We know some boredom is essential for creative thinking, but if you’re looking at the long summer and rethinking some of your open weeks, we’ve got a few fun and slightly off-the-grid options you probably didn’t find at a camp fair or in a magazine.
Some of the best summer options for kids are the ones planned by passionate people in the promising weeks of spring, long after special issues of camp round-ups have gone to press and summer fairs have introduced hopeful parents to what seem like the only options. Not so, as I learned when I put together a list of unique camps and yoga camps for the summer, a compendium I hope to grow next year.
It had been a while since I had seen owner Suzanne Leitner-Wise, the leader of a fabulous yoga retreat I went on when I was seventh months pregnant in 2010, and I hadn’t yet made it to her gorgeous new studio. Talk about light and airy! And its front room contains two beautiful couches and a lovely array of clothing, books, jewelry and art.
The camp was planned as a weeklong experience but also offered a drop-in daily option, which worked great for us since we had other afternoon commitments a few of the days this week. It’s important to me that my kids learn to see yoga as a fun and healthy way to feel centered and grounded. And sometimes, they need to see that from another person! (I hope to learn more and get inspired to integrate yoga into our home life more this fall at the first National Kids Yoga Conference on September 27).
My children attended 532’s Kids Corner yoga camp on Monday and had a great time. When I arrived early for pick-up, energetic and bubbly teacher Lisa Sonntag — a special education teacher in Fairfax County, a certified yoga teacher, and an experienced camp counselor — said she could not believe how quickly the time flew. “Miss Lisa” shared that the children did an early savasana after a first half of class full of active asanas, or poses,
They then moved on to snack and crafts, including braiding yarn and making and coloring a “You Can Do Yoga” booklet and an accompanying coloring book/journal to be used through the week.
I sat with the class as Lisa closed that first day with a reading (peppered by lively discussion) of the Dr. Seuss book, My Many-Colored Days, which associates different emotions with different colors.
During the class, while I enjoyed some kid-free time at the Starbucks across the street, I sent Lisa some questions for further reflection.
In addition to accepting drop-ins through this session’s final day, July 18, 532Yoga will repeat this kids camp with Lisa Sonntag the week of August 4-8. Interested parties can contact the studio to inquire about a sibling discount or register through the workshops page on its scheduling site.
Disclosure: I received a discount on drop-in tuition for my two children in exchange for writing this post and sharing information about the camp.
While many of the biggest and most well-established camps in the DC area filled when there was still snow on the ground, there are a number of camps with a more specifically mindful or outdoors focus that still have room.
Here are some smaller and off-the-grid camps to check out this year. (Or use this as a starting point for future planning!)
Note: Arcadia Farm Camp is full for 2014 and has full waitlists.
Creative Camps and Classes
New addition 7/7/14: iSchool for the Future has spaces in two-week camps:
July 14-25 Innovation Lab Camp that combine STEM with creative Arts to inspire children to use their imaginations and Empathy to create inventions that make life easier.
July 28-August 8 Amazing Race Around the World Camp where young explorers – with some language and navigation skills – will learn about people, science, cultures, and geography while experiencing music, cuisines, and arts from around the world. They will even build a country along the way! Camps are offered in 2 locations – in Reston and at Wakefield School in The Plains, VA. View slide show.
- Ages 7-12
- $595 for the two week sessions
- Scholarships for young scholars are available
- Classes are taught by passionate scientists and educators
Camp Create Music in Alexandria (Fairfax)
Children ages 1-3 may attend with a loving grown-up, and children aged 4-8 may be dropped off at this camp led by Cheryl Anderson Sabo of Music Together Vivo.
My son, several times a Music Together alum, and my daughter, who’d only attended one session, had a blast at this camp last year, and so did their mom! We danced, sang, heard stories told magically by Miss Cheryl, ate healthy snacks, listened to and made live music and so much more. It was the perfect thing to do as a family when my kids were three and seven. Cheryl’s description says: “Campers will enjoy instrument exploration, yoga, stories, and a fun-filled Music Together class each day! Each family will receive the ‘Family Favorites’ CD and activity guide.”
