Learn A Skill This Summer: Specialty Camps Give Kids Focus and Drive

With many summer camps closing their registration period only a few months into the year, you might be feeling the pressure to narrow down camp choices, but too many options can make it difficult.

What if your child doesn’t find their niche?

Day and overnight camps are dedicated to offering a large variety of activities in order to appeal to every child. But the broad scope of these programs make it so that if kids do find an activity they really like, they may not have as much time to spend on it.

This is where specialized camps come in. Camps focused on one skill or area of interest can provide more detailed and all-encompassing instruction in their given fields.

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“Water activities at more general summer camps are just one small part of their overall programming,” explains Philip DePalo, owner of Eastern Watersports, whose Baltimore-area summer camp program is a one-stop shop for waterfront-based activities like sailing, kayaking and sports including water
volleyball and paddle board hockey.

“Here, you’re basically on the water and in your life jacket from the moment you arrive,” he says.

Camps like these give kids the chance to discover new talents or hone strengths they’ve acquired from sports or extracurricular activities during the year — and summer is the ideal time for that, since your child’s energy won’t be split between school and other responsibilities.

That’s true for Starry Night Stables in Frederick, remarks owner Jamie Lynn Dice.” We aim to teach these things in the summertime because kids can devote more time to them, and it gives them a chance to dive deeper into what they’re passionate about,” she says.

Here are some ways kids can benefit from a more focused experience:

Quality Instructors
While all camps can be expected to follow standards for training and safety in sports, at a skill-focused camp, the background of quality instructors might be more extensive.

“We live, eat and breathe gymnastics,” says Michelle Carhart, owner of Motion Education, which creates programs for Dynamite Gymnastics Center gyms, of camp staff.

“With beginners, you want to make sure they’re learning the right way so they want to move on, learn more and eventually compete. They’re not going to develop bad practicing habits, and if people at gyms or general camps don’t have a proper understanding of the mechanics of gymnastics, it can hurt them later if they want to do it seriously,” she says.

Learning to kayak at Eastern Watersports’ summer camp (Courtesy of Eastern Watersports)

Dynamite Gymnastics Center, which has four locations throughout Maryland, including one in North Bethesda/Rockville, offers weeklong summer camp programs ideal for children interested in learning how to fly through the air.

Similarly, many of the counselors at Eastern Watersports’ camp are trained sailing instructors who are members of the American Sailing Association, giving them a great deal of expertise and
experience to impart to their campers.

Inclusion and Flexibility
Specialty camps can also be a great opportunity for kids to get their feet wet before investing in a sport or activity — especially for those who might not otherwise have the chance.

“For such a dense waterfront population [in Baltimore], there isn’t a lot of opportunity to get out on the water,” notes DePalo. “Traditionally, it seems to be more for affluent people, and that’s definitely not our goal. We’re excited to get the actual citizens of Baltimore County out on the water, so we’re pretty excited about camp.”

And while it might seem that signing up for a skill-centric camp would mean an intensive experience for kids, camps are flexible to beginners—or even those who just have an interest in learning more.

Starry Night Stables offers experienced riders an opportunity to stretch their legs for the summer and explore different disciplines of horseback riding. In addition to a back-to-basics program that teaches the fundamentals, the horse riding school offers clinics specializing in jumping, derby hunting and more.

“In the equestrian world, there’s like 40 different things you can specialize in,” says Dice. “We try to give kids the chance to learn more about what they are interested in and spend time focusing on the different disciplines.”

Dynamite has the variety for those who want to explore. Campers at one location might be able to learn traditional gymnastics, while some of the others offer programs like parkour, ‘Ninja Warrior’-esque agility training and cheer.

“We get a lot of people who are afraid to come to gymnastics camp because they’ve never done gymnastics before,” says Carhart. “But we work with all levels. The cool thing about gymnastics is that it’s progressive, and you can try new things based on your experience level.”

Carhart adds that a benefit of having a camp largely focused on gymnastics is that campers are able to track their improvement throughout the week.

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“[Other camps] do tend to have their achievements be more unit-based, like winning games, as opposed to getting better at something,” she notes. “Gymnastics gives kids more experience with goals. By the end of the week, they’ll have accomplished something specific, like learning to do a flip or a cartwheel … you can actually learn specific skills and walk away with that at the end of the week.”

Carhart also stresses the importance of allowing campers to partake in other activities, such as arts and crafts, so that they don’t get burnt out or discouraged.

Learning Beyond the Skill
The knowledge that campers walk away with after camp might go beyond the new skillset itself, too.

At Eastern Watersports, some of the other activities offered at its camp include adventure tours that let campers experience the nature of the Chesapeake Bay and the surrounding area. Eastern Watersports has partnered with Marshy Point Nature Center and Baltimore City Parks and Recreation to expand the reach of its boating expeditions.

Dice says that working to care for horses is a positive experience forboth students at Starry Night Stables and the horses they ride. In addition to serving as a school for prospective riders, Starry Night Stables also rescues and rehabilitates unwanted horses. They work with GAIT, Inc. so their rescued horses have experiences as meaningful as their riders.

“We listen to the horses. We rehab a lot of thrown-away horses that people have given up on and have no other options… We’re a big proponent in fixing the throwaways and letting these kids have experiences with them,” she says.

“We want to establish real relationships between the horse and the rider,” Dice adds.