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Reuters, Wed. March 27, 2007

By Belinda Goldsmith

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Long summers spent playing sport are no longer enough for a growing numbers of American families.

They are opting for short camps that tour rollercoasters, teach rock music or prepare youngsters for jobs in the competitive finance, fashion and IT worlds.

Attending either residential or day camp is part of the annual routine for millions of American children with many schools closed for almost three months.

The American Camp Association (ACA) estimates there are about 12,000 camps in the United States attended by 10 million children each year with numbers rising about three percent a year as more mothers work over the summer.

But as children's tastes become more sophisticated and the job market gets more competitive, the options for summer camps are changing, with a 90 percent hike in day camps since the 1980s and a 47 percent rise in academic camps since 2005.

"Parents are so concerned about making sure children have every opportunity to stay ahead and are worried if they take three months off in the summer they will lose their edge," ACA president Ann Sheets told Reuters.

"In recent years we've seen many different camps emerging, teaching everything from money management to veterinary programs."

ACA figures show 75 percent of camps added one or more new programs last year.

Guides to camps available in parenting magazines or online list a diverse range, including cybercamps where you create your own video games and robots, opera, and rock music camps.

The popular television show "American Idol" has inspired Idol Camp, a 10-day performing arts camp in Massachusetts.


Financial education company, Independent Means Inc., is offering Summer$tock and Camp $tart-Up to help teach business planning and golf -- and networking -- for $1,200 a week.

"Kids are much more sophisticated and more precocious and hungry for new experiences," said CEO Joline Godrey.

"But we are not about creating a new generation of tycoons or day traders. We are trying to make them independent."

Gordon Josey, who has 15 years experience as a camp director, has set up Fashion Camp NYC with his wife Fran Della Badia which opens its doors to wannabe fashionistas in August.

The five-day camp, costing $1,095, provides teens with retail fashion knowledge and talks from executives from companies such as Coach, Victoria's Secret and Tommy Hilfiger.

"We want to give hands-on industry experience to teens and give them access to heavy hitters in the industry," he said.

"More youngsters want to specialize at a younger age."

Sheets said there had been a shift away from traditional, summer-long camps with the average stay at a camp down to about two weeks compared to about four weeks a decade ago.

"The length of time at one camp is decreasing but many kids go to multiple camps for various experiences," she said.

But while more camps get serious, others are ramping up the fun, such as ThrillCoaster Tours which offers week-long tours of U.S. or Canadian rollercoasters - or six weeks for $6,595.

Camp owner Ira Gordon set the camp up three years ago after realizing traditional camps were too tame for today's teens.

"Some of the children who come on this want to design rollercoasters but others just like the rides and thrills," said Gordon, who is based in Woodbridge, New Jersey.