Morning camp meets Monday–Thursday, 9:00–11:45 a.m. Register online through Music Together Vivo and ignore the fact that the registration says the class is only 45 minutes long). Weeks available are July 28-31, August 4-7, and August 11-14. Location is Nativity Lutheran Church, 1300 Collingwood Rd, Alexandria, VA. $152 /$120 siblings per week. mtvivo.yourvirtuoso.com
Color Catchers Art & Yoga Class in Sterling
Jean McTigue is a homeschooling mother and certified yoga teacher. She’s offering six weeks of Thursday afternoon classes: “Observation and Feeling/ Yoga and Art at the Cascades Library in Sterling starting 7/10 and going through 8/14. Children ages 8 or 9 and up will meet 2:00-3:00; class for younger children is full. Cost is $50/child.
Jean says: “We will do a short yoga sort of stretching relaxing and game playing and then I will lead them either outside in front of the library or just to the general area inside the library so they can observe certain things and do a drawing exercise! ” Contact colorcatchers (at) gmail (dot) com to register.
Eastern Ridge School in Vienna
This Reggio-inspired school on a meadow with a large garden and pigs near Wolf Trap has several summer offerings including a Toddler Program for ages 2 and 3 and an early childhood program for ages 3.5 to 6 running through the summer, 8:30-3:00 (with before care and after care available). Toddlers (ages 2 to 3.5): $435 for full week, $305 for Monday to Wednesday, $205 for Thursday and Friday. (Requires four-week commitment if child is not enrolled in ERS for spring or fall). Early childhood (ages 3.5 to 6): $395, full week only.
Description: “Children work in the gardens, visit and care for our pot bellied pigs, tell stories, sing songs, splash and play in our galvanized farm tubs or mud pit, and work with inspirational and messy art materials. In the midst of all of that old-fashioned fun, we work with them to develop projects they are passionate about.”
Also offered are three weeks of themed elementary camps with visiting experts as lead teachers for children rising into grades two through five: June 30-July 3: Creative and Technical Drawing; July 7-11: Elementary Photography (see article and giveaway); August 4-8: Dramatic Arts; and August: 18-22 Native Americans. Cost is $415/week. easternridgeschool.org
Home-based Reggio-Inspired Camp in Arlington
Christy Przystawik is a trained chef and holistic health coach who works as a school garden coordinator for DC’s FoodPrints program and for private schools in the area and as a nutrition educator at The Breastfeeding Center of Greater Washington. Christy is running three weeks of a Reggio Emilia-inspired camp from her home and garden in Arlington with co-teacher Amrita Love.
Description: “With Amrita, children will have the opportunity to make these discoveries through a variety of media like: paper making, vegetable prints, clay, mosaic, mod podge decoupage, different paints, cray pas, sculpture and good old paper and pencil. Christy will be working with the children on gardening, harvesting, cooking, composting, and plant preparations. Music will be included every day at camp to inspire learning, movement, and relaxation.”
Camp will be offered July 21-25, July 28-August 1, and August 4-8. $300/week (includes a healthy snack). Hours 9-1. More information on Christy’s blog, feedingfamilieswell.com/
Nature Camp at Tauxemont in Alexandria (Fairfax)
Children “can enjoy a traditional camp experience with nature hikes, camp songs, opening and closing ceremonies” in Tauxemont Cooperative Preschools’ wooded setting. Morning sessions are for children ages 3 1/2 (by June) through completion of kindergarten (rising first graders). Afternoon camp sessions are for children 4 1/2 years old through completion of 2nd grade (rising third graders). Space is available June 23-27 and June 30-July 3 for both morning and afternoon sessions. The final week of camp is full. www.tauxemont.org/nature-camp
Peace Camp in Arlington
Little Friends for Peace offers three sessions of Peace Camp at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington for children ages 5-14. Weeks are June 23-27, June 30-July 3, and July 7-11. Hours are 8:45 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Full weeks: $295; July 4 week: $260. Price includes lunch. When my son attended, the staff was very accommodating of his gluten-free diet and included gluten-free options for him and other campers.
