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11 unique summer camps for Pittsburgh kids in 2015

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy Survival Camp 2014 shelter - image credit Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
Mandy Fields Yokim
March01/ 2015

We hope you’ve been enjoying the snowy, cold Pittsburgh winter. It’s been perfect for building snowmen, going sledding and sipping hot chocolate. But with warmer weather on the horizon, many Pittsburgh families are eager to begin planning one of the most exciting times of the year–summer!

While unstructured play time is certainly beneficial, the summer can start to feel long without some quality organized activities, too. Enter summer camp and–wow–does Pittsburgh have you covered in that department. This year our city’s organizations will host an enormous variety of summer camps across many disciplines including the sciences, performing arts, visual arts, sports and much more. And with most registrations beginning over the next month, this article should help narrow the field by highlighting 11 of the most unique summer camps for Pittsburgh kids in 2015.

Practicing mindfulness at Zen Art and Yoga Camp at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts

Is your child having a stressful school year? Let them relax at the Zen Art and Yoga Camp at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. This camp was mindfully scheduled in early June right after school ends so that students can decompress and prepare for their summer. “Our goal was to give students a release from any stress and a place to go to quiet their mind and do something good for themselves,” says Rachael Cooper, children’s program manager at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

Kids ages 11 – 13 will be welcomed each day of this week-long camp by a certified yoga instructor who also has a degree in art. Campers will nurture their mind, body and creativity by combining discussions of peaceful philosophical concepts (Feng shui, for example) with daily yoga practice and a variety of art activities. A highlight of the camp is participating in an authentic tea ceremony using a ceramic tea bowl that kids get to craft themselves. Talk about a total mind/body experience!

This camp will be held June 8-12 from 9-3:30 p.m. each day. Cost of camp is $280. 

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CSI Camp at Point Park University, Photo courtesy of Point Park University

Solving crimes at CSI Camp at Point Park University

Do you have a budding forensic scientist in your family? If so, all the opportunities for “real” crime scene investigation at the CSI Camp at Point Park University will thrill your child. “The students who come to this camp are usually really good students. They are attentive and they really want to be here. We help them explore various careers in the field of intelligence and criminal justice,” says Edward Strimlan, M.D., coordinator of the forensic program at Point Park University.

Besides hearing on-the-job stories from instructors who are all professionals in the field (including the CIA and FBI), one of the most compelling aspects of the camp is the crime scene house where participants get to investigate and discover evidence. After photographing and documenting what they find (hair, fingerprints, fiber), campers are taught examination skills using microscopes and chemistry. There is also a mock trial where youth learn about court proceedings. The four-day camp concludes with a visit from parents, a round of Forensics Jeopardy and the chance to view a video of a full autopsy.

This camp is for high school students in 10-12th grades. The cost of the 4-day camp is $150 and includes lunch each day, a t-shirt and supplies. 

Getting techy at 3-D Printing and Design Camp with Instant Robotics

Is your child inspired by all the latest tech gadgets? Go ahead, let them try out a 3-D printer this summer at the 3-D Printing and Design Camp coordinated by Instant Robotics. 3-D printing is exactly what it sounds like–your child will get to design, print out and take home a 3-D object. “Elementary and middle school is the perfect time to get kids excited about engineering, science and robotics because they aren’t limited by anything but their imagination,” says Sorin Achim, instructor and owner of Instant Robotics, which strives to make advanced technologies understandable and accessible to kids.

During this 10-hour camp, participants will learn how to use 3-D design software tools to plan out an object they want to print. These objects are usually simple (like cubes, pyramids, Lego-like parts and rings) but once they get to print, the result seems magical. There are multiple camps held throughout the summer at a variety of locations in the city.

This camp is for ages 7 – 14. Cost is $195 and includes materials. Look for discounts on sites like Groupon and Living Social. 

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Harvest and Create Camp at the Union Project, Photo courtesy of the Union Project

Being creative across media at Harvest and Create Camp at the Union Project

Is your child interested in gardening, cooking and ceramics? There’s a camp for that. All of that. The Harvest and Create Camp at the Union Project manages to creatively integrate all three practices. Kids will get hands-on learning experiences at both Garfield Community Farm and Union Project’s ceramic studio. “It’s a natural relationship, and almost a no-brainer, to connect ceramic artists – who are people who often make pottery to serve food – with people who are focused on what food will go into that pottery,” says Michelle Clesse, communications and development manager for Union Project.

