There is a wealth of summer camps to choose from in DeKalb and greater metro Atlanta. Each year, theme camps for young chefs, musicians or aspiring writers have been popping up alongside traditional day camps.
There are camps for rock climbers, actors, science geeks, young musicians and more. Many of them begin enrolling campers at the beginning of the year, some as early as January.
Leslie Quigless is the founder of the Atlanta Young Writers Institute (AYWI), a nonprofit housed on the campus of Agnes Scott College in Decatur. Unlike with most summer programs, campers must apply for admittance. Quigless said each student must apply, providing writing samples and teacher recommendations to be accepted to the program.
Each summer AYWI hosts weeklong writing workshops for seventh and eighth graders and an intensive writing course for high school students that lasts two weeks.
“In both programs we want them to emerge with a product, so we do creative writing projects that they complete,” Quigless said.
Throughout the day, Quigless said, students do lessons with the institute’s primary instructors and go on writing-related field trips to such places as Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry Arts or local magazine and newspaper offices.
“We also have professional writers visit the classes and do team building because we want to build a sense of real community among students,” Quigless said.
Although there are a lot of camps to choose from, Quigless said it’s important to pay attention to what child does in his or her free time because that is an indicator of a camp that might be a good fit for them.
“If your daughter doodles a lot, maybe art class is the way to go. If your son loves music, have him try out a music camp,” Quigless said. “Summer camp should be about what your child actually enjoys–not necessarily what you think he or she should enjoy.”
Quigless said both overnight and day camps have advantages but it’s important to talk it over with the child to see which one they are more comfortable with. Another option is trying an overnight camp close to home so the child has the experience of being away from home, but not too far away, Quigless said.
Jason Raines, co-founder of Big Thinkers Science Exploration Camps, said if parents are interested in enrolling their children in a theme camp they should start looking at camps during the winter, as early as January.
Big Thinkers is for children in kindergarten through sixth grade and has been in business since 2006. Raines’ wife, Noreen Raines, a chemist, started Big Thinkers after entertaining at school clubs and birthday parties for several years.
“She’s melding her chemistry background and being an entrepreneur,” Raines said. “I have a science background and a background with middle school education.”
Raines said many camp owners attend expos each year to market their camps. Parents attend the expos to see camps the metro area has to offer and talk to camp staff.
“I think as a whole, parents are starting to prepare for camp earlier and earlier,” Raines said.
Big Thinkers starts in June and runs through July. It has eight locations and each session usually has approximately 100 campers each week. Raines said without the big camp expos it would be difficult to fill the slots.
This summer, Big Thinkers will offer four camp themes: Gadgets and Gizmos, Discovery and Exploration, Rockets and Sprockets and Chemistry Lab Extreme. Raines said campers, will be participating in everything from the science behind making Diet Coke and Mentos explosions to owl pellet dissections.
Raines said sessions are not grouped by age. However, the camps curriculum focuses on hands-on activities and there are enough staff members to tailor the difficulty of those activities to students of different ages.
Theme camps tend to focus on one thing, rather than the more traditional day camps, which include swimming, canoeing, nature hikes, and arts and crafts. Raines said theme camps allow children the opportunity to explore something more in-depth, and the child comes out of that experience with a better understanding of what they like and what they don’t.
“If they’re like-minded it will plant a seed that will turn into something else, and if it’s not that’s still valuable,” Raines said.
“I would say a unique aspect of our camp is that we value applied science, We like the kids to learn the science and understand how that works in the world,” he said.