Peace Camp offers children “an opportunity to explore the issues and feelings associated with peace and conflict. Campers and staff represent a diversity of religious faith, ethnicity and culture.” For more information, see this brochure. www.uucava.org/group/peacecamp
Potomac Crescent Waldorf School in Arlington
A half-Day Camp for children aged 4 through rising 1st graders the weeks of June 23-27, July 7-11, July 14-18, and July 21-25. Description says: “Each day begins outdoors, enjoying sand and water play, bubbles, wet felting and more. Indoors, we have time for imaginative play, cooking, camp crafts, circle and story time.” Price is $325 per week and includes a healthy snack. www.potomaccrescentschool.org
Zayla’s Studio in the Woods in Alexandria (Fairfax)
“Summer Immersions: For kids of all ages (check for age appropriateness). Nature oriented. Outdoor classroom. Inspired teaching. Small groups.”
“Free To Be in 3-D” Nature-Art-Yoga Immersion, July 14-25, M-F 10:30am-2pm. $400
Description: “Sculpture, assemblage, nature installation, collaborative large scale work and yoga that takes on new dimensions. Journaling, discussion and documentation of work and process incorporated.”
Art & Geography immersion, August 11-15, M-F 10am-12:30pm, $200
Description: “Exploring our sense of Place in this global environment, we will begin with artist map-making. Creating maps of our literal place, our imagined place even our symbolic place. We will move into an inquiry and exchange with a person/place somewhere else in the world creating a postcard-sized work of art that signifies our home.”
New addition 7/8/14: 532 Yoga in Old Town Alexandria is offering a Kids Corner camp the week of July 14 and also the week of August 4 in the afternoons, 1:30-4:00 p.m., for children age 3-7(ish). It’s $50/day for a drop-in or $215 for the full week for one child. And if you enroll two children, the studio is running a special get a $65 discount for a total of $365 for both kids combined. For more information, visit the 532 Yoga Facebook page or go to the main schedule page at http://www.532yoga.com/SCHEDULE.html and from there go to the Online Scheduler and choose the Workshops tab.
Description says: “This camp will promote strength, flexibility, coordination, balance, peacefulness and body awareness, as well as improve concentration and focus, stimulate imagination, and help promote a good nights sleep.
The 532Kids Camp program will improve focus and concentration through posture work, improve self-esteem as they are encouraged to work to the best of their ability, and improve social skills through games focusing on teamwork, listening and cooperation, and teach breathing and relaxation techniques to help teach how to stay calm through anxious moments. 532Kids Camp will include asana, art, music and movement. There will also be a small snack provided.”
Beloved Yoga in Reston, VA
Half-day yoga camps, 1-4 p.m. Ages 3-6 the week of July 14-18 and July 28-August 1. Ages 7-11 the week of July 7-11 and July 21-25. $170 first child. 15% sibling discount.
Description says: “Kids will explore yoga poses, games, art, breath-work and relaxation through different themes each day throughout the week: Countries of the world, Trust, Environmental actions, Body system and Chakras. These classes will help the kids to improve their physical and mental health and teach them the importance of “care of oneself”. Every child will thrive in this noncompetitive atmosphere where they get a chance for self-expression, cooperation through fun yoga activities.” www.belovedyoga.com
Breathing Space Yoga on Capitol Hill
Full-day camps for children ages 4-12 years (rising PreK-5th grade). $345 per week or $660 for two weeks or two children. 8:30-3:15 pm with optional after-camp care until 5:30 pm. Most camp weeks are already full but click here for registration . Limited space remains in ASL Week, June 23-27, and for 1st-3rd graders only the week of August 11 and August 25.
Description says: “Our summer camp provides children with a fun, creative, educational and enriching experience through yoga movement classes, mindfulness activities, relaxation, games, crafts and outdoor time.” breathingspacedc.com
Circle Yoga in NW DC
Half-day camp for ages 4-7 for $250, 9am-12pm, $250 per week, July 7-11 and July 14-18.
