More than 14 million campers attend summer camp in the United States each year, according to the American Camp Association. And as anyone who’s gone away—or sent kids off—to camp can attest, many come home indelibly changed by the experience. Research suggests that attending camp can boost confidence, improve social skills, and foster leadership in children and young adults. However, while a summer spent sailing and learning to make friendship bracelets may be an invaluable experience, there’s a lot more fun to be had.
Camps around the globe are thinking outside the box when it comes to teaching their campers, with lessons ranging from STEM skills to how to survive an invasion of the undead. And for the seriously enthused, you can find camps themed after beloved fictional universes, including every preteen’s favorite: the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. If you’re looking to give your kids a life-changing experience this summer, we’ve cobbled together the 20 craziest summer camps that actually exist. And for more ways to make your children’s summer break amazing, try out these 15 Summer Family Trips Your Teenage Children Won’t Hate.
Lord of the Rings Camp
If your kids just can’t get enough Lord of the Rings, there’s a camp for that. At the Willowell Foundation in Bristol, Vermont, kids attending this weeklong camp can spend their days living like a LOTR character. During camp, kids learn to write in Elvish, hone their sword-fighting skills, practice foam archery, and more, culminating in a “battle” between humans, dwarves, elves, and wizards at the end of the session. And for more cinematic fun, check out these 20 Iconic Films You Should Have Watched By Now.
Harry Potter Camp
If modern-day magic is more up your kid’s alley, Camp Kern in Oregonia, Ohio, might just be the place for you. For a week each summer, kids can learn to create potions, cast spells, and play Quidditch just like a Hogwarts student. And that Quidditch training might come in use some day: These days, more than 100 colleges around the nation have actual Quidditch teams. And for more silly collegiate trivia (that you may have to put up with someday), learn the 20 Most Ridiculous College Courses You Won’t Believe Are Real.
Future Stars Circus Arts Summer Camp
Kids with energy to burn will love participating in the French Woods Circus Camp, located just outside the town of Hancock, New York. At this high-flying camp, students can study juggling, unicycle-riding, aerial performance, clowning, trapeze arts, and more, eventually performing for their fellow campers at the end of the session.
If your kid has ever wanted to learn the ins and outs of the spy game, Camp Lohikan in Lake Como, Pennsylvania, will give him or her all the skills. From martial arts to surveillance to ropes courses to code breaking, kids can channel their inner Bond in this unique program. At the end of the session, older campers can show off their skills with a reconnaissance and rescue mission. To get your kid ready, teach them the 15 Genius Ways to Lie Like a Spy.
Some kids are nascent motor-heads, yet haven’t quite hit learner’s permit age. That’s no problem at Camp Motorsport in Clover, Virginia. Designed for kids from 9 to 17, this camp—which offers one- and two-week sessions—allows kids to race go-karts and off-road buggies and even learn some of the technology behind their favorite motor vehicles, thanks to a deep curriculum in automotive design.
Star Wars Camp
For anyone who wishes the Force was with them, YMCA Camp Potawotami in Wolcottsville, Indiana is the perfect place to hone those Jedi skills. This weeklong camp trains campers in the Jedi arts (in full Star Wars regalia, no less), as well as offering other, more traditional camp fun.
The engineers of tomorrow would be well-advised to snag a spot at the awesome Robotics Camp at JB Pearl Harbor Hickam today. This exciting camp, based in Honolulu, Hawaii, teaches kids everything they need to create robots of their own design. From learning programming skills to building bots that compete with one another, this one-week camp offers an undeniably educational and fun experience for kids with an interest in STEM fields. Who knows—they may return with theories to debunk the 20 Long-Predicted Technologies That Are Never Going to Happen.
KidsEye Summer Filmmaking Camp
Future filmmakers don’t have to wait until college to hone their skills, thanks to this exciting camp. This weeklong filmmaking intensive, held at the University of Rhode Island Campus in Kingston, Rhode Island, guides children through the filmmaking process, with guides for everything from scriptwriting to camera skills. Best of all, they get to craft a unique film of their own along the way.
