On a Monday morning last June, the entrance to the Holton-Arms School in Bethesda was almost unrecognizable. Balloons hung in the air as mimes, jugglers, and clowns paraded around the campus. The occasion: the start of Creative Summer, a day camp emphasizing the arts.
“We try to take the school out of the school,” says camp director Susan Spingler. “Campers know they’re on the Holton campus, but we don’t want them thinking about homework.”
Creative Summer offers more than 50 courses in the visual arts, dance, drama, and music, including opportunities to learn from professional artists. Eddie Haggerty, a longtime creative director at Disney, joins the camp each summer to direct musicals in the school’s 400-seat theater.
Arts-based summer camps give children more time for the arts as well as access to a greater variety of art forms than most kids have during the school year.
At Camp Arena Stage, run on the grounds of DC’s Georgetown Visitation, activities such as filmmaking, hip-hop dance, and puppetry are popular. Performing is another big draw. Every day after lunch, campers sign up to take part in a show. For half an hour, they step onstage to entertain 150 of their peers and counselors with such things as songs, recitations, and comedy routines.
It took one shy camper nearly three summers to sign up for the show. When she finally made it onstage, she read an original poem. “It was wonderful the way the group responded,” says camp director Anita Maynard-Losh.
Another year, a young camper lugged a trumpet half her size onto the stage. Rattled by nerves, the girl struggled to make a sound. Kids yelled, “You can do it!” until she gained the courage to play.
“Sometimes schools try to put a lid on the boisterous parts of being young,” says Scott Seifried, director of a rock-and-roll camp called DayJams. “We try to bring that out.”
At the start of each DayJams session—held at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School in Alexandria—campers are divided into bands by age and experience. Local musicians and teachers help kids learn to sing or play the guitar, bass, keyboard, or drums during daily band practice and two daily instrument classes. The camp culminates in a rock show with up to 200 spectators.
Seifried says he always gets calls from worried parents on the second day of camp. One time it was the mother of ten-year-old Madeline, who was struggling with stage fright. “I don’t think she’s going to make it through the week,” her mom said.
Maddy was her band’s singer. She and her bandmates spent the week coming up with a name, writing a song, practicing for the concert, and designing a logo and T-shirt. When it was showtime, she belted out her song like a pro.
Like DayJams, the Levine School’s Summer Music and Arts Day Camp teaches kids to play an instrument. Younger campers take a sampler class that allows them to try out different instruments. The camp has locations in DC, Maryland, and Virginia and also offers courses in the visual arts and dance. At the end of each session, there’s an art show and final performance.
Eleven-year-old Dee Hodge waits in anticipation every year for the camp to reveal its theme, which dictates the material that campers study and prepare for the concert. “The final performance shows what our hard work has been put into,” says Dee, a five-year camp veteran who plays the piano. In her third year, Spain was the theme—a favorite. “I loved learning the Spanish dances and songs,” she says.
Camp Creativity at the Corcoran College of Art & Design aims to bring out kids’ artistic side on paper. “Our goal,” says longtime teacher Janet David, “is to set the stage for the child to have a creative experience. We want them to recognize it and say, ‘I know how to do this now.’ ”
The visual-arts camp is held on the Corcoran’s Georgetown campus. Weeklong sessions cover everything from cartooning and photography to costume design. Last summer, more than 400 attended.
“We have a great space,” says David, a middle-school art teacher. “Kids are free to get messy and get paint on the floor and tables. No one cares.”
Kids ages five to seven take classes based in the artistic traditions of various parts of the world. Last year, they created paintings and collages of mythological gods, heroes, and monsters in “Art of Ancient Greece.”
Classes for ages eight to ten use science to spark the imagination. In “Zoology 101,” campers create drawings of animals’ anatomy inside and out. The older campers, ages 11 to 13, work on developing specific skills in classes such as “Figure Drawing,” “Cartooning,” and “Painting With Acrylics.”
Janet David often chooses to teach the younger children because she likes to watch them develop. “They’re always having an ‘aha moment,’ ” she says. “It’s really a pleasure to watch that discovery happen and see that joy.”