Learn a Skill This Summer: Specialty Camps Give Kids Focus and Drive


With many summer camps closing their registration period only a few months into the year, you might be feeling the pressure to narrow down camp choices, but too many options can make it difficult.

What if your child doesn’t find their niche?

Day and overnight camps are dedicated to offering a large variety of activities in order to appeal to every child. But the broad scope of these programs make it so that if kids do find an activity they really like, they may not have as much time to spend on it.

This is where specialized camps come in. Camps focused on one skill or area of interest can provide more detailed and all-encompassing instruction in their given fields.

“Water activities at more general summer camps are just one small part of their overall programming,” explained Philip DePalo, owner of Eastern Watersports, whose Baltimore-area summer camp program is a one-stop shop for waterfront-based activities like sailing, kayaking and sports including water volleyball and paddle board hockey.

“Here, you’re basically on the water and in your life jacket from the moment you arrive,” he said.

Camps like these give kids the chance to discover new talents or hone strengths they’ve acquired from sports or extracurricular activities during the year — and summer is the ideal time for that, since your child’s energy isn’t split between school and other responsibilities.

Quality Instructors

While all camps can be expected to follow standards for training and safety in sports, at a skill-focused camp, the background of quality instructors might be more extensive.

“We live, eat and breathe gymnastics,” said Michelle Carhart, owner of Motion Education, which creates programs for Dynamite Gymnastics Center gyms, of camp staff.

“With beginners, you want to make sure they’re learning the right way so they want to move on, learn more and eventually compete. They’re not going to develop bad practicing habits, and if people at gyms or general camps don’t have a proper understanding of the mechanics of gymnastics, it can hurt them later if they want to do it seriously,” she said.

Dynamite Gymnastics Center, which has four locations throughout Maryland, offers weeklong summer camp programs ideal for children interested in learning how to fly through the air.

Similarly, many of the counselors at Eastern Watersports’ camp are trained sailing instructors who are members of the American Sailing Association, giving them a great deal of expertise and experience to impart to their campers.

Inclusion and Flexibility

Specialty camps can also be a great opportunity for kids to get their feet wet before investing in a sport or activity — especially for those who might not otherwise have the chance.

“For such a dense waterfront population [in Baltimore], there isn’t a lot of opportunity to get out on the water,” noted DePalo. “Traditionally, it seems to be more for affluent people, and that’s definitely not our goal. We’re excited to get the actual citizens of Baltimore County out on the water, so we’re pretty excited about camp.”

And while it might seem that signing up for a skill-centric camp would mean an intensive experience for kids, camps are flexible to beginners — or even those who just have an interest in learning more.

Dynamite has the variety for those who want to explore. Campers at one location might be able to learn traditional gymnastics, while some of the others offer programs like parkour, “Ninja Warrior”-esque agility training and cheer.

“We get a lot of people who are afraid to come to gymnastics camp because they’ve never done gymnastics before,” said Carhart. “But we work with all levels. The cool thing about gymnastics is that it’s progressive, and you can try new things based on your experience level.”

Carhart added that a benefit of having a camp largely focused on gymnastics is that campers are able to track their improvement throughout the week.

“[Other camps] do tend to have their achievements be more unit-based, like winning games, as opposed to getting better at something,” she noted. “Gymnastics gives kids more experience with goals. By the end of the week, they’ll have accomplished something specific, like learning to do a flip or a cartwheel … you can actually learn specific skills and walk away with that at the end of the week.”

Carhart also stressed the importance of allowing campers to partake in other activities, such as arts and crafts, so that they don’t get burnt out or discouraged.

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