6 of the Coolest Summer Camps in Philadelphia’s Western Suburbs
From fashion design bootcamps to outdoor adventure programs, these local camps are tailor-made for kids with unique hobbies and abilities.
Camp Pegasus in Haverford. Photo courtesy of Camp Pegasus.
For Bestselling Authors in the Making
Whether they want to be the next J.K. Rowling or are simply looking to improve their skills, kids in the two-week Young Writers/Young Readers Camp have the space and the tools to do it. “[Many campers] already identify themselves as a reader and an active writer,” says Dr. Pauline Schmidt, an associate professor at West Chester University and the director of the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project, which leads the camp. “They’re super-enthusiastic to spend more time in the summer working on their craft or sharing their reading and writing.”
The program is offered at several locations in the area, including in the Lower Merion and Upper Dublin school districts. Campers spend three hours a day reading, writing and seeking out inspiration. They’re grouped by grade level, from first through 11th.
Throughout the day, campers read independently or as a group. “[They’re] seeing the picture book or short chapter or poem they’ve read together as a mentor text. What did this writer do? What kind of strategy did they use? What sort of craft move did they use?” explains Schmidt. “[Then they] try it in their own writing.”
Campers also maintain writer’s notebooks, where they sketch out a location in their developing book, keep ideas and start to form narratives. “We talk about audience, purpose, tone and persuasive pieces,” says Schmidt.
At the end of camp, there’s a celebration, and completed works are bound into an anthology for each camper so they can look back on their earliest works.
Upper Main Line YMCA summer camp is open to campers ages 4-14. Photo courtesy of Upper Main Line YMCA.
For Nature Lovers
For kids who can’t get enough of the great outdoors, Upper Main Line YMCA Environmental and STEM Camps press all the right buttons. The half-and full-day programs encourage kids to safely engage with nature and wildlife.
Open to campers ages 4-14 from June through August, there’s Nature Safari Camp, Farm Camp, Tracks and Trails Camp and more. UMLY’s 54-acre campus sits on preserved land with a woodland easement. Having recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, the program is as robust as ever. “Parents understand the importance of less screen time and getting kids outdoors and connecting with nature,” says Brian Raicich, associate executive director at UMLY.
“We really make sure that they’re not having access to any kind of device, especially for the nature camp,” adds Tony Geiger, environmental and STEM education director. “These kids are totally engaged and enmeshed in the nature center.”
Campers can learn how to fish and interact with farm animals like chickens, guinea hen, goats and sheep. They get their hands dirty learning about vegetable gardening and collecting eggs and other things from animals. The nature center has turtles, snakes and a bearded dragon, and the new raptor center houses non-releasable birds of prey that have sustained injuries, including a hawk, falcon and owl. “This is going to be one of the crown jewels of getting kids interacting up close with wildlife,” says Raicich of the center.
At HomeCooked's Kids Cooking Camp, campers get to sharpen their culinary skills. Photo courtesy of HomeCooked.
For Chefs in Training
Based in Paoli, the HomeCooked Kids Cooking Camp gives grade-school kids the chance to get comfortable in the kitchen while exploring different foods. Campers learn kitchen basics like proper hand washing, measuring and how to fold in ingredients. They even make their own snacks. “We try to keep them on the healthy side,” says HomeCooked founder Claire Phillips Guarino. “We do things like fruit smoothies or fruit sorbet that we make in the food processor.”
They also cook a main course that serves five. “We try to make unique entrées,” says Guarino, noting that items might include a crescent-roll taco ring or a jumbo meatball stuffed with spaghetti.
Having kids prepare their own dishes encourages them to expand their own palates. At the end of the day, dinners are prepared and ready to be popped in the oven. Campers make no-bake desserts, too. “The kids are beaming with pride after all their creations,” says Guarino.
HomeCooked offers 14 summer sessions from mid-June through August.
Handwork Studio offers several fashion summer camps. Photo courtesy of Handwork Studio.
For Future Fashionistas
Project Runway comes to life for campers in the Handwork Studio Fashion Bootcamp. The three-week program is offered twice each summer at multiple locations throughout the region for campers ages 11-16.
Kids experience the entire design process, from finding inspiration for their garments to sketching out a collection. They select fabrics, shop for materials, learn sewing skills and pick two looks for a runway show at the end of camp. “I think they’re sort of surprised at what it takes to be a fashion designer, because they’re getting such an overarching view,” says Handwork Studio founder Laura Kelly. “When they’re on the other side, they have a greater appreciation for all that it takes.”
For those who aren’t quite ready for a three-week program, the Handwork Studio also offers its Fashion and Machine Sewing Camp, among others. “We’ve had kids who want to make a special dress—they have a bat mitzvah they want to go to or they’re going on vacation with their parents and want a special dress, so they might spend the entire week just creating one complicated garment,” says Kelly. “Parents are astounded at what they’re kids are capable of making.”
Photo courtesy of Camp Pegasus.
For the Neuro-Diverse
When child therapist Michael Fogel began seeing a lot of Asperger’s Syndrome diagnoses, he noticed their social skills often overlapped with children with ADHD and learning differences. He also saw increases in anxiety levels when summer approached, noting that the connection had to do with kids going to neurotypical camps where they were often misunderstood.
His Camp Pegasus is now a summer oasis for neuro-diverse kids. Open to children ages 6-16, its two-week sessions run from June through August. “Kids with neuro-developmental differences can have a difficult time adjusting to new things,” says Fogel of his decision to make camp two weeks, rather than one. “They also have heightened anxiety approaching new things.”
Campers are separated by age groups (6-8, 9-11, 12-16) and development and behavioral need. The program is geared toward kids who are “bright, verbal [and] able to be in a school setting with other kids,” says Fogel, adding that socially awkward kids are also welcome.
The camp-like setting includes art and music therapies and other options that reinforce positive social behaviors. “We also have sports, which is competitive, so they have to practice sportsmanship,” says Fogel. “They have peers who are kind of their speed, and they really make beautiful connections.”
Photo courtesy of Rockdale Music Rock Camp.
For Aspiring Rock Stars
For kids who want a taste of the limelight, the Rockdale Music Rock Camp offers a weeklong daytime session where kids with six months to a year of experience with a musical instrument can come together to form their own band. The program is tailored to a variety of instruments, including bass, drums, guitar, keyboards or piano, vocals, and horns. “We get a gauge for what everybody’s interests are musically,” says Rockdale Music owner Jared Loss. “Usually, we pick one of the songs that somebody has suggested, and we break off into little sections.”
From day one, the focus is on mastering new songs, whether something by the Beatles or Imagine Dragons. Campers also come up with a band name and logo as they prep for a concert held in front of friends and family on the last day. They can expect to learn four to five songs. “We have a little recording workshop, and they get to participate in a recording session,” says Loss, who sends MP3 files to campers.
For kids with no musical experience, Loss offers Rock Camp Junior. There, they actually learn to play instruments as they work on two songs. “I always love seeing the kids play,” says Loss of the live finale. “It’s a very low-pressure, fun performance.”