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Head Out: Camp Curious

There are Summer Camps - and Then There are Summer Experiences. Is Your Kid Ready For a Skill-Expanding Adventure?

By Erika Rasmusson Janes

Mention the word "camp" and most parents have images of canoe rides and singing "Kumbaya" around the campfire. Those traditional and much loved forays are certainly easy to find: There are more than 12,000 overnight and day camp programs in the United States, according to the American Camp Association (ACA).

But when it comes to summer adventure, kids looking to do more than play capture the flag and roast marshmallows have got some intriguing options. "Specialty summer programs and camps are a growing part of the camping industry," says Jill Tipograph, director of Everything Summer, a New Jersey- and New York-based private summer program and camp consultancy. They offer teens and tweens many of the benefits of a traditional camp - while also cultivating specialized skills in a stimulating, developmental environment.

Such programs are geared for kids who are already camp-savvy and who have enough emotional maturity to handle a little challenge. "Specialty summer experiences and camps tend to focus more on personal skills growth," says Tipograph.

Choosing the right camp experience for your child can be daunting, so we've researched a few that offer life-expanding experiences in three areas that many kids would find both enticing and educational: outdoor adventure, health and fitness, and community service.

The Julian Krinsky/Canyon Ranch Young Adult Summer Program may be the offspring of Julian Krinsky Camps and the famed Canyon Ranch Health Resorts, but don't let that spa connection fool you: This is no Club Med. The program aims to inspire kids to get the most out of life by living healthier every day, and it provides them with take-home tools by focusing on fitness, nutrition and mind-body awareness. (Spa services like massages are available but aren't the focus of the program.)

Julian and Tina Krinsky, who have been in the summer-camp business for 28 years, got the brainstorm for the joint venture when they saw their tennis campers showing up out of shape and eating foods that didn't mesh with their athletic goals. "We said, 'Why do we have to wait until adults are 40 or 50 years old to come out to Canyon Ranch and correct bad habits?' The best time to make an impression is in the teen years," says Tina Krinsky. "So our mission is all about education - and the best way to educate teens is when they're having fun."

The program, located at Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Penn., offers 13- to 17-year-olds more than 100 activities, from mountain biking to meditation to qigong to aqua aerobics, nutritional workshops and hands-on cooking classes that use organic, locally grown ingredients. Programs last between one and six weeks and, so far, have attracted attendees from 30 states and 15 countries.

When Cheryl Hammer's now-17-year-old son, Brandon, began attending the program two years ago, she admits that a positive self-image was something he was "working on." Yet, after he attended Krinsky/Canyon Ranch for four weeks, she says he returned home with vastly improved self-esteem. "He loved it - he felt so good about himself and he learned so much," she says. "Now, if I don't make it to the gym, he'll help me train at home. He cooks Canyon Ranch recipes a couple nights a week. It's such a valuable learning experience. There's a lot of feeling good about yourself and your body."

The camp also helps debunk the misinformation and mixed messages teens often get. "This is a place where kids can ask everything from nutrition question to 'What's the right footwear for this activity?' or 'How do I not injure myself on gym equipment?' or 'How can I gain confidence with my body?'" Krinsky says. The guidance they receive is designed to extend beyond the program too. "We try to send them home with the knowledge they need to continue expanding the skills they learned during the program," Krinsky says.

A Typical Day: After breakfast, students begin their personal schedule of activities and workshops. Choices might include a spinning class, cooking classed or cardio circuit. After lunch, there are more specialized programs, free time and private lessons. An organized evening activity, like swim party, campus Olympics, concert or guest speaker, follows dinner.

Source: Experience Life Magazine - September / October 2005