How camp!

Sacramento-area summer camps are as diverse as today’s kids

Photo Illustration by Kristina Granados

Editor’s note: You know, when you become a superstar, people are always writing the strangest things about you. Like one time, this British newspaper claimed to have done an interview with Mariah in which she was supposed to have said that if the kids don’t pick up their clothes, I threaten to set them on fire. First of all, I want to make it clear that I would never set my kids on fire. Where they get these crazy stories I have no idea.

Which brings me to summer camps. When I was a young child in Austria, I remember shuddering at the sight of Soviet tanks in the streets, fearing that if you looked a soldier in the eye, he would drag you away into involuntary servitude. While this never happened, my father often would send me off to summer camp. In my case, it was a bricklaying camp, and the skills I learned there served me well when I first began dabbling in business ventures as an American immigrant. We made out like bandits, scamming people into thinking their chimneys needed fixing, and I knew right then and there that America was the place for me!

By SN&R Summer Guide Team

Ah, summertime in Sacramento. For many families, it conjures up lazy, balmy nights by the backyard grill; boating and baking under the relentless sun on the American or Sacramento rivers; and parents on the edge of a nervous breakdown, trying desperately to fill the vacuum of time left in their kids’ lives during their summer vacation away from school.

In this case, Mother’s little helper is not necessarily a pitcher of martinis or a handful of Valium (though we don’t rule those out as last-resort options). It’s that great American phenomenon of summer camp, which steps in to fill the void of those six or seven hours a day, when your kid—God love him, but if he aims his BB gun at the neighbor’s cat one more time out of boredom, you’ll scalp him alive—is somebody else’s problem.

Long ago, summer camp was mostly a luxurious idyll for rich kids, whose parents hadn’t a clue where to stash their offspring when they inconveniently popped up from boarding school. Many camps were just a summertime extension of those schools, with a predominantly homogenous, white and well-to-do population.

But these days, your kid doesn’t have to be a future president of the Skull and Bones fraternity at Yale. Your kids can be as weird and woolly and iconoclastic as they like, and there’s still a camp out there that is likely to be a good fit for them.

So, in the spirit of American individualism, and as a primer for frazzled parents around the region, we offer you an abbreviated list of camps that cater to kids with more unusual pastimes and needs than the Camp Fire Girls or Boy Scouts might be able to accommodate.

If you are the parent of an adolescent, you know that high-schoolers no longer corner the market of stress among youths. One major source of anxiety can emerge when children leave the warm and coddling environment of their kindergarten-through-sixth-grade school and are pitched from the kingly position of sixth-grader to the serfdom of junior high. Even the name “junior high,” or “middle school,” denotes a condition of “not quite having arrived yet,” of being half-baked or unfinished. To help them cope with the stress of being thrown back into the primordial soup, Sacramento Country Day School has developed a program aimed at preteens who are jumpy about the transition, aptly called “Transition to Middle School Camp.” For sixth- to eighth-graders, this Monday-through-Friday, two-week camp offers practical skills for making the academic leap from grade school to middle school and also offers some training in how to cope with the fact that maybe your sixth-grader would rather hold hands with boys now than smack them. (Sacramento Country Day School, (916) 481-8811. 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, July 18-29. $500.)

Let’s say your kid is not the nervous type, but is rather a young Vin Diesel in the making, with an inordinate need for danger and speed. The Central Family YMCA offers Camp Dirt, a mini-bike program for 13- to 16-year-olds with various levels of experience and ambition to be the next Evil Knievel. (Central Family YMCA, (916) 452-9622. August 2-5. Non-members: $420; members: $400.)

If your kid is a little young for the junior Hells Angels set but still aspires to be a badass, he can always cut his baby teeth on Kinder Kicks/tae kwon do. Remember: It’s never too early to teach your kids how to handle the playground bully. (Placerville Recreation & Parks Department, (530) 642-5232. Karate studio at Foothill Taekwondo. 5-5:30 p.m. or 5:30-6 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, June 27-August 22; and 5-5:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, June 28-August 18. $99 fee includes cost of uniform. Ages 4 to 6.)

