“Summer camp” today can mean so many different things. / In Fort Lauderdale, children and teenagers do not want for options when it comes to the subjects they can explore while the school doors are locked. Kids can immerse themselves in another language. They can learn coding. They can train for a favorite sport. They can learn the basics of farming and horsemanship, the history and art theory of the masters or the secrets of a Broadway showstopper. / And if you’re a parent who still hasn’t booked or a grandparent looking to help out with the not-always-cheap bevy of summer activities, relax. There’s still plenty of time to find and book that perfect camp for your budding thespian, tech entrepreneur or shortstop. / So come along with us as we sort out the parts of your summer that still need planning.
Live from Fort Lauderdale
If there’s one camp that’s a Fort Lauderdale legend – the sort of camp that now has a multigenerational following in the city – it’s Camp Live Oak. For one thing, there’s the location. The camp is held at two of Fort Lauderdale’s greatest nature spots, Birch State Park and Whiskey Creek. (Camp sessions are also held at Oleta River State Park in North Miami Beach.) As the locations might indicate, these are nature-based getaways for city kids – little slices of old, natural Florida where kids get the chance to do things they might not always get to try in Coral Ridge or Rio Vista.
“It’s … smack-dab in the center of busy Fort Lauderdale,” says the camp’s associate director, Susanna Coleman. “It’s crazy that once you get into the park it all quiets down and you’re in the middle of the trees. You forget that you’re in the middle of busy South Florida.”
The camp takes advantage of the location.
“It’s almost like getting back to basics is a new thing,” Coleman says. “The free-range parenting, the nature-based play. It’s weird because nature has always been there, it’s not like anybody prohibited people from going out.”
But Coleman, herself the parent of an elementary-school-aged daughter, knows the answer. Today’s children have so much competing for their attention – from the screens that are ubiquitous to the standardized testing that often worries parents – that it can often seem like there aren’t enough minutes in the day to look at trees, let alone climb them. And yet, parents want “real” experiences for their kids. And kids, Coleman says, respond well when they’re given that opportunity.
That’s not to say Camp Live Oak is simply an exercise in letting kids loose in a park. For one thing, the training is rigorous. Camp Live Oak is the only summer camp in Broward accredited by the American Camp Association. That accreditation is voluntary, but it matters to the camp. To gain it, camps must meet more than 300 standards in areas such as safety and camper-to-camp-worker ratios. “It’s a lot of work to be accredited, but it keeps us in business as long as we have been,” Coleman says.
Then there’s the e word. Sorry kids, but education does actually happen.
“Kids learn a lot during summer camp,” Coleman says. “It’s not just the curriculum we provide – it helps their self-esteem when they learn how to shoot a bow and arrow, or with the teens when we show them how to start a campfire.”
The camp is also a summer job for a number of teachers who come up with a creative, diverse curriculum.
“When we create our programs, our science, different aspects of the team program, our teachers create curriculum that’s challenging – once kids see it and get their hands on it, all kids can understand it,” Coleman says. “Sometimes in schools, either they’re trying to jam in information they’re trying to learn for tests or teachers have certain things they have to get in. Here we’re fortunate – we don’t have that kind of pressure.”
Teachers respond well to the challenge of creating a new curriculum and implementing it in unique surroundings.
“They’re the ones that really love it because here we’re giving them the freedom – ‘these are the themes were going to do, and you go plan them out,’” Coleman says. “And then we give them a nice budget. They see everything that they can do and it sets their mind free.”
The camp includes a teen program, and disciplines as diverse as scuba and immersive Spanish. (The latter is recommended for English-speaking children from Spanish-speaking families. Coleman, who is Mexican-American, speaks from experience on this – her daughter understands Spanish but doesn’t really speak it. Camp helped.) “Those are always the … things that people are like ‘Oh, I didn’t know you did that,” Coleman says.
The camp also gets plenty of international students – kids from Russia, China, all over Europe and South America. “The goal of these parents is for their kids to practice English,” Coleman says. And in the meantime, they make friends with Fort Lauderdale kids.
“It’s like the modern camp pen pal – they all keep in touch,” Coleman says.
Like much of what happens at Camp Live Oak, it’s a modern variation, but its roots are in what has always been great about summer camp.