During this 2-week camp, kids get to immerse themselves in food and art by harvesting produce from the garden, visiting restaurants for chat sessions with local chefs, taking a field trip to a dairy farm, writing in journals, drawing in sketchbooks and working in the ceramics studio. A highlight of the camp is a special meal that the kids prepare for their families from the food they harvested themselves on the ceramic plates they created with their own hands in the studio. We agree wholeheartedly with Clesse when she describes the camp as simply “dreamy.”

This 10-day camp is for kids ages 8-12. Camp is held June 15-26, Monday-Friday from 8:30-4 p.m. Cost is $550. 

Learning outdoor skills at Wilderness Survival Camp with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

Does your child love to hike and be outdoors? The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy offers a Wilderness Survival Camp designed to foster love and respect for nature while also teaching life-long outdoor skills. The camp takes place in the beautiful 644-acre Frick Park, which provides a lovely outdoor “laboratory” for exploring.

During this week-long camp your kids will learn first aid, how to build shelters and fires, tie knots, find water and scavenge for food – even how to whittle. One of the coolest parts of each camp is the night session where counselors help kids develop nighttime nature awareness on hikes and use fire-building skills to cook dinner over the campfire. All these activities are designed to emphasize teamwork, instill a love of nature and build confidence in good decision-making while outdoors.

Camp for 6th graders is June 15-19. Camp for 7th graders is June 22-26. Sessions run from 9-3 p.m. (except for the night session on Thursday which goes until 10 p.m.). Cost is $150. 

BMX Bike Camp at The Wheel Mill, Photo courtesy of The Wheel Mill
BMX Bike Camp at The Wheel Mill, Photo courtesy of The Wheel Mill

Catching air at BMX Bike Camp at The Wheel Mill

Is your child all about adventure sports? Check out BMX Bike Camp at The Wheel Mill, an 80,000 square foot indoor bike park packed with ramps, trails, jump lines and other cool features. What is BMX biking exactly? It’s a freestyle version of biking that involves plenty of tricks and stunts. “The camp makes sure that kids know general bike riding skills and then they can be put into groups to learn more advanced skills like jumps,” says Michael Potoczny, manager of The Wheel Mill.

Camps are led by local professionals and expert riders with 15 to 20 years of experience. Each week-long camp is split into half-day morning/afternoon sessions. Kids get two hours of instruction and one hour of free ride to practice what they learn. Instruction often takes the form of games where the kids are having so much fun, they don’t realize they’re learning.

This camp is offered various weeks during the summer for kids ages 7-17 (riders under age 7 can come to the morning sessions). Morning sessions are from 9-12 p.m. and afternoon sessions run from 1-4 p.m.. Cost for a week-long, half-day camp session is $180 with a full day option for $230. 

Building healthy relationships with local law enforcement at Citiparks Cops and Kids Camp 

Do you have a civic-minded child who wants to learn what it’s like to be part of our city’s law enforcement? The Cops and Kids Camp through Citiparks can help. Coordinated this year by Pittsburgh Bureau of Police’s Assistant Chief of Operations Scott Schubert, this camp creates positive relationships between cops and kids by giving them opportunities to learn first-hand about a day-in-the-life of a police officer. “First and foremost, we want kids to know that police officers aren’t the bad guys; we’re here to help. We’re here for them,” says Pittsburgh police officer Angela Garrett with the Department of Youth Programs.

During each of the three, week-long sessions, the camp hosts 50-60 boys and girls who get to visit specialty police units and learn how to best handle situations involving personal safety, guns and drugs. The camp also brings in groups like the Pittsburgh Promise to talk with the kids about attending college and funding options. But it’s not always serious stuff. Sometimes the campers take field trips to area attractions like the Pittsburgh Zoo, too.

This camp is for ages 10-14. For kids living in the City of Pittsburgh, cost is free and includes transportation to and from camp as well as breakfast, lunch, snack and a ‘uniform’ (a t-shirt with the Pittsburgh Police shield and a pair of shorts). Registration is on a first-come basis and, if space is available, children from outside the city are welcomed. Kids can attend only one camp session. Advance registration is required. For further information and to register, call: 412-323-7821. 

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Little Farmer’s Day Camp at Blue Ribbon Farm, Photo courtesy of Blue Ribbon Farm

Living the rural life at Little Farmers Day Camp 

Would your child be thrilled to milk a cow or hold a baby rabbit? Then the Little Farmers Day Camp at Blue Ribbon Farms in Aliquippa is a perfect fit. If your kids are growing up in the city or the suburbs, this 3-day farm life immersion experience will be educational as well as entertaining. Did we mention feeding baby goats, too?

