Niche Camps for Kids
The benefits of specialty camps for nonconformist kids
Nonconformist kids — boys and girls who buck peer trends and unabashedly follow their own instinct and interests — need a summer outlet that lets them be themselves. While a traditional camp experience and structure may not appeal, a specialty camp that immerses kids into a particular passion can be an inviting, exciting alternative.
The Delaware Valley is chock-full of camp programs with a specific or niche focus, sessions that help nonconformist kids explore a favorite activity, develop skills and maturity, and, as a bonus, meet friends with shared interests along the way.
The deep dive
When kids opt for a niche camp, they’re able to delve into a hobby in a singularly minded way that’s often elusive during the busy school year. “The best part about working on a talent at camp is that it’s intense; you get day after day of work,” says John Rea, artistic director at MacGuffin Theatre and Film Company in Philadelphia, which holds week-long summer sessions in comedy, acting and singing, as well as a four-week musical theater camp.
Plunging into a passion also encourages kids to explore facets of the activity that they might not have considered. During some camps hosted by the West Chester University–based Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project, for instance, young literary enthusiasts leave their indoor book nooks to learn how nature can influence the writing process.
At area locations like Longwood Gardens and Valley Forge National Historical Park, campers use the landscape as muse. Skewing the creative process helps kids see their interest in a new light, allowing them to “experiment in a variety of genres and take risks in reading and writing that they may not be able to during the year,” says program director Mary Buckelew.
Meeting of the minds
For kids who are accustomed to pursuing hobbies solo, interacting with peers who have a similar passion is a major perk of attending a niche camp. “The main comment we hear from students is that they’re happy to finally be with other kids and staff who share their interests,” says Karen Thurn Safran, vice-president of marketing and business development at iD Tech Camps, which hosts week-long camps throughout the Delaware Valley.
Although tech-centered hobbies like programming and web design are often seen as solitary endeavors, Safran says kids form friendships by helping each other with projects and bonding during activities outside the computer lab. And reticent kids who typically shy away from social settings are often able to communicate effectively by using their talent, whether through performing a poem or coding a video game.
Spending the summer pursuing a particular interest also gives kids real-world skills and a greater sense of independence. “Life skills that are learned at camp, such as leadership and self-motivation, translate into career skills down the road,” says Cricket Snearing, director of Rockwood Adventures teen travel program in Blue Bell, PA. For children who aren’t interested in the sometimes-routine nature of traditional camp, travel programs provide the same benefits with a continually changing backdrop.
“A lot of kids have only been on trips where their family makes all the decisions for them,” Snearing adds. “Now they need to learn how to solve issues either on their own or with the help of a counselor rather than their parents.”
Focusing strongly on an interest at camp can be a crucial step in the development of long-term goals as well. “Camp shows kids how they can take a hobby and turn it into a college degree or eventually a career,” Safran says. “It gives them the knowledge they need to go on and do great things.”
Freelance writer Cheyenne Shaffer is a recent Temple University graduate.