Camping on campus

Summer camps hosted by some of the best universities in North America

by Glen Herbert

    Summer Youth Programming at the Daniels Faculty


    Camp is about environments: allowing kids to access new ones, to engage with new communities of people, and to enter new communities of interest. In some instances, that’s the university environment. For many campers, sessions hosted on campus offer the first meaningful experience of university life—there are new people, new ideas, and new passions to experience. Staff and instructors come directly from the university culture and community, bringing an added layer of enthusiasm, energy, and expertise. The facilities themselves, it goes without saying, are exceptional, including teaching spaces, lab spaces, and varsity athletics spaces. From the Ivy League to the halls of industry, does it get any better than this? 

    Cornell University

    Debate is undergoing something of a resurgence in popularly with young people, and delightfully so. There are some great skills associated with it, including communication and higher order thinking, though kids like it for the best reason of all: it’s fun. The Cornell International Summer Debate Camp is world-class in every way, hosted on the campus of a storied university. It can be an eye-opener in all sorts of ways, particularly through engaging with peers from around the world who share academic aspirations and the talents and drive to achieve them.

    University of Ottawa

    The U of Ottawa team is known as “GG” for garnet and grey, the school colours. The Gee-Gees Sports Camps, hosted here through the summer months, are a direct expression of those programs: expertly run and conducted in a professional, world-class setting. Lunch is in the caf, included in the session fees, and there is an option of daily swimming in the Olympic sized pool. The coaches are hired from the varsity programs, and getting to know them is part of the experience. All skill levels are welcome, including elite athletes intending to develop their skills, to kids who just want to try something new. In all, it’s as inspiring as it is athletically sound.

    University of Toronto

    Some camps are truly one-of-a-kind, and DEEP Summer Academy is one of them. Developed by the outreach office of the department of engineering at the University of Toronto, the intention was to offer an intensive STEM program for university bound kids. The resources on hand are as good as it gets, and there is a keen focus on involving girls within the program, inspiriting them to participate in areas where women remain underrepresented. The programming is advanced and challenging, and students from around the world apply to be accepted to the program. Sessions are taught by faculty of the university, and topics are cutting edge.

    Summer Youth Programming at the Daniels Faculty continues that theme. The building, newly built at the Spadina Crescent, is itself worth the cost of entry—it’s the latest home for the University of Toronto’s school of architecture, landscape, and design, one of the leading schools of urban design in Canada. It’s a hub of art, design, and community-building, hosting a range of programs and learners, from professional think tanks, to graduate studies, to undergraduate programs that use architectural studies as a means of augmenting a liberal arts-based education. The mandate is to provide research, teaching, and service. The camps are part of the overall project as well, bringing young people into this setting to explore the people, the environments, and the work done here. At the camp sessions, students engage in collaboration with peers to explore, well, just amazing stuff, such as the theme for the 2019 camps: how drones can disrupt aspects of city life. Programs for high school students offer opportunities to explore careers in design, while being exposed to a wealth of new ideas and cross-disciplinary thinking. The potential for these experiences to be transformative is very high. Barring that, they are simply a great way to spend some time with others. All is seamlessly administered and managed, staffed by instructors and mentors who are passionately involved in their fields of interest, and keen to express their enthusiasm for the work.

    The programs at Camp U of T Mississauga are also impeccably run and creatively varied, making the most of the wide range of resources at hand. The sports sessions are exceptional, and all campers, no matter the program, have access to the varsity pool. The themed programs—including academic topics cast in playful light—give kids an age-appropriate sense (i.e., it's fun) of what university academic life is like. Some offerings are unlike any you’ll find anywhere else, including forensics—there are only three programs like this in Canada, and this is the most engaged, best outfitted—as well as things like Biz Science, which combine seemingly diverse interests and diverse approaches, from lab work to role play. The leadership training programs bring closer to home something that is more common in overnight camp settings, providing an opportunity for young people to grow into new roles, new responsibilities, and a new appreciation of the skills and talents that they personally can contribute to a group environment. In all of that and more, there’s a lot to love, both for parents and kids. These are some the best, and best run, most consistently managed day programs in the region.

