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by Tammy Ellingson
Kids live for summer. At this very moment, they are counting down the final days of the school year, anticipating the lazy, delicious summer days ahead. While visions of sleeping in, running amok, splashing in pools, reading under trees and riding bikes dance in your child’s head, the scene playing in your private cineplex is much different.
Close-up: Kids playing in the yard, running, jumping and bounding with joyful energy.
Camera pulls back: Children still running, jumping and bounding with joyful energy, but they are coming toward you. Swiftly you close and lock the patio door exclaiming, “Stay outside! Enjoy the sun that you’ve waited for all year! Please, please, please go play!”
Camera cuts close-up of patio door: They are pounding frantically on door and shouting (in slow motion of course), “Please let us in. It’s too hot! We want to watch TV and play games. Please, please, please? We are soooooooooooooo bored!”
Welcome to the day after the first day of summer vacation.
What’s that I hear you squeaking? Help you? Now, just sit down and pour yourself a cold glass of lemonade. They can bang on the door a few more minutes until we sort this out. What you need is a place for them to dig, jump, run, craft, sing, create, shoot arrows, build things and make friends. A summertime place where they can’t come running to the door every five minutes when there’s a lull in the action. Ah yes, a summer place! Some place like … camp.
So, pick your passion, or more appropriately let them pick theirs. When they come home from a day of camp, you can relax family-style, eating and playing together, enjoying the extended light of a summer evening, knowing that tomorrow is another day that camp will keep boredom at bay.
Wide shot: Family dining together on patio, laughing, talking and enjoying a balmy summer eve. Camera zooms in on mother’s contented smile.
Portland is full of people and organizations that pack substance and creativity into a myriad of camp experiences for kids of all ages, needs and interests. This is just a small sample of the kinds of camps you will find by searching specific topics on the internet or perusing parks and recreation guides.
Part of the beauty of summer is the promise of sunny, warm and hopefully dry weather; something that ought not to be sneezed at after our exceedingly wet spring. Take advantage of the opportunity to infuse a little vitamin D into those bodies with some innovative outdoor experiences.
TrackersPDX, the local branch of Trackers Earth, brings out the Laura Ingalls, Hawkeye, or Aang in every kid. TrackersPDX has both day and overnight camps for ages 4 thru 18. Conveniently located in the Sellwood area, near Oaks Bottom, they bring kids face-to-face with good old-fashioned outdoor skills; putting bodies, minds, senses and hands to work, giving overworked texting thumbs and eyes a chance to do something real. Camps like Faeries, Elves & Mostly Friendly Dragons; The School of Magic; Welcome to Middle Earth; Little House: the Wilder’s Homestead; Forest Fishing Fly & Reel; and Forest Survival, Tracking and Stealth make for engaging experiences. Those inclined to impersonate William Tell will enjoy making their own bow during archery camp.
Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center, located out Highway 22 near the town of Gates, has summer expedition camps for ages 10 thru 16. Camps include the Beginning Backpack Experience, for campers new to backpacking and backcountry camping; Treetops and Ridgelines of the Watershed, which introduces campers to the art of navigating trails via map and compass; and the Sub-Alpine Lakes Backpack camp, where they will perfect their backcountry cooking and wilderness medical skills, and learn to travel safely in the backcountry.
We all have a special need of some kind, and being around people who celebrate and understand us helps us thrive. If you are looking for a camp that celebrates diversity, embraces unique needs, or provides family camp options, here are couple you should know about:
Camp Yakety-Yak, founded by Angela Arterberry, a speech language pathologist, is for children with ADHD. ASDs, and learning, communication or developmental challenges, as well as typically-developing children and siblings. Camp Yakety-Yak exists “Because all children deserve fond memories of camp.” It provides an inclusive environment with one-on-one support when needed. While this is only the second year for the camp, there are already returning families — a testimony to Angela and her staff. Katherine, a parent of a first-year camper says, “It was such a relief seeing my son in a respectful environment where everybody ‘got’ Asperger Syndrome and celebrated him for who he was.”
Three sessions are planned for this summer including Megabytes and More — Exploring Technology; Is it Magic or Science? Let’s Experiment!; and Wild Things! You can choose either half-days or full days in Beaverton, Lake Oswego or Portland. Each camp culminates with a field trip to a local destination where kids can practice their successful social and communications skills. The first priority at Camp Yakety-Yak is fun, and typically-developing friends and siblings are usually not even aware of the special needs focus.
YWCA’s Camp Westwind is located a bit north of Lincoln City and has an impressive variety of camp offerings this summer. With camps for families with children as young as 3 years old; a mother/child camp; and new this year, a father/child camp, Camp Westwind provides traditional camp experiences such as archery, challenge courses, hiking, music making, campfires and fun for kids and adults alike. One very special offering is CampOUT — a camp specifically for LGBTQ parents and their children, or for straight parents with children who identify as gay, or questioning. It’s a supportive environment where everyone can relax and be themselves. As one camper said, “I learned that you should be you, who else is better qualified?” What an amazing thing to learn at summer camp. It takes some of us a whole lifetime to embrace that wisdom.
