2017-05-17 / News

Summer camps: It's about more than s'mores


If you’re old enough to be a parent, you may remember coming home from summer camp with a newfound talent for archery or macramé – skills that, while laudable, have limited applications for most of us. Things are different now. Send a daughter off to day camp for a week, and she’ll come back knowing how to sail a dinghy, light a stage, hook a catfish, curry a horse, or tear up a guitar solo. These 11 Chesterfield summer camps all promise to teach campers skills they can use to open doors and explore new worlds.


Most kids already have a flair for the dramatic — and with some professional fine-tuning, they can turn their talents into Hollywood material. At Final Act Drama’s June summer camp, kids write, produce, direct, act and edit their own short films. The results are surprisingly sophisticated; films produced by Chesterfield Public School students include soundtracks, voiceovers, and carefully designed sets. Swift Creek Mill Theatre offers an Exploratory Theatre Camp for children ages 8-15, which includes instruction not only in music and acting, but also theatrical makeup, dialects, special effects, lighting, auditioning and costuming. Camp ends with a variety show performance.

ArtHaus offers dozens of art camps for children aged 4-16 that dive deep into various techniques and disciplines. “I feel very strongly that it’s not just craft,” says ArtHaus founder Meg Rogers, who taught art in Chesterfield County Public Schools for more than 13 years. Instead, art can be an entry to exploring history, she explains. ArtHaus’s “Made in the USA” camp, for example, isn’t all red, white and blue; instead, children learn about Expressionist painter Alma Thomas, the African-American tradition of story quilts, and the pop art of the 1960s and ’70s.

For kids who are more into Gaga than Dada, the School of Rock – Midlothian offers a half-day Rookies Camp that shows young musicians what it’s like to play

in a band. They learn pitch, rhythm and musical teamwork, leading up to a group rehearsal with guitar, bass, keyboard, drums and vocals.


Water fun abounds at Chesterfield summer camps. At the Greater Richmond Sailing Association’s Level I Sail Camp on the Swift Creek Reservoir, campers learn how to rig sailboats, read the wind, steer and stay safe on the water. Kids as young as 8 can captain their own dinghies, while teenaged participants pair up to sail larger boats.

Stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) may look daunting to adults, but kids and teens take to the sport like ducks to water. Black Dog Paddle’s Summer SUP Program teaches campers aged 12 to 16 how to maneuver on a paddle board in the upper James River. Also included in the curriculum: water safety, swimming, competitions and team building.

Times-Dispatch columnist and outdoor enthusiast Tee Clarkson founded Virginia Fishing Adventures in 2005, and has since taught thousands of children how to bait a hook and cast a line. Virginia Fishing Adventures offers summer fishing camps through ACAC-Midlothian and St. Michael’s Episcopal School in Bon Air. Younger kids (6 to 8) fish in ponds and reservoirs and hunt for crayfish, frogs and salamanders. Older anglers (9 to 14) get to pursue huge flathead and blue catfish in the James River.

Horse dreams can come true at Brandywine Farms’ summer clinics for beginning equestrians. Participants in these clinics learn to groom, tack and ride their horses. On the last day of the clinic, riders can demonstrate what they’ve learned. And aspiring golfers aged 7 to 12 can learn the sport at Oasis Sports Park’s summer camps. All the basics are covered: how to swing with woods and irons, how to putt, golf rules and etiquette. Campers play the nine-hole course at Oasis on the last day of each three-day camp.


Edible Education offers cooking camps that go far beyond monkey bread and macand cheese. A cruise-themed camp teaches kids to make tamales, ahi poke, potstickers and haupia, a Hawaiian coconut cream custard. Another class, called Edible Essentials, focuses on the science of cooking: Why does bread rise? How do pickles pickle?

Kids’ fascination with emoji may mystify their parents, but STEM education company Challenge Island embraces the ubiquitous cutesy faces. Challenge Island builds an entire weeklong summer camp around emoji, asking kids to solve engineering and science-based challenges. Additional sessions focus on other kid obsessions, like American Girl dolls and superheroes. Allyson Steele, director of extended programs/summer camps at St. Michael’s, where some Challenge Island camps take place, remembers walking into a session last summer and watching kids construct an igloo from PVC pipe, fabric and other materials: “I’ve never seen a group of kids so mesmerized by what they were doing,” she says.

Return to top