Not Your Typical Summer Programs

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Are you or your child looking for a new adventure this summer? We’ve veered off the beaten path to find summer programming that offers something a little more unique than a typical camp experience.

If you have a child who climbs the walls, let them climb somebody else’s walls for a bit. Earth Treks offers summer camps for ages 6 through 13, evening drop-off sessions called Friday Night Rox and guided open climbs every weekend.


Janet Hirsch, indoor climbing school director at Earth Treks, described a typical day at an Earth Treks camp.

“Kids enrolled in any program will enjoy tons of climbing, vertical games and age-appropriate coaching with qualified instructors,” Hirsch says. “We usually start with a game to help warm up and keep kids active while everyone arrives. Then we’ll review expectations and get climbing! For our younger camp, ages 6-9, there’s a mix of climbing, traverse activities and group games. For our older camp ages 9-13, they’ll learn how to belay, or hold the rope for each other, on the first day as well as some basic movement techniques. Then Tuesday- Thursday they get to climb outdoors at local crags, working as a regular climbing crew belaying for each other. Friday is back indoors for a final wrap-up climbing Olympics.”

Climbing camp, Hirsch says, “improves self-esteem, social skills and kinesthetic development.” And there’s no climbing experience required: “We often have campers come in who have never climbed before,” she says. “There was one girl who I had in camp years ago, she was a bit shy, reserved with the other kids and really unsure of herself while playing games and climbing on the wall. Through support and encouragement from the staff, she became more and more confident. She started leading games and made friends. The last outdoor day of camp she tried a really hard climb and got higher than anyone else in the group. She was so proud and each year came back and got further on that climb. She joined our competitive climbing team and is now a staff member, sharing her passion for climbing with the next generation.”

For a summer program in the creative arts, Young People’s Summer Stock offers a performing arts summer intensive with a twist. “We are not a performance camp, as many performing arts camps are now,” says YPSS owner and director Lisa Needle. “We believe so strongly in teaching skills so children actually improve their skill set over the summer instead of being in rehearsal all day.”

“Our scheduling is what sets us apart from other camps,” she continues. “Children choose a major and two minors. Every child in the camp chooses a different schedule; they meet in the spring with the director of the camp to fill out a survey of their goals and desired classes.”

Teachers “are all professionals from around the country who fly in just to teach at Summer Stock for four weeks,” Needle says.

Students are admitted by audition, and work two hours a day in their major and one hour on each of their minors. They can then choose from 30-50 electives for their three afternoon blocks. Electives, Needle says, range from advanced seminar classes to “fun, silly” classes like tie-dye and crafts.

Students can also choose to sleep at the camp, which offers evening activities and “Freaky Fridays,” which Needle explains as “a giant event ranging from silly Olympics to laser tag, from Hawaiian dance to breakin’ battles, from African drums to water wars.”

Needle’s goal is for kids to leave Summer Stock with professional skills. Needle, who has run the camp for 25 years, says her former students are now professional actors, dancers, singers, musicians, filmmakers and doctors.

One of her most exciting students was a young man who, “at the age of 10 convinced Sony to donate cameras and editing equipment to get our program started.” Today, Jason Michael Berman is a producer who had the highest-selling film in Sundance history. “He texted me last week to see if he could come teach a workshop at camp to the film students,” Needle says.

Erica Rimlinger is a Towson-based freelance writer.

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