    Camp U of T Scarborough hosts leadership training programs that bring closer to home something that is more common in overnight settings, providing an opportunity for young people to grow into new roles, new responsibilities, and a new appreciation of the skills and talents that they personally can contribute to a group environment. The afternoon programs—including academic topics cast in playful light—are run as mini-University sessions, giving kids a sense of what university academic life is like. In all of that and more, there’s a lot to love, both for parents and kids. These are some the best, and best run, day programs in the region.

    Ryerson University 

    The resources at Ryerson Summer Day Camps are rich and ample in ways that, understandably, other kinds of camps could never replicate. Science sessions are held in world-class, fully equipped lab settings; sports are conducted in professional-grade facilities. That's true of all offerings, which are varied and unique. There are News Academy camps, where kids learn about journalism while participating within a professional news gathering and broadcasting setting. There’s a bit of imagination to it all—kids who dream of being on camera news readers, for example, will be living the dream—but not much, given that, well, it’s all real and it’s all happening, with real equipment. For the right kids, it's literally a dream come true. Less obvious at first glance, but equally true, is that camps are run by staff who are at the same level, and who are themselves looking to careers in the areas that they teach within, if not having already achieved that. The location is a draw, to be sure, in the heart of the city and easily accessible by public transit. The camps have been run since 1984, and are administered with expertise and experience.

    The location of the Ryerson Performance Youth and Community Programs couldn’t be better, and that’s true for the facilities as well. Drama, to some extent, is about dreaming, and having the use of professional theatre spaces only enhances that. Further, the staff is expert, as is the administration, allowing for high-quality instruction and productions. The levelling allows kids to get used to the idea of being on stage, and then grow into an appreciation what they can bring to it. The location and program support, too, contribute to a very professional package. 

    Queen's University

    For young people with a passion for engineering, attending the Connections: Queen’s Summer Engineering Academy (QSEA) has the same gravity as, say, a child who loves basketball attending a week of practices with the Raptors. The setting, the staffing, the resources, the approach—it’s all the real deal, within one of the country’s foremost academic institutions. No punches are pulled, with attention to chemical, civil, electrical and computing, geological, mechanical engineering, and others. It’s not for everyone, to be sure, but, again, for the right child, it’s as exceptional as it is unique. Day and overnight options allow for a wider range of engagement, but the immersive overnight programs are a particular draw. Participants interact with peers of a like mind and academic ability, as well as academics and professionals in the field, all which can be both transformational and inspiring.

    York University

    At the York University Lions Camps campers can experience a wide range of athletic activity, from field sports to martial arts. The intent is to bring young people together around a range of inclusive wellness activity, to challenge them a bit, and to build their confidence and resilience a bit at the same time. The staff is sympathetic to all of that, made up of youth leaders from the York student community.

    Science Engagement sessions engage with the outcomes of the provincial curriculum, extending them in a range of meaningful ways, through hands-on, cooperative learning. Students also work within a professional setting, and learn from student leaders that themselves are working in those fields throughout the year. The facilities, as you’d expect, are exceptional—a majority of the sessions take place within Faculty of Science at the Keele Campus of York University—as is the organization of the programs and sessions.

    Tucked away in leafy Bayview and Lawrence neighbourhood, Glendon College of York University is like an oasis of peace and quiet, all nicely accessible via public transportation. During the summer months, it’s home to Camp Glendon, with sessions that reflect some of the strengths of the school, including bilingualism, of which Glendon College is a national leader. Likewise, a tennis program is run out of the Glendon Athletic Club, a 55,000 square foot full use fitness facility. There’s a buzz there, one buoyed by a community of people who exemplify the benefits of maintaining an active lifestyle. Staff and instructors come directly from the university culture and community, bringing an added layer of enthusiasm, energy, and expertise.

    McGill University

    Storied, old, beautiful—environment is important, and McGill, unquestionably, sets the right tone in the heart of Montreal. The MWS Montreal Language Camps are intensive language immersion  programs, picking up where other immersion programs fall short, adding cultural immersion as well. Yeats said that education shouldn’t be about filling a bucket, but lighting a fire. In terms of language learning, as well as independence and personal development, that’s what MWS does.

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