At least some summer camp operators have battled through a slow-growing economy by tailoring more programs toward childrens special interests.
Nationally and locally, the camps that focus on a specific activity, whether its sports, the arts or nature, are thriving.
Parents and children this month are choosing camps for this summer. Each year, the Observer gathers camp information from throughout the Charlotte region. This year, the database includes more than 770 and shows a growing trend of more specialty camps serving the arts, from pottery experiences to theater training.
The YMCA, a longstanding camp operator, also has detected growth in parents and children asking for specialized camps.
Parents feel there is value in the experiences their children are getting in a camp setting that are related to education such as science camp, engineering camp, wilderness camp, said Chris Goodrum, day camp and afterschool director for the Siskey YMCA in Matthews. All of these specialized camps provide the fun and nurturing camp environment but fill the summer education gap.
Providence Day School Summer Programs Director Debbie Fisher said arts, science, production and sports camps are among their most popular, but theres no one overwhelming trend.
Fisher said programs like cooking and sewing, basic life skill kinds of things, also are consistently full. It just really depends on the individual child.
Fisher said for the past two years, the Providence Day system has served slightly more than 2,000 campers each summer.
We thought it might drop off with the economy, but it stayed steady, Fisher said. It seems parents are making it a priority to find quality things for summer activities.
Katie Johnson, southeastern field office executive director for the American Camp Association, said specialty day camps are being offered by a spectrum of institutions, including libraries, universities, museums and gyms.
She said the organizations members about 2,400 accredited camps across the country also weathered the slow economy with full camp rosters and specialization. Camps change and adapt to meet the interests and needs of todays families, she said. So many parents use camps as an alternative to daycare in the summer.
Rita Shumaker, who runs the Mint Museums summer camps, said the Mint has lengthened several of its sessions from half-days to full days at parents request. The Mint, which started offering arts experiences to children in 2007, also doubled the number of bilingual camp offerings.
Some school systems across the country have faced substantial cuts to their arts and electives programs. Johnson said many parents camp choices are guided by what their children may not have access to during the school year.
As the less academic subjects like music and art are dropped, parents think, Where can I get that? Johnson said. They may not have band at school, and theyll look for a band camp or music camp, she said.
Mark Propst, performing arts specialist with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, said the school system hasnt cut arts programs across the board, but programs do vary depending on what individual schools choose.
Matthews resident Kim Tayloe said her family budgets for her children Marcus, 16, Julia, 13 and Lane, 11 to attend camp every summer. Since they were all about 4-years-old, Tayloe said her kids have attended drama, sports and faith-based overnight camps.
She said as her children have gotten older theyve become more vocal about their interests and the camps theyd like to attend.
My youngest just let me know she doesnt want to do drama this summer .... She wants to do a gymnastic camp and learn to do a back flip.
Jane Cox Murray, executive director of the N.C. Youth Camp Association, said the organization is finding parents want their kids camp experiences to challenge them. Families are seeking opportunities for their children to connect with nature and each other directly, rather than through texting, emailing and other technology, Murray said. People really understand how important it is for childrens development to get out and have experiential learning in addition to school work.
Sabrina Carmichael, 13, is a student at Weddington Middle School who will attend Matthews Playhouse summer camp, just like shes done every year since she was in first grade.
From the time she was little, she loved dressing up, said her mother Melissa Coates. Now shes looking at more creative things for high school and beyond.
Sabrina said her camp experience has helped her build confidence, become a leader and work better with others.
There are so many great creative aspects they can be involved in arts crafts, music and dance, said Coates, but what it really gives them is confidence and creative expression.