Have a child whose idea of fun is tagging your walls with paints and pens? Have her channel her graffiti graphics into a budding artistic pastime, through a variety of art camps, at the Crocker Art Museum this summer. “The great thing is you don’t even have to have a love of the arts, because we intend to instill that in the kids,” said camp director Emma Moore with a laugh. A variety of media and methods will be taught, from sculpting to painting and drawing, with five three-day classes for the 8-12 age group and one class for the younger and older set—ceramic sculpting for 5- to 7-year-olds and 12- to 17-year-olds—all presided over by prominent local artists. (See or call (916) 264-5423 for dates and costs.)

For the kids who can’t yet say “abstract expressionism”—but are doing wonders with their building blocks—the Lego Camp is just the environment for the Golden Gate Bridge designers of tomorrow. (Folsom Parks and Recreation Department, (916) 355-8308. 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. or 1-4:30 p.m. weekly, June 20-July 1. $160 to $167 per week. Ages 7 to 12. Call the parks department for details.)

And who knows? Last year’s Lego master might just become this year’s robot ruler, through the guidance of Gizmo’s Robot Factory. And if this same kid is having trouble making friends, don’t fear; at this camp, he or she will bring home two new robotic playmates at the end. (Roseville Parks and Recreation Department, (916) 774-5505. Eich Intermediate School, 1509 Sierra Gardens Drive in Roseville. Weekdays June 13-17. Half day: 9 a.m.-noon, $174 for residents and $184 for nonresidents. Full day: 9 a.m.- 3:30 p.m., $249 for residents and $259 for nonresidents.)

Think your kid will invent the next Post-it? If she’s between the grades of second and sixth, send her off to a camp sponsored by the National Inventors Hall of Fame: Camp Experience and Camp Imagination. Both one-week camps aim to stimulate kids’ imaginations by fostering inventive thinking and creative problem-solving. Camp Experience concentrates on moviemaking, using special effects and other techniques, and Camp Imagination studies flying machines, culminating in the creation of your own flying widget. (Camp Experience: in Folsom at Empire Oaks Elementary, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. June 13-17; in El Dorado Hills at Jackson Elementary School, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. June 13-17; in Sloughhouse at Cosumnes River Elementary School, 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. June 20-24; in Roseville at Cirby Elementary School, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. June 27-July 1, and at Bayside Church, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. July 18-22; and in Rocklin at Breen Elementary School, 9 a.m.- 3:30 p.m. July 18-22. Camp Invention: in El Dorado Hills at Jackson Elementary School, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. July 18-22; and in Roseville at Cirby Elementary School, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. August 1-5. Both camps cost $289. Call (800) 968-4332 for information.)

If your kids’ geeky smarts lean more toward the classical pursuits, you might want to enroll them in Summer Chess Camp sponsored by USA Chess. Classes are four hours in the morning or afternoon—or all day, if you’ve got a little Bobby Fischer on your hands—for all levels of players. (USA Chess, (888) 652-4397. The camp is at Capital Christian School, 9470 Micron Avenue. 9 a.m.-noon, 1-4 p.m. or 9 a.m.-4 p.m. July 5-8. Morning or afternoon sessions are $199 if registered by June 5 and $219 after that. All-day sessions are $309 if registered by June 5 and $329 after that. For ages 5 to 16, beginners through advanced.)

Maybe your teenager has an ear for music but thinks joining the high-school marching band will sabotage his ability to get a prom date. Preserve his hip status and enroll him in the weeklong Brubeck Institute Jazz Camp, one of the University of the Pacific’s four Pacific Music Camps. If he still thinks jazz is uncool, remind him that Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea started out jamming on the trumpet to the tunes of Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. (Union of the Pacific, (209) 946-2416. June 26-July 2, ending with a concert for friends and family. $475 to $525 per week. For students in eighth through 12th grades.)