If looking up at the stars fills you with a sense of wonder, you’ll wish you had spent summers at Astronomy Camp at The University of Arizona as a kid. This Tucson-based program gives kids the opportunity to study the sky using the telescopes at the Mount Lemmon Observatory and Kitt Peak National Observatory, all while under the tutelage of world-class scientists. Kids also learn scientific methods of data collection. And for more space-age fun, This Is What Life Could Look Like 100 Years from Now.
Animal-loving kids will flip for the summer camp at the Queens Zoo, a weeklong program that allows children to go behind the scenes at the zoo, experiencing animal encounters, engaging in science projects, and playing animal-themed games, all in this unique and exciting setting. When your kid returns, quiz them on the 40 Most Amazing Animal Facts.
iD Tech Video Game Design and Development Camp
If your kid’s shown even a nascent interest in video game dev, this iD Game Design and Development Camp will knock their socks off. With locations across the United States, and in Hong Kong, Singapore, and the United Kingdom, this camp is easily accessible for countless kids, and is sure to teach them invaluable skills in a single summer. This weeklong camp teaches kids how to code and design games and will familiarize them with valuable programming languages, including C++ and Java.
Zombie Summer Camp
If you’ve ever wondered if you might be one of the lucky few to make it out of a zombie apocalypse alive, there’s one way to find out—if you’re a kid, that is. Zombie Summer Camp, located in Burlington, Massachusetts, combines STEM-based education, from learning circuitry to binary code, with the best part of any zombie encounter: blasting them with NERF guns.
That camp you used to see advertised as a kid, the one that left you seething with jealousy over the fact that your parents wouldn’t send you? (We’re not projecting!) Yup, it still exists. Space Camp, located in Huntsville, Alabama, teaches kids all about space exploration through simulations and STEM-based workshops, and features actual astronauts who come to speak at camp every single week throughout the summer.
Sea Turtle Camp
The mysteries of the deep are investigated by a new group of intrepid explorers every summer at Sea Turtle Camp. Held in Topsail Beach, North Carolina, this camp teaches marine biology and conservation skills to children, giving them hands-on experience with sea turtles and other marine life along the way. Those who want to stay active during the summer are in luck, too: In addition to exploring the local beaches on foot, campers can surf, swim, and paddle board to their local sea turtle habitats.
Hollywood Stunt Camp
Think you have to spend years training to learn the stunt skills you see in the movies? Think again. At Pali Adventures, an overnight summer camp in Running Springs, California, kids from 8 to 18 can learn all the stunt techniques used by Hollywood professionals in a safe and exciting environment. So, what activities are on the menu at this unique camp? For starters: stunt falls, swordplay, hand-to-hand combat, fight choreography, and stunt safety.
Fiji Shark Studies Camp
Swimming with sharks may seem like a nerve-wracking experience, but at Fiji Shark Studies Camp, it’s an educational and enjoyable one, too. Studying alongside researchers and conservationists, kids can dive with sharks, discover ways to protect their ecosystems, and find out why these beasts of the deep aren’t so scary after all. Not for the faint of heart.
Surf Hatteras Surf Camp
Kids who love spending time at the beach will go nuts for Surf Hatteras Surf Camp. Based in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, this camp for kids 12 to 18 teaches campers how to safely hit the waves and hone their skills on a board during the camp’s weeklong sessions, which run all summer long.
Camp is usually pretty fun, but few things come close to the excitement of a camp that’s all about roller coasters. For those who want the thrill of a lifetime, ThrillCoaster Tours offers participants the chance to ride roller coasters at 12 different amusement parks over a two-week period, in addition to outings like water park trips and baseball games.
For the kid who was born to be on stage, Camp Broadway is a perfect fit. This program, which offers sessions in New York and Atlanta, teaches kids skills in acting, singing, dancing, and choreography. And for the lucky New York campers, attending a performance on Broadway is in the cards.
If dinosaurs are still thrilling to your teen, make sure to sign them up for Paleontology Camp, part of Cottonwood Glutch Expeditions. This 17-day exploration, led by a paleontologist, takes teens from 14 to 18 to active dig sites throughout New Mexico. There, they’ll help excavators with their work, learn about artifact-processing techniques, and get a behind-the-scenes look at the Albuquerque Natural History Museum’s private collection. And for more tips for taking your kids on amazing adventures, discover these 25 Best Ways to Travel With Children.
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