A new variety of summer camp is cropping up in Vermont, and there's minimal archery, capture the flag or horseback riding involved. Kids are convening in the summer to bicycle down mountains, fly airplanes, program the next app for your iPhone, whip up culinary masterpieces and find fairy houses.
These camp adventures might not resemble those of your childhood, but our pick of five unique summer camps will provide amazing fodder for that "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" essay the first day back at school.
"We thought mountain biking could be a powerful antidote to the pressures of being an adolescent girl in our culture." That's the motivation, according to director Nadine Budbill, for a five-day program that teaches 12 middle school girls learn how to jump stumps, carve turns and navigate single-track challenges.
- Dirt Divas
Budbill — daughter of the Vermont poet and an avid mountain biker — knows firsthand how inspiring wind whistling through a helmet can be. She and co-founder Jessica Graham started mountain biking almost 12 years ago and were "blown away by how empowering it was for us," she says. "Most of our Dirt Divas have never mountain biked, but by the end of the week they're full of confidence."
Cultivating courage through biking is just one part of Dirt Divas; the Vermont Works for Women program also emphasizes building physical, social and emotional skills through Diva Chats, which include discussions on healthy body image and how women are portrayed in media and pop culture.
All equipment is provided.
Day camp for middle school girls going into sixth, seventh and eighth grade. Five-day sessions June 18 through August 5 in various locations. Sliding scale from $25 to $450. Info, 622-0400, ext. 151, vtworksforwomen.org/girls/programs/dirtdivas.
Vermont Game Academy
The Vermont Game Academy is much more than a two-week-long "Angry Birds" tournament — although the probability of that happening is pretty high.
It's a summer opportunity for high school students considering a career in the gaming industry to learn programming, design and video-game art. At the end of the two-week session, kids go home with a professional game portfolio — just the thing to set their college application apart.
The brand-new program will be taught by college-level educators and game-industry veterans with experience developing games for PC, PlayStation and mobile technology. Students develop interactive games using 3-D game engines and then form groups to put their designs to the test.
Overnight camp open to students in grades 9 through 12. July 9 through 22 and at the University of Vermont. $3500. Info, 489-5975, vermontgameacademy.com.
Aviation Career Education Camp
Ready to turn your child's paper airplanes into real ones? Aviation Career Education Camp is a national, FAA-approved weeklong day camp program that invites kids ages 12 through 15 to experience airplane rides, glider trips, helicopter rides and hands-on plane construction
ACE is not all about being a pilot, though. Camp participants travel to the airport in nearby Lebanon, N.H., to witness a day in the life of an air-traffic controller, shoot off model rockets to observe flight patterns, study weather observation facilities, and hear from U.S. Air Force pilots and acrobatics pilots.
And those paper- airplane-making skills? Camp coordinator Walter Striedieck deems them "a necessary skill set to get an idea of aerodynamics." Expect more traffic, not less, to be flying over your living room after your kid graduates from flying school.
Day camp for kids ages 12 to 15. August 16 through 20 at Hartness State Airport, North Springfield. $325. Info, 460-3686, faa.gov/education. Applicants must submit an essay as part of the application process.
Nature and Ecology Camps
The Green Mountain Audubon Center runs a full complement of summer day camps, bearing in mind both the mud-loving, critter-collecting kid and the cautious trail bunny. Favorites for the preschool crowd include Fairy Houses and Gnome Homes, turning a magnifying lens on the pocket-size woodland dwellers, and Aquatic Adventures, with a focus on swamp dwellers, beaver ponds and peepers.
"We have kids who are afraid to walk in the woods when they get here, and by the time their parents come back at the end of the week, [the kids] are dragging them out on a hike," camp director Mike Simpson says.
Older kids take on the Green Mountains armed with newfound wilderness skills from Backwoods Ventures camp, which culminates in a camping trip. Others prefer to test their wiliness by donning camouflage to stalk fishers, bobcats and dragonflies.
Backwoods Ventures includes overnight stay; other sessions are day camps. Five-day sessions from June through August at Green Mountain Audubon Center, 255 Sherman Hollow Road, Huntington. Ages 3-5 and 6-12. $110-$210. Info, 434-3068, vt.audubon.org.
Knife skills, kitchen safety, homemade pasta and hand-rolled truffles are all part of the Camp Cook experience. "But a big goal is to teach kids where their food comes from — and that's not in a plastic wrapper or from a bin on a shelf," says chef Christine Frost.
Collecting eggs from the hens, picking herbs and vegetables from the gardens, and visiting the West Monitor Barn in Richmond are all on the itinerary, as are testing recipes for everything from lo mien to berry compote. Each child goes home at the end of the week with a recipe book and some major kitchen cred.
"It's also fun for the kids," says Frost. "The bottom line is that we're not gonna make them eat their Brussels sprouts if they don't want to, but we will show them what they look like growing. And it's hard to say no to a Brussels sprout with bacon."
Day camp for ages 10-12, 11-14 and 13-16. Five-day sessions from June through August at Essex Resort & Spa, 70 Essex Way, Essex. $375-$425. Info, 878-1100, vtculinaryresort.com/campcook.