When asked what makes a good summer camp, 9-year-old Zoe Carter answers immediately. “No rules!”
Zoe knows that’s a fantasy, having attended more summer camps since she was a baby than she can remember.
On the other hand, the fourth-grader at the International School of Louisiana is realistic about what makes a bad camp: “When they’re boring,” she said, “When there is too much talking.”
Students can’t wait for summer. “Get me out of here!” is the rallying cry as the days grow warmer and classroom walls more confining.
But without any structured activities, New Orleans’s summer heat can reduce local kids’ long annual break to, at best, lots of video games and, at worst, outright boredom — all while they slowly forget significant portions of whatever they learned that school year, educators say.
There’s also the question of how to safely care for younger kids while mom and dad are working.
There are scores of day camps for families to choose from in the New Orleans metro area. Besides general-purpose camps that give kids a taste of everything, camps locally focus on areas such as sports, technology, arts, cooking and academics.
Local schools, churches and universities offer sessions geared to young scholars, musicians, computer programmers and athletes. Ideally, kids sharpen their skills and learn new ones, meet new friends and enjoy a change of pace, camp organizers say.
Day camps vary in price and length; some are pro-rated by week, while others require families to sign up for two to four-week sessions.
In New Orleans, the biggest provider of taxpayer-funded camp is NORDC, which this year will host 41 summer camps for ages 5 to 12, another 11 camps for ages 13 to 17, plus two “kindergarten readiness” camps for 4- to 6-year-olds.
In any available building or institution, NORDC places a camp focusing on subjects including visual art, tennis and theater.
And every kid gets to go swimming: NORDC partners with universities like Dillard and Southern, local churches and the Red Cross to provide water training to every kid at every NORDC camp.
For Vic Richard, chief executive officer for NORDC, the city’s summer camps are mainly about “creating a safe, structured and wholesome environment with which parents can feel at ease.
“We promote values and morals,” said Richard, “and hope that the kids just get a chance to make friends and good memories.”
On Tuesday, March 11, NORD announced the details of all of its camps and opened up its website, nola.gov/nordc for enrollment.
“Camp should not be like school,” said Todd Shaffer, curriculum specialist for Young Audiences, an educational nonprofit that runs three camps in metro New Orleans. For more information about the arts-oriented camps, go to www.ya4la.org/.
During summers at his Camp Be Kind, Schaffer enhances the program’s dynamic art curriculum with light history, science, reading and other academic subjects, while also serving two meals a day and offering economical aftercare.
“Camp should be a joyful experience, and a time to get away from school,” Shaffer said. “It’s their break. We want them to want to come every day. Learning doesn’t always happen under a lot of pressure — so we take that pressure away.”
Trinity Episcopal Summer School Camp boasts an impressive variety of activities, with almost 40 instructors leading over 40 summer classes on Trinity’s campus, Topics range from cheerleading and dance to manners and etiquette, robotics, sculpture and digital photography.
“We have found that what the kiddos want most is variety,” said camp director Scott Beard, who teaches science at Trinity during the year and rocketry during summer camp. “We split some of the classes up into half days to the kids can try more than one subject each day.”
Zoe Carter’s mom, Geia Carter, is convinced that the right camp contributes to academic achievement.
“I want to keep her educational flow intact,” said Carter. “The best camps have educational value. You give kids a little bit of fun along with hardcore math and science.”
So this summer Zoe will tackle several weeks of academia at the LSU Tiger Challenge camp in Baton Rouge (http://cms.outreach.lsu.edu/cms/PreK12/TigerChallenge.aspx ) where the family has relatives. She’ll choose among courses such as “Cracking the Cosmos” and “Amazing Robotics Race.”
After that, she’ll head out for a week of Girl Scout camp.
“I want Zoe to mix her ... responsibilities with her being-a-kid type things,” her mom said.