Do your children’s summer plans include lying around and playing video games all day? These area organizations offer unique opportunities for young people to get off the couch and stay active and adventurous throughout the summer months.
Metro Theater Company (metrotheatercompany.org)
In one class, children create a story using a book with illustrations but no words. In another, they imagine a world they’ve never been to, building characters and scenes that fill the room. That creativity is encouraged and fostered at Metro Theater Company’s summer youth camp, ArtsINTERsection. “Parents tell us how their kids come home, bubbling over with stories at the end of the day because they’ve had such a variety of experiences,” says artistic director Carol North.
Established in 1998 through a grant from the Whitaker Foundation, ArtsINTERsection is held at New City School in the Central West End, offering two one-week sessions each summer for children ages 4 to 10. Kids are divided into small sections according to age, and go through a rotation of classes that combine the arts. At the end of each week, campers have the opportunity to participate in a ‘sharing.’ “It’s not a performance—there’s no pressure, and you don’t spend the week rehearsing,” North says. “It’s about sharing the creative process and the joy of that with the families.” Each class is led by professional artists ranging from actors to dancers and visual artists. “We make sure our instructors are going to challenge the children and give them a rich experience,” North explains. “They are exceptionally skilled at giving an invitation for creativity and then put the child in the driver’s seat.” Children who have gone through ArtsINTERsection have since come back as young adults to serve as role models for the campers while continuing to learn from the instructors, North says. “These are young people who have been inspired to think about arts education as a path they may want to explore in the future.”
An open registration allows children from all over St. Louis to attend the program, although class sizes are kept small, North notes. Scholarships also are available for families who cannot afford the registration fee, so every child has an opportunity to explore the arts. “There are children who are reticent to perform, yet they thrive on opportunities for creative expression, so we’ve tried to build a community where every child feels valued and welcome.”
YMCA of the Ozarks (ymcaoftheozarks.org)
Whether your child has never seen the inside of a tent, or has known how to set one up since age 5, Allison Gill is confident that there is a perfect fit for him or her at one of YMCA Camp Lakewood’s many summer camp offerings. “It’s a very traditional summer camp experience, but there are lots of different things to fit any age or experience level.”
Situated on 5,000 wooded acres in Potosi, Mo., the overnight residential camp run by YMCA of the Ozarks, a branch of the St. Louis chapter, offers one-week sessions throughout the summer for children ages 8 to 12, before moving to a separate section of the property for 13- to 16-year-old campers. Kids live in cabins and participate in hikes, cookouts and campfires. For the less experienced, the program has shorter sessions divided into smaller age groups. “They can come for three or four days and check it out,” Gill says. “They’re only with their age group, and it’s not so big and overwhelming.”
Camp Lakewood also attracts seasoned campers with its specialized programs, including a ranger program and expedition trips, where participants learn wilderness skills and take off-site rappelling and backpacking trips.
While one of the mottos of Camp Lakewood is Letting kids be kids, it also encourages campers to come back as they get older for the Leaders in Training program, which prepares them to eventually become a counselor. “Some of our counselors started as campers, and they love it so much that they motivate the kids to love it, too.”
Although most participants are from Missouri, particularly the West County area, Camp Lakewood attracts kids from a variety of other states, and they are all eager to embrace the rustic camp lifestyle, swim in the 360-acre lake, and make lifelong friends. “They love the experiences they get to have, but I think it’s the friendships that keep kids coming back year after year.”