There are also three-night camps for first-timers in grades one through three, as well as mini- and week-long camps where kids experience all-too-rare unstructured, yet safely supervised play time giving kids the necessary time to unplug. As one camper stated “I didn’t think I could actually LIVE a WHOLE week without technology! This was great— I bet I could do two weeks!” The teen adventure, travel and leadership camps provide fun and challenging experiences for teens who may think they are too cool for summer camp. Many campers return several years in a row, proving that the mission of “Encouraging community, embracing diversity and exploring the world around us!” is taken to heart.
Saturday Academy is more than just Saturdays. This summer, Saturday Academy has over 150 different ways to keep synapses firing, including 22 different camps and 35 new classes. From Club Med: Medical Careers at OHSU, to What Ho! Olympians at Marylhurst, the camps cover the gamut of science, engineering, mathematics, game programming, animation, marine biology, volcanoes, mythology and more. Classes and camps are taught by practicing professionals in each field, with a passion for sharing their knowledge in a fun, hands-on manner. For advanced students, the TAG Challenge Camp: The Global Network, is a week filled with science, math, creative arts and activities that whet the appetite for further study. The parent of one camper said, “TAG camp was amazing. My daughter absolutely loved it … She can’t wait to participate again this summer.”
The Merry Kitchen introduces kids to the culinary arts with the added benefit of enticing them to try a wider variety of foods. There are two sessions, one for ages 6-10 and one for ages 10-14. The All American Summer Camp and all classes at The Merry Kitchen were cooked up by Julie Merry, a registered dietician with the heart of a gourmet. Julie comes to the table with a pantry full of experience teaching kids how to cook. Previous stints in the Portland Public Schools and at Sur La Table led her to follow her dream and open her own cooking school for children in her N.E. Portland home. There is a garden of herbs and vegetables, tended by the campers, as they learn about growing and harvesting fresh food for their meals. Julie says her “biggest joy is to watch kids try something new and discover that they like it.” I’ll eat to that!
The Oregon College of Art & Craft has a colorful mosaic of options for children from first thru twelfth grades. The Art Adventures camp, a full-day, week-long camp for students in first thru eighth grade gives young artists a chance to experiment in four different workshops each day, in mediums including wood, metal, fiber, photography, drawing, painting, clay and more. Many of the workshops are taught in open-air tents on campus to allow the natural environment to inspire and infuse the art-making process. Ana Goglin, a young artist I’m privileged to know, said this of her Art Adventures camp experience, “I liked the painting session best because we got to make the paint. We took coffee beans, cabbage and other foods that the teacher made watercolors from.”
There are plenty of options for teens as well, including Art Adventures for 14 to18-year-olds, Beginning Sewing, Thinking and Working Like an Artist, Fashion Design and Digital Photography. Because Fashion Design and Digital Photography were so popular last year, they are offering level-two versions of each this year.
Art camp is for everyone — not just those who might be considering art as a career. At The Oregon College of Art & Craft, camps and classes are fueled by the mission to explore creativity and imagination, and the belief that everyone can benefit from a creative outlet and be inspired. A parent of an OCAC camper said, “He was truly inspired! This camp opened his inner vision, creating confidence and creativity in his approach to art … and showing that it is OK to just have fun regardless of the results.” As I’m sure Dada would agree, let them dabble while they’re still impressionable.
Seeds of Euphoria (Self esteem, Empowerment, and Education through Dance), will celebrate its fifth year of American Tribal style bellydance camp for young women ages 14-18. The one-week dance camp is held at Euphoria Studios in August. The mission of the camp is to empower and enrich the lives of young women in the Portland area. At camp, girls from a variety of backgrounds come together to dance, do yoga, experience music and rhythm, journal and participate in expressive arts. In addition, campers are treated to empowering presentations on setting and achieving goals, personal responsibility and financial independence by inspiring women in the community. The camp ends with a performance showcasing what campers have learned. Fair warning: a week of empowering dance can cause a positive chiftitelli in a girl’s confidence and the occasional impromptu zaghareet. It’s a beautiful thing.
Now, go ahead and let the kids back in the house. Start reminiscing about your youthful days at camp, meeting new friends, singing songs around campfires, crafting lanyards for your family. Sigh ever so slightly and marvel at the incredible variety of camps available for kids today. Then sit back and let them write their own summer script.
Camera slowly pulls back: Leaves rustling in the gathering wind. The end of summer sun is setting gently on the horizon. Off in the distance, children are running with a kite. A mother is standing nearby, coffee cup in hand and thinking, “I wonder if we can squeeze in a filmmaking camp before school starts?”
Fade to black.