Ages 6-12 can do a full day (9-3) for $365 the following weeks: June 23-27, July 21-25, July 28-August 1, August 4-8, August 11-15, August 18-22 (and for $219 the short week of June 30-July 2)
The description says: “Budding Yogis camp is FUN and full of movements and creativity. Campers get to play outside and be the active kids they are, and they have time to wind down with mindful yoga, journaling, and relaxation. Because we are completely non-competitive and spend time in small groups, our campers develop friendships and connections that are truly special.” circleyoga.com
Sun & Moon Yoga in Arlington and Fairfax
Afternoon four-day camps for children ages 5-12 the week of July 14-17 in both the Arlington location and the Fairfax location. 1:00-4:00 p.m., $180. The description says: “We will introduce poses to increase flexibility and strength, develop coordination and posture, and learn to relax and release energy in a safe way. The curriculum will include yoga asanas, mindful walking to a neighboring park, crafts, snacks, karma yoga (acts of selfless service) and creative expression. We will emphasize the non-competitive nature of yoga and have time for reflection and gratitude, all in fun. The intention is for children to learn skills which will carry over into their daily lives. “
There is also a Teens Camp July 21-24 in Arlington, 1:00-4:00 p.m., $180. The description reads: “Daily yoga practice with postures, breathing techniques, group activities, and deep relaxation. Goals include identifying stress triggers, releasing tension, increasing focus, developing strength and flexibility for life both on and off the mat. We’ll have a chow break each day (snacks provided). Annie and Hope will create a relaxed atmosphere with space for creativity, frank discussion, and, most importantly, fun.” Register at www.sunandmoonstudio.com/Workshop.shtml
Please share any additional ideas in the comments, email to jessica (at) mindfulhealthylife (dot) com or post on our Facebook page.
For more summer ideas in and around DC, check out the resources at these other great websites:
- Activity Rocket
- Clarendon Moms
- DC Metro Mom
- The DC Moms
- DC Urban Moms and Dads
- Dulles Moms
- Go Kid Trips
- Joy-Makin’ Mamas and The Joy Troupe NOVA
- Our Kids
- A Parent in Silver Spring
- Red Tricycle
When I learned that Jessica Wallach of Portrait Playtime was going to teach a photography-themed camp at the nature-loving Eastern Ridge School in Vienna, Virginia, I had to share this unique opportunity! My son just completed a wonderful photography enrichment program at his school, and I couldn’t be more excited for him to explore his creativity through a lens.
For seven years, Jessica Wallach has been capturing the natural beauty of families as part of her business. She loves engaging people, especially young people, to show their passions and explore who they are. Read on to get the scoop on her photography-themed camp being offered July 7-11 for children entering grades 2 through 5. Hours of the camp are 8:30 to 3:00 with before and after care available for an additional fee. Lunch and morning snack come from home; a healthy, gluten-free afternoon snack is provided by ERS.
ERS is offering a special deal to one lucky winner of our promotion: one $75 discount for the camp, normally priced at $415. Additionally, any entrant to this promotion who wishes to register will be sent a code for $15 off. The promotion campaign will start tomorrow and expire Wednesday, June 18 at 11:59 p.m.
Background on Photography Camp teacher Jessica Wallach
Jessica loves to teach and to encourage people to share their voice and vision. Since 2012, she has been running an art camp for Fairfax County Parks and Rec in which she gives children a bigger sense of themselves and their ability to tell their stories using a wide variety of art media. She is thrilled to lead a photography camp at ERS. “There is such a wide variety of things to capture with our lenses, we will never do the exact same thing twice, but always build on what came before and take it three steps further,” she says. She loves the “magical” meadow of ERS as a prime location for exploring photography.
Q&A with Jessica Wallach
Mindful Healthy Life: What do you like about working with children?
