportunity to explore subjects they might not have regular access to through school,” she says. “Additionally, there are many advanced offerings available in the community where children can build on the knowledge they already have or explore new genres of the art form.”

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