This camp sounds super organized, with campers divided into groups based on age to ensure educational activities are developmentally appropriate. Learning stations are set up all around the farm and a group leader guides the kids through an amazing list of activities. In addition to feeding baby animals and milking cows, campers get to ride horses, collect eggs from the chicken coop, pick flowers and vegetables from the garden, learn about bee pollination, take a horse-drawn buggy ride, feed ducks and pigs and play in the nearby creek. Seriously, it’s jam-packed with farm fun.

This camp is for ages 4-13 and is held Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9-2 p.m. at Blue Ribbon Farm in Aliquippa. 

Becoming the next Spielberg at Joey Travolta Film Camp 

Does your child want to be the next Steven Spielberg? Kids will learn about the filmmaking process at the Joey Travolta Film Camp, but it’s not just your average film camp. This camp is led by Joey Travolta, who not only has a background in filmmaking (and a very famous brother) but he’s also a former special education teacher who created this camp to nurture children of all abilities. “This is an inclusive camp and that means that while ‘typically developing kids’ are welcome, the camp is specifically designed to address the needs of children with autism or related disorders,” says Carolyn Hare, director of the Arts for Autism Foundation of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh’s Joey Travolta Film Camp.

Participants in the camp are divided into groups to create a short film where they’ll learn about the process from beginning to end. Campers will come up with the film concept, set design, script and costumes. They’ll try their hand at storyboarding, scoring the music, editing and working with fancy movie cameras. The 2-week camp culminates with a wrap party for family and friends to get a sneak peek of the short films produced. But only a sneak peek because the official premiere (with red carpets and paparazzi) is held in January at Waterworks Cinemas.

Camp runs from July 13-24 at Winchester Thurston Upper School in Shadyside. For ages 10-25. Cost is $1800 but there is significant scholarship and grant funding available. For more info, visit http://afapgh.org/programs/

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Story Laboratory at Assemble, Photo courtesy of Assemble

Uniting storytelling and technology at Assemble’s Story Laboratory

Is your child a good storyteller? Do they also love technology? The STEAM-based Story Laboratory camp at Assemble will combine both interests in an ideal way for kinetic learners who thrive on hands-on activities.

During the week-long Story Laboratory camp, kids will start out “old-school” by writing a story, creating storyboards and drawing comic strips. Then, they’ll supercharge it and bring their stories to life with technology like Scratch (a free, interactive programming website), robotics, Claymation and Mozilla webmaking tools. Digital literacy professionals will visit the camp throughout the week to share insights and answer questions that the kids may have. The camp concludes with a celebration where the kids get to present their awesome creations to family and friends.

Story Lab offers two sessions, one for kids ages 6-7 and another for ages 8-10. Camp is full day from 9-4 p.m. Cost is $200 per week session (but scholarships and waivers are available). 

Taking to the stage at Winchester Thurston’s Backstage Pass Rock Band Camp

Is your child a natural-born entertainer with musical abilities? If so, the Backstage Pass Rock Band Camp at Winchester Thurston’s City Campus in Shadyside might just be your family’s highlight of the summer. At the end of camp, you’ll be cheering on your child’s new band as they perform songs on stage.

Before camp starts, the instructors find out children’s musical abilities and form three or four bands. During the week, band members collaborate to write and arrange three songs with the guidance of Daniel Marcus, a performing arts teacher at Winchester Thurston and a professional musician. After rehearsing all week, each band will perform for a live community audience on the Saturday following camp. And, get this, the performances are held at the Hard Rock Café! The end of camp doesn’t have to mean the end of your band, either. One of the bands from a former camp still performs together in the city!

This camp is for kids in 712 grades. Week-long camp is held two times during the summer: June 15-19 and July 6-10, Monday through Friday, 10-4 p.m. Cost is $350. Campers must have musical abilities.   

We hope this article gives you a glimpse into the wide variety of camps available in Pittsburgh this summer. Ask your kids what piques their interest and get them involved in the planning. Together, you’ll be sure to find a camp that will not only entertain for a week or two, but continue to inspire long after flip-flops and shorts have been replaced with boots and sweaters. Have fun!

For a comprehensive listing of summer camp options in the city, check out the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog’s recent article.

Featured article: Wilderness Survival Camp with Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

Mandy Fields Yokim

Mandy Fields Yokim is a nationally published writer and editor based in the Pittsburgh area. Her work has appeared in Parents Magazine, Blue Ridge Country Magazine, NEXTpittsburgh, Kidsburgh, TEQ Magazine, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and nearly 20 parenting publications across the United States and Canada. Her blog posts have appeared online at Pittsburgh Magazine, Kid World Citizen and Wonderaddo, the global education initiative she founded in 2013 to encourage kids and families to explore the world in Pittsburgh. She is contributing editor of regional books such as Grit, Smoke and Steam, Ultimate Pittsburgh Trivia and Bridges of Pittsburgh.