Fort Lauderdale Children’s Theatre
The city’s longest-running children’s theater, Fort Lauderdale Children’s Theatre, offers several age-appropriate programs. Storybook Adventures Camp is aimed at pre-K through first graders. It teaches drama basics through fun roleplay storytelling. Summer Stage Theatre Camp, for grades 2 through 10, makes use of the organization’s professional-style black box theater and gives kids and teenagers a proper, comprehensive look at the world of drama. www.flct.org
Victorios Art Studio
The Victoria Park studio offers two-week classes for students aged 4 to 14 (daily and weekly rates are also available.) Each session is devoted to a different pair of great artists. Students learn about the masters, and also create masterpieces of their own. victoriosart.com
Curtain Call Playhouse
The Pompano Beach company, which has been running for nearly two decades, offers one- and three-week theater camps, taught by theater professionals, for ages 6 to 18. For kids who want to be onstage now, the three-week camp concludes with a performance. curtaincallplayhouse.com
Delmar Arts Academy
If you want to give a child the opportunity to explore all the arts, this multifaceted program is great. Kids learn visual arts including painting and sculpting, music, theater and dance, and even yoga. Delmar also offers a popular arts-based after-school program during the school year. delmarartsacademy.com
FAT Village Center for the Arts Summer Camp
Anybody who’s attended an artwalk knows FAT Village has something for all ages. That includes learning opportunities thanks to this camp for kids and teens in grades 1 through 12. Two-week sessions teach drawing and painting as well as other disciplines. fatvillagecenterforthearts.com
The Broward Center for the Performing Arts & the Performance Project School of the Arts Summer Theater Camp 2016
Fort Lauderdale’s big professional theater becomes the classroom with this camp, taught by top acting professionals. Kids and teens age 6 to 18 are divided up into age-appropriate groups, and there’s even a performance on the Amaturo Theatre stage at the end. browardcenter.org
Science, Sports & Outdoor
Bright & Smart Engineering Camp
Lego robotics, Minecraft and 3D printing, coding – this camp, with locations around Broward including Fort Lauderdale and Oakland Park, will show kids the fun and creative side of the technology that will help shape their lives. brightandsmart.com
Funky Fish Ocean Camp
Young Floridians can learn snorkeling, boogie boarding, skimboarding – and even some marine biology from instructors who know their science and their watersports. This classic Fort Lauderdale camp operates up and down the Broward coast and has programs for ages 4 to 17. funkyfishkidsday.com
FC Barcelona Soccer Camp
Spanish football club FC Barcelona has, shall we say, a pretty good international reputation. So if your soccer-mad kid wants to learn from the best, here’s a good place to start. Boys and girls aged 6 to 14 are divided into skills-appropriate groups for professional coaching. fcbarcelonasoccercamps.com
Fort Lauderdale Stars Gymnastics Camps
Kids will definitely have an active summer at this camp run by a long-established gymnastics club. Boys and girls, preschoolers and elementary-aged children will learn, have fun and bounce. ftstars.com
Miami Dolphins Football Camp
The biggest fish in town share the knowledge with boys and girls aged 5 to 15 in a camp that, in addition to football skills, stresses teamwork and the importance of education. miamidolphins.com
The Miami Heat offer fun and top coaching for boys and girls aged 7 to 16 – and best of all for Fort Lauderdale parents, two of the camp’s three locations are in Broward (the gyms of South Broward and Nova high schools.)
Museum of Discovery and Science Summer Camps
MODS is great for kids any time, so it’s no surprise that its summer camp offerings are also top-notch. Camp Discover (ages 6 through 12) offers various themed weeks throughout the summer, from Science Around the World (June 20 to 24) to Wilderness Explorers (July 25 to 29) to Dissection Inspection (August 15 to 19). For 7th and 8th graders there’s Ocean Explorers Camp, where budding marine biologists split time between the museum and Florida Atlantic University’s SeaTech in Dania Beach. mods.org
Tradewinds Park and Stables Summer Horse Camp
Kids who love horses can get hands on at Tradewinds. Beginners’ Trailblazers Camp and intermediate Horsemasters Camp give kids aged 9 to 16 practical knowledge on taking care of horses, as well as riding. For kids 5 to 8, Junior Farmers Camp runs during June and offers hands-on experience with the animals in Tradewinds’ barnyard. broward.org
Aikido Camp at Florida Aikikai
Kids aged 5 to 15 can learn the Japanese martial art of Aikido in an active setting while also learning about Japanese culture, art and language (even anime!) at a camp that offers a fun, unique way to build skills and confidence. floridaaikikai.com
School & Church Camps
General summer camp fun? Check. Theater camp? Check. Robotics camp? Check. Sports camp? Check. Whatever your child’s passion or interest, the highly ranked preparatory school has something to fit the bill. ahschool.com
Westminster Academy offers general-activity camps for toddlers up to elementary-school aged children. For older kids they have specialized sports camps for a range of sports, drama camp and sewing camp. campwa.com
Christ Church Summer Camp
The church just off Commercial Boulevard offers well-rounded fun for kids aged three to graduating sixth graders, including morning and after-care. Campers should pack bathing suits as watery fun is usually part of the day. echristchurch.org
Coach Marty’s All-Star Camps, Cardinal Gibbons High School
Coach Marty Seidlin led the Cardinal Gibbons boys basketlball team to its first state championship in 2015, and he brings that knowledge to boys and girls aged 4 to 15. A football camp for boys aged 9 to 15 features Gibbons coaches, several of whom played Division I college football. martyscamps.com
Pine Crest School Summer Camps
The elite preparatory school offers everything from a general day camp, sports (basketball, baseball, swimming/diving, rowing/crew, tennis and volleyball), fine arts and, for kids in grades K through 3, coding and robotics. pinecrest.edu