by Diane Alter

It’s March 1st…Do you know where your kid’s ‘camping’ this summer?

By Diane Alter

As competition for summer sleepaway camp dollars becomes more extreme, so too does the range of camp experiences. While you may not want to send your kid to Ninja Camp or Explosives Camp (yes, they do exist) a growing number of parents are picking places that push the envelope and promise to explore the limits of their child’s body and/or intellect in new and imaginative ways. Indeed, more and more parents are packing up their troubles—er—pride and joy, and sending them off to exciting, out-of-the-box summer camps. Some run for a week or two, while others go for a month or more. One interesting trend is the mix-and-match approach, where you cobble together a summer of fun from two, three or four of the shorter-duration camps.

From Culinary Camp in Vermont to Spy Camp in D.C. to Stunt Camp in California to Fiji Shark Camp, today’s camps go beyond classic fun. And unlike back in the day, when mattresses were lumpy, mosquitoes pesky and food tolerable at best, many of today’s niche camps rival the best resorts.

In these pages are some interesting options to use as a starting point. Whether you pick upscale, thrilling, educational, a little of everything or something in between, remember that long after tans fade and badges of honor are shelved, your child’s camp memories endure.

Step Right Up • Camp Winnarainbow

Situated in the picturesque foothills of Mendocino County in Northern California, this 35-year-old camp lets kids ages 7-14 learn every aspect of circus life, from stilt walking to juggling to clowning to riding a unicycle. Kids can also swing on a trapeze, walk a tightrope, learn magic and sharpen their comedic timing. Winnarainbow also features sleeping tipis (teepees) and restaurant-worthy meals. On pick-up day of every two-week session, the campers perform a final show for parents and friends.

Camp Winnarainbow •

+ Games • Teen Extreme Youth Camp

Teen Extreme Youth Camp in Florida is one of many places around the country that blends spiritual development (in this case, Christian) with non-stop activities. Using the Sports Center facilities on the Pensacola Christian College campus, the camp boasts one of the largest indoor rock climbing walls in the U.S., an inline skating track, indoor water park with surfing and water slides, and paintball competition. Other activities include ice skating, bowling, racquetball, basketball and swimming. Music competitions are also available, as are programs in computer science, art, drama, volleyball, nursing, pre-med, science and history. It’s open to ’tweens and teens grades 7 to 12.

Teen Extreme Youth Camp •

Photo credit: New York Film Academy

And…Action! • Film Academy Camp

So, your kid’s the next Spielberg. Or Denzel. Or Cronkite. Whether a child aspires to a career in acting, filmmaking, musical theater, video design or broadcast journalism, this camp may well be the most intensive, hands-on and authentic in the world. Campuses include Harvard and Yale Universities, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Disney Studios in Florida, Paris, Florence, London and Australia. Camp classes inspire creativity and provide invaluable insider industry insight and experience for students ages 14 to 17. Dazzled by Hollywood guest speakers, campers also attend TV tapings and movie premieres. Bunkmates include the offspring of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Lodgings include college dorms and apartments situated across the street from site locations, as well as hotels.

Film Academy Camp •

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Dig This • JurrasiCamp

Forget the plastic dinosaurs and playground sandboxes, JurrasiCamp in Florida encourages kids to get dirty in a quest to unearth genuine dinosaur bones. Campers learn about these legendary creatures and are introduced to them to paleontology—while actively working on digs. Kids even get to take home authentic fossils they excavate from specially designed dig boxes. Other activities include swimming, bowling, and field trips. Open to children aged 5-14, JurassiCamp has been in business as a day camp for 25 years in Miami, Boca Raton and Vero Beach.

JurrasiCamp •

Ups & Downs • Roller Coaster Camp

The only one of its kind in the U.S., this camp takes kids ages 12 to 16 all over the country to ride some of America’s most amazing scream machines. Celebrating 10 years in operation, the Woodbridge (NJ) head-quartered Thrill Coaster Tours offers five-, six- and eight-day roller coaster tours to various parts of the USA. Each day brings a different park and a different stomach-dropping experience of twists, turns, ascents and plunges on diverse roller coaster tracks. Closely supervised groups of six arrive at parks early and stay late. “We do take the kids for a nice dinner somewhere outside of the park to regroup and get them out of the sun before returning for more nightly fun,” Ira Gordon, Thrill Coaster President says. “We’re parents’ answer to a kid’s summer dream of visiting a plethora of amusement parks.” Additional activities include jet-boating, laser tag, rock climbing and more. Stays are at cushy Marriott hotels.

Roller Coaster Camp •

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Think Global • West Coast Connection

One of the largest student travel companies in North America, West Coast Connection has been treating teens to summer travel adventures for 32 years. Programs run the gamut from traditional Teen Tours to Community Service Trips to Language Immersion Journeys to Pre-College Enrichment Adventures. North American programs include surfing in San Diego and exploring in National Parks. European programs offer Italian cooking-school lessons, skiing or snowboarding in the Swiss Alps, a gondola ride in Venice, a play at a

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

London theater and swimming the grottos of Capri. Australian adventures include snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. Programs in Israel offer the opportunity to float in the Dead Sea and a visit to the Western Wall.

West Coast Connection Student Travel •

Photo credit: Guard Up, Inc

Dead On • Zombie Summer Camp

It’s never too early or imprudent to prepare for the zombie apocalypse, right? Campers at this Massachusetts locale prepare for such a scenario by learning survival skills, basic first aid (invaluable after a zombie scratch), solving life-threatening mysteries, defending their fragile land, foraging for supplies, navigating a maze and fighting off the walking dead using NERF-type weapons. Day camps are offered for kids ages 7 and up, while overnight zombie camps are available for kids aged 10 and over. Kids who prefer not to engage in battle can opt out, and levels of scariness vary.

Zombie Summer