Let's face it: for plenty of kids, the idea of riding horses and competing in color wars all summer is about as appealing as a root canal. And even kids who love traditional outdoorsy camp activities might enjoy something different. Luckily there are plenty of camps aimed at aspiring scientists, inventors, filmmakers, video game designers and rock stars. We've rounded up the ten best camps for young innovators. We're betting it'll make you jealous you're not 12 again - we are!
Business Camp for the Future Startup Founder
Is the lemonade stand too juvenile for your budding businessperson? Send them to Camp BizSmart. With locations in California, Tennessee and abroad, the two-week programs give your "kidpreneurs" the chance to learn business skills from startup founders, venture capitalists and product designers. Kids ages 11 to 19 work in teams to design products and business plans, and pitch their ideas to real-life investors. Expect them to come home spouting Silicon Valley lingo like "design thinking" and "global marketplace."
For Future Architects (and Just Plain Lego Maniacs)
Can your child happily spend the weekend constructing the newest 2000-plus piece Lego Ninjago ship? Then he or she will adore Bricks 4 Kidz, where campers ages 5 through 13 explore architecture, engineering, robotics and movie-making through Lego bricks. With locations all over the country, little Lego fiends will build away, nary a dodgeball or game of capture the flag in sight.
For Mini Makers and Designers
The Museum of Design Atlanta's CampMODA will ensure your child a spot at a future Maker Faire. Choose programs like "Fashion Hack: Introduction to Sewing and Soft Circuits," where kids learn basic circuitry concepts and apply them to clothing, making wild, wired fashion fit for the 22nd century. Budding "craftivists" will study yarn bombs and protest quilts and come up with their own public-facing projects. Or kids can draw up blueprints for a playground of the future. The common thread is "design thinking"—a method for finding desirable solutions to complex problems. There are programs for kids kindergarten age and up, running throughout the year, often scheduled for school breaks.
Game-Making Camp for the Next Generation of Silicon Valley Overlords
Perhaps a summer program with Game Camp Nation is just the thing for a happily geeked-out summer. Here, day and overnight camps give kids the chance to learn 3D game design, work in VR, practice coding skills and learn about leadership. Programs are for kids ages 7 to 17, with locations all over the East, as far north as Massachusetts and as far south as Georgia. Small groups mean plenty of hands-on attention as kids strengthen their STEM skills, build curiosity and make friends.
For Wannabe Rock Stars
Does your child like noodling around on the electric bass? Then you ought to consider a camp program through the nationwide School of Rock music schools. Future Mick Jaggers and Joan Jetts learn music theory and songwriting skills, study music appreciation, and master the ins and outs of stage performance. It all ends in a big, rawkin' live stage performance. Locations are all over America and beyond.
Film Camp for Teen Tarantinos
At the New York Film Academy's summer camps, budding auteurs ages 10 to 17 can take programs in filmmaking, acting, musical theater, screenwriting, 3D animation and more. Kids on the filmmaking track will write, shoot, direct and edit their own film in a single session (ranging from one to six weeks), which is more than some Oscar winners do in a lifetime. Along the way they'll pick up all sorts of skills, from understanding story arc to handling a camera. There are locations, appropriately, in New York and Los Angeles, as well as in Florida, Massachusetts, France, Italy, Australia and India.
Aspiring Aviators Can Fly at This Camp
Maybe your son or daughter likes to sit by the airport just to watch the planes take off. "That's a Boeing 767, Mom!" Then send them one summer to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where the EAA Air Academy will let them take to the skies. Kids learn the science of flight, air traffic controls and weather systems, tackle aircraft maintenance skills and study air history. They build gliders, do flight simulations, and even take off in a helicopter and a plane (don't worry, a licensed pilot will be flying!). Ten or 20 years from now, your offspring might just utter the words, "This is your pilot speaking."
Zombie-Fighter Camp? Yep.
Though it might look like a set from The Walking Dead, the Massachusetts Zombie Summer Camp camp is all about STEM skills. Kids spend their sessions competing in zombie survival challenges that involve using science, math and storytelling skills to outwit the monsters (counselors and other campers dressed in Hollywood-worthy costumes). Think mazes, riddle-solving and inventing curative potions. If your child's the type to cover their eyes during fight scenes in animated movies, this might not be the right fit, though the battle-averse can always choose to spend a session working in "R&D," and kids can choose different levels of scariness.
For the Mad Scientist in Training
The D.C.-based Mad Science Camp is everything your elementary school grade science class should have been. Kids dissect owl pellets, code video games, investigate crime scenes, build robots, make gooey slime, learn Morse code and test model airplanes in wind tunnels. Designed for rising first through sixth-graders, it's all about the hands-on application of science principles. You'll never hear your kids whine "science is boring" again.
For Future Inventors
Give your child the chance to build their creativity and problem-solving skills at Camp Invention, an immensely popular summer program offered at elementary schools across America. The camp works with National Inventor Hall of Fame inductees to develop the curriculum, which involves thinking-outside-the-box challenges. This year's program will have campers designing models for futuristic vehicles, dog parks and smart homes.