You can do that!?

There's a camp for everything, and these ones prove the point ... and then some ...

by Glen Herbert Read more

    The Whale Camp, Grand Manan, New Brunswick


    Across Canada, there are camps that stretch our understanding of what a camp can offer. They include more activity options than most of us would imagine, lead by people we never thought we could meet. And while we often think the right fit for a child is a camp that reflects their interests, sometimes the opposite is true: one that creates new interests where they never existed before, and allows them to do things they never thought they could. Like this: 

    Live with whales!

    Some camps just capture the imagination, and this is one of them. Go to New Brunswick to live with like-minded people, learning from experts, and having daily, face-to-face experiences with some of the most majestic, inspiring cetaceans on the planet. Who wouldn’t love that? Amy Lorenz and Cailin Burmaster lead The Whale Camp’s educational program, and both bring armloads of academic expertise and insight, as well as a wealth of experience leading field research and educational programs. Lorenz’s master’s research focused on creating opportunities to engage students in science. Burmaster has done extensive fieldwork in marine biology and oceanography. It’s the real deal, from top to bottom. Kids who attend the camp get to experience the world, and whales, and they do that aboard a working research vessel, participating in data collection and analysis. That said, working alongside people who are so engaged in curiosity, science, and dedication can be as inspiring as it is life changing. Yes, there are whales, but camp is about relationships, something that Whale Camp offers in abundance.

    Learn French in the alps. Really.

    Learning French, nestled in the Alps—for the students that attend the French International Language Camps there are lots of pinch-me moments. That said, there’s more afoot here than glorious vistas and great food (though there are indeed both of those). Students come together with peers from around the world for the purpose of language learning, thought that’s just the tip of the iceberg. They learn about themselves, and their place in the world; they have a first-hand experience of what it means to be a global citizen within a truly global learning environment. Given that French is the one language that all the participants share, there’s an immediacy that comes with using it,  and an imperative not simply to make sure that verbs and subjects agree, but to make yourself understood to others. It’s an adventure, though one that, for many reasons, will have a substantive and lasting effect. An expressed goal of the program is to shape and influence young people to create a better world. Truly, if there's one thing that could do that, it's programs like this one: bringing young people together from disparate cultures to share some time, ideas, and fun. All sessions are impeccably run, out of impeccable facilities in the shadow of Mont Blanc. 

    Save a life

    There is truly a camp to meet every interest, and Medics Camp is a great example of that. It was founded by Amanda Farris, who brings a wealth of experience, including some gained at the venerable Johns Hopkins University and medical school in Baltimore, Maryland. Play and roleplay are important aspects of the sessions, with kids diving in to their new identities as practicing physicians. There’s a strong curricular element as well, providing kids with a foundation in the medical arts, sciences, first aid, healthy living, and personal safety. Staff are vibrant and attuned to creating an interactive inspiring atmosphere. Before and after care is offered at all three locations, something which families understandably appreciate.

    Fly a commercial airliner (sort of)

    Flying involves a host of interpersonal and technical skills and aptitudes, and the Aviation Immersion Camp was formed to develop them, including communication, collaboration, analysis, and an ability to engage effectively within complex systems. With kids. The flying takes place within a series of simulators, environments that are in every way identical to their professional correlates, with the only exception that they don’t leave the ground. Participants cover everything from the theory of flight, the basics of meteorology, to the details of in-flight, real-time operations. It’s unique, to be sure, and that’s what draws families and drives the excitement of the campers that attend. The structure of the setting includes defined roles and ranks, which for many kids is part of the thrill of it all. Yes, some will want to go on to careers in commercial aviation, though these sessions will appeal to a wider audience of young people than that, including those who are drawn to topics in engineering, as well as those who simply dream of flying. The instructors are passionate professionals who, like founder Aaron Murphy, approach the endeavour with equal parts intelligence, experience, and wonder.

