For kids of all ages, summer may translate to extra playtime and beach-going, but learning doesn't have to stop because school is closed. Attractions and businesses across the Bay area are offering kids camp options designed to stimulate the mind and develop skills and knowledge.
Innovate and investigate
Kate Griffin, manager of program development and implementation at Great Explorations Children's Museum in St. Petersburg (www.greatex.org), says a new summer camp capitalizes on kids' natural fascination with "how" things operate.
"Kids like to take apart things more than putting them together sometimes," she says. "With Invention Busters, we're taking the study of inventions in a new direction by taking them apart to explore how they work."
This summer, the hands-on science museum offers 10 different week-long camps for ages 5-7 and 8-11, with topics ranging from Toy Lab and Bubble-ology to Junior Archeologists and CSI: Cool Science Investigation.
"We understand that kids learn very different from each other, so we're attacking themes from different angles so that all of the children still walk away with the same knowledge," Griffin says.
Great Explorations' summer camps launch June 11 and run through Aug. 17. Each weekly camp is $160 for members ($180 for nonmembers), and includes after-camp care. To learn more or register, call (727) 821-8992 or email Griffin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other science and innovation camps:
* MOSI (Tampa) provides all-inclusive half-day and all-day science-focused camps for ages 2 through high school and a unique two-week Teen Business and Innovation Camp about creating products, developing business plans and launching a company. For details, call (813) 987-6000 or visit www.campfun.org.
* Camp Invention (in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco) is a week-long summer enrichment program teamwork for grades 1-6, encouraging innovation through problem-solving and teamwork, available at five Bay area locations, including Tampa, Riverview, Clearwater and Land O'Lakes. For details, call (800) 968-4332 or visit www.campinvention.org.
* TechPlayzone (Riverview) features 10 weeks of standalone camps that allow students in kindergarten through eighth grade to create video games, program robots, make movies and conduct experiments. TechPlayzone hosts an open house May 19 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 13208 Boyette Road. For details, call (813) 684-7329 or visit www.techplayzone.com.
When nature calls
Awe of nature can inspire a desire to know more, and Willow Hecht, education development director for Big Cat Rescue (www.bigcatrescue.org), sees this firsthand among the kids and teens in the Tampa sanctuary's summer camp program, as they observe and learn about 13 species of exotic cats.
"There is no other place in the world with more species than Big Cat," she says. "We can show campers the inner workings of the rescue and how to maintain a refuge for 100-plus cats."
Camp participants learn about various topics, including habitats, conservation and exotic pet trade. Unlike other animal encounters, theirs is strictly hands-off.
"At no time will campers have direct contact with the cats, nor will they see the keepers have any," Hecht says.
Four-day camps start June 18 and wrap Aug. 9. Tuition is $210, or $195 if registered by June 1. For more information, call (813) 323-3265 or email Hecht at email@example.com.
Other nature-focused camps:
* Busch Gardens (Tampa) gives kids grades one through 12 a diverse mix of day camps and overnight/multi-night sleepover camps featuring up-close animal encounters and exclusive park activities. For details, call (877) 248-2267 or visit www.buschgardens.com.
* Brooker Creek Preserve Environmental Education Center (Tarpon Springs ) presents hands-on camps to observe wildlife and natural surroundings, including amphibians/reptiles, habitats and wildlife ecology. For details, call (727) 865-6255 or visit www.brookercreekpreserve.org.
* Lowry Park Zoo (Tampa) opens up Zoo School to offer more than 100 week-long summer camps for students in kindergarten through eighth grade so kids and teens can go behind the scenes. For details, call (813) 935-8552, ext. 268, or visit www.lowryparkzoo.com.
* Florida Aquarium (Tampa) features AquaCamps for grades pre-k through eight with games, crafts, animal viewing, tours and more. Florida Aquarium hosts Parent Night May 22 from 6-7 p.m. to answer camp questions. For details, call (813) 273-4015 or visit www.flaquarium.org.
Summer is an ideal time to develop skills or an area of interest, like cooking. Thanks to the Food Network, a new generation of chefs is exploring the joy of cooking. But a child doesn't need aspirations of becoming the next Julia Child to have an interest in cooking, says owner Amy Metz of Valrico's Young Chefs Academy (www.youngchefsacademy.com).
"If you gave kids a list and asked them what they want to learn to cook, they'll pick chocolate or cupcakes, but most parents have a different goal," she says. "They want their kids exposed to different foods, so we try to build each camp to have a blend."
CAN-I-COOK three-day summer camps take kids ages 7 to 15 through recipes from start to finish for such creations as cupcakes, signature dishes and a confectionary House of Sweets. Kids taste samples and take home copies of recipes, but Metz says they take away much more.
"Cooking is a life skill that all kids will need, but there are a lot of hidden educational benefits to cooking that have nothing to do with food," she says.
Camps cost $149 with first camp starting June 12. To register, call (813) 643-7025 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other learning and skill-building camps:
* Fit to Read literacy program (Largo) combines literacy focus with fitness/wellness activities during two-week themed sessions at the Largo Public Library. For details, call (727) 518-3016 or visit www.largocamps.com.
* Florida Museum of Photography (Tampa) offers two sessions of five-day photography camps for kids ages 7-10 and 11-15. For details, call (813) 221-2222 or visit www.fmopa.org.
* St. Petersburg College for Kids (Pinellas) enables students to explore academic interests during summer, such rocketry, economics and pre-law investigative middle school camps. For details, call (727) 341-3000 or visit www.spcollege.edu/ac/c4k.