Jessica Wallach: I love working with young people, putting out an idea and seeing where their minds run with it or taking their idea and weaving something about photography into it. In my last few children’s photography classes, it’s great that we get to that point where they start coming up with ideas about what to do next. I also love incorporating play into whatever I do, and kids’ first language is play, so we are a natural fit.
Also I think young people of this generation are going to use cameras and photos to both learn and express what they know in a way that has never been seen before. A camera will become as common as using a pencil and paper was in my elementary school. I have a passion for exploring this with young people.
Just the other day, I asked the children in my class to tell me things they know and then we talked about how we would show that through pictures. …I said I knew that mass cannot be destroyed, it just changes form and I could take a photo of an ice cube in a frying pan as it melts and then evaporates. One student said she could show how the sky changes color as the sun goes down and that she could take a photo of the sky and a clock at different times of the afternoon and early evening.
MHL: How did you come to be involved with Eastern Ridge School?
JW: My daughter went to the predecessor, Discovery Woods Learning Community, for years and I worked as a photographer there on and off. I spent a ton of time behind the camera there, from capturing students at work and play to doing photo fundraisers to documenting family gatherings and workdays to teaching the teachers how to use their camera’s better. I tell you it is a magical place that just begs you to pick up your camera. Early on I assisted with ERS’s marketing and they use some of my photos on their website.
MHL: How is ERS different from other schools and camps?
JW: My favorite thing about ERS is the central theme that children are smart, capable and need scaffolding to get to do the next big thing. As teachers, we facilitate their learning, never forcing, always remembering they are capable and that we work from their strengths and build on them.
Another way ERS is different is that art, nature and scientific inquiry are the basis for learning. We are outside all the time. It is just the way things are.
MHL: How will you structure the camp?
The camp is structured to keep the kids interested in photography by balancing structured activities and unstructured play time. The hope is that the unstructured time will inform and inspire our photography. If kids love running in the meadow, how do we capture that? If they make a city in the sand box, can we do a stop action video made up of tons of photos showing life in that city? If they get bored with the photography, we will go play. The schedule will change according to what the young people need to do that day.
Here is the basic schedule:
- Free Play: slideshow going and books filled with photos on the table for kids to look at if interested
- Sit spots or nature walk in meadow with cameras
- Morning meeting: discuss what we did the day before & what we could observe that could change that day; decide on day’s activities
- Observational photography
- Activity Block 1
- Free play: encourage running a lap, rolling stumps, climbing trees…activities where the children can physically go all out.
- Activity Block II
- Look at photos, editing, creating mini movies
MHL: What will children walk away with?
Children will walk away with a sharpened set of skills, a large number of gorgeous images, and some videos of their work. We will set up an online gallery just for this camp which we will upload to every afternoon. From there, we will make videos using our stills and video clips and Pro Show Web/Producer. At the end of the week, we would love parents to join us for a showcase.
Through the camp we will be practicing the following skills and they will walk away with a slew of photos that helped them practice these skills:
- How to work a camera
- Telling a story
- Creating art for art’s sake
- Using a camera in the investigation/scientific process
- Using camera to take notes
MHL: What kind of device do children need? Will there be a lot of screen time?
JW: Children can use a point and shoot, smart phone, iPad or DSLR. All of them will capture photos and offer many options that will provide many learning opportunities.
Viewing and editing photos is a critical part of this camp experience. We will be looking at screens to do both of those activities. We will be looking at our photos and others to figure out what we like and don’t like and be inspired. Most likely much of our editing will be done communally on one computer and/or in small groups.
MHL: Will there be any collaborative projects or will everything be individual per student?
JW: There will be both collaborative and individual projects and how much of each will depend on group interest. Campers will be presented with these choices during morning meeting and we will figure out together when we will do what. Some projects we will most likely do include:
- Storytelling, stop action video, hybrid photography…children design a little life or big life story, capture it on camera, put it together as a movie.