    Work with professional designers

    Part museum, part educational institution, part industry crucible, located in the heart of the financial district, within the historic location of the Toronto Stock Exchange—there’s simply nothing like the Design Exchange (DX). It was conceived as means of providing a hub for design professionals highlighting the role of design in culture, industry, and business. In the decades since, it’s done far more, hosting conferences, workshops, seminars, and hundreds of world-class exhibitions. Just travelling to this place, in this location, every day to participate in a camp is part of the experience. Working alongside professional designers is, too. The sessions are the epitome of what we think of as the best of STEM instruction, if not expressed in exactly that way: gathering kids together to pool their talents, working together to solve a range of problems, creatively, enthusiastically, and collaboratively. The themes that the sessions are focussed around are playful, and designed to get kids thinking in new ways about things that are of high interest to them, from fashion design to adventures in augmented reality. Guest speakers and field trips are part of the experience. Staff are keen to keep things fresh, so even the sessions that seem to occur annually are overhauled to ensure that no ground is covered twice. For the right campers, and no doubt there are many of them, the Design Exchange (DX) programs can be transformational.

    Broadcast to a national audience

    The Story Arts Centre was launched 1994 to house Centennial College’s School of Communications, Media, Arts and Design. It includes the operations of the faculties of the creative communications programs, including advertising and public relations, digital animation, game design, theatre arts, music, dance performance and the fundamentals of performing arts. That’s a lot, which is what makes Centennial College Story Arts Centre Summer Camps so unique. Just as STEM programs seek to blur the lines between siloed science disciplines, the Story Arts Centre seeks to blur the lines between arts and communications disciplines. The point is a good one: whether you’re writing a media release or choreographing, you’re communicating, intending to deliver a range of messages to various audiences. The approach is cutting edge, and the space is as well. When campers arrive they enter an environment unlike any they’ve ever experienced. It’s bursting with interesting work in various styles of display, and populated by people who are passionate to work with others, to be innovative, and to grow together. There’s a lot of learning, but there’s a lot of fun, too, some of which derives simply from the spaces themselves: acting on a professional stage, broadcasting out of a professional radio studio, animating on state of the art digital equipment. For many kids, to say nothing of adults, that can be inspiring. And it is. The camps are expertly managed, run, and staffed. The location on public transit is a plus.

    Go canoeing in downtown Vancouver

    The summer programs are run as an aspect of the club, founded in 1985, False Creek Racing Canoe Club which has as its mission “to offer paddling opportunities to anyone who wishes to achieve excellence through training and racing.” This isn’t casual boating, but rather an opportunity for young people, whether they are new to the sport or are seeking to build existing skills, to engage with a community that is passionate, dedicated, and well-versed in all the values that sport has to offer. That it’s in the heart of the city, and proximate to public transportation, is pretty great, too. The offering is varied, from marathon canoeing to dragon boat racing, and the intention is as well. Achievement is part of it—all kids get a certificate noting the skills they’ve gained—though an introduction to life-long fitness and active living is also a core goal. The experience of simply attending the club can be eye-opening in all kinds of great ways. It feels like taking part in something special, and that’s because it is. The club is run by volunteers on a not-for-profit basis. These are people that love what they do and want to share it with as many people as possible. So much the better.

    Change the world

    The Me to We Take Action Camp was begun to promote social activism, particularly around global humanitarian issues. That said, as the name and the programs predicate, the beginning point is allowing youth to learn how they, quite literally, can change the world through adopting leadership roles within their communities and beyond. The Me to We Take Action Camps are based in Canada and hosted in two locations in Ontario and one in Arizona. They are, in every way, an expression of the values and the goals of the larger Me to We organization. At the camps, kids have an opportunity to come together to spend a week with like-minded peers in order to grow their sense of agency as well their leadership, communication, and teamwork skills. The camps are fun, to be sure, but they’re also presented as a beginning, in a sense, of what the kids will then do in their communities and beyond. For many, the experience can be a transformative one, and certainly, that’s the goal that serves as a foundation for the camps.


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