- Being inspired by others photography and then creating photographs in a similar fashion
- Photo scavenger hunts
- Photos of water, dripping, moving fast, still
- Photos of people and things in motion
- Macro photography in the garden
- Bug hunt
- Something that changes
- Shade garden: The way things work
- In the dark with flash light
- Other campers
- Create a how to set of photos or video
- Reading a book and taking photos that represent what we read
- Field guide photos
- Photos that show what you know
- Photos that say something about yourself
- Photos that show how you feel
- Photos that ask a question
- Capturing things they do
- Free choice camera work
MHL: Anything else you’d like to add?
JW: I am so excited about this camp. It will be amazing to spend a week immersed in photography and play at ERS.
For those unfamiliar with ERS, the camp coordinator, an ERS parent, shared this additional information:
There are a number of preschools in the DC area that I call “outdoor-happy preschools” — places where children are expected to bring weather-appropriate clothing and go outside every day. I was heartened to learn about the options when I was doing research for an article on TheDCMoms.com.
I was inspired to do the piece after hearing about the newly formed Eastern Ridge School in Vienna, Virginia, a reimagining of what was previously called Discovery Woods and now a non-profit organization formed by teachers and parents. The program at ERS goes from age two through 10.
Two teachers from ERS came to a networking meeting of an organization of environmental educators called NoVA Outside. (Make sure to check out their “Arts in Nature” 3rd annual Early Childhood Outside conference on Saturday, April 26). It was at that meeting that I met Jessica Culverhouse, author of today’s piece and now a parent at ERS, which is having an open house on April 27 for prospective parents for school programs in 2014-15 and for summer camp.
Here is Jessica Culverhouse’s “5 Reasons We Love Our Nature Preschool”
Just a couple of months ago, my 2-year-old son, James, started at The Eastern Ridge School, a progressive, nature- and arts-based school in Great Falls. With my background in science and environmental education, I was already familiar with the research on the long-term benefits of unstructured outdoor play and constructivist and project-based learning on students. We knew that in choosing Eastern Ridge, we’d help our son to develop confidence, maturity, critical thinking skills, and a respect for the natural world. What I wasn’t prepared for were the amazing short-term benefits of such an environment on my young son.
Here are just 5 of the many reasons we love our nature preschool.
1. He is happy. What else matters, really? James loves school. He isn’t quite equipped to tell us this in so many words, but he sure tries! Each day we receive photos and videos of James learning, exploring, and having fun with his teachers and friends. When I drop him off in the morning, it doesn’t take long before he is busily engaged with an activity. When my husband arrives to pick him up, he excitedly shows his dad everything he has been working on that day.
2. He eats better. We struggled for the first two years of James’ life with low weight – he was just not interested in food. He is now at a healthy weight and happily eats 3 meals and several snacks each day. Whether this is due to the active days at Eastern Ridge or the delicious, healthful food served for lunch and snacks is unclear, but we are happy to see his appetite grow. (As a side note, I must reiterate how amazing the food is at Eastern Ridge. Raw veggies for morning snack, healthful whole grains, proteins, fruits, and vegetables for lunch, and a yogurt parfait for an afternoon treat. We should all eat so well!)
3. He sleeps better. With plenty of fresh air and active outdoor play, James naps well at school and sleeps hard at night. Of course this is very important for his growth and development, but I must say I enjoy the additional rest, myself!
4. He is nurtured. The teachers and staff at Eastern Ridge School are caring, creative, and passionate. James is so well taken care of and the days are paced so naturally that I never worry that he is experiencing stress or needs additional attention.
5. He is dirty. Yes, we have lots of laundry, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Muddy pants, wet socks, and paint-soaked sweatshirts come home with James every day. In my book there is no better indicator of whether a child had a great day than the (lack of) cleanliness of his clothing.
Jessica Culverhouse works in fundraising for an environmental nonprofit. She is mama to James and wife to David, a volunteer Master Naturalist, and a former environmental educator and Biology teacher who loves nothing more than spending time outside with her family.
Mindful Healthy Life of Metro DC would like to run more profiles of other special places that have found a way to get children in the shadow of the nation’s capital to connect to nature. Share ideas in the comments and check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.