Moms Talk: Summer Camp Tips and Tricks

Have another question to ask our parents council? Send it to emilier@patch.com or post it in the comments.

Each week in Moms Talk, our Parents Council of experts will take your questions, give advice and share solutions. (.) The question this week comes from and : 

Since we have 4- and 6-year-olds, we're relative newbies to the camp scene and would love advice about it.

  • What are your top five camp choices for 4- to 5-year-olds? 5- to 7-year-olds? Other age groups? 
  • Are there hidden gems that are kind of word-of-mouth? 
  • Are there ones you would avoid?

We've had success with camps through the , Lawrence Hall of Science, , and Kids N Clay, and are curious about others.

Come back Monday to see if any of your suggestions made our top five list. 

Suzanne Portnoy March 10, 2011 at 05:25 PM
Our favorites: Sew Much Fun -- local sewing camp (Marianne Henri, 525-6436 or mjhenri@aol.com) Cal Athletics camps -- the kids have loved baseball, tennis, and gymnastics Cal Adventures -- sailing, rock climbing and kayaking are big hits Girls on the Go - meets at Cedar Rose Park and spends each day on a field trip My question: does anyone know a good horse camp that isn't 45 minutes away? -- Mom of three (9,11,14)
Monica March 10, 2011 at 05:57 PM
I'm very interested in learning more about this as well! If I may add an additional question... are there any camps that are particularly good for families with two working parents? Camps with extended hours to cover the full workday? Camps that last the whole summer, or at least more than just a week or a few days?
Eva March 10, 2011 at 06:38 PM
The Albany Recreation Department has some great new camps this year. You can check out their catalog online: http://www.albanyca.org/index.aspx?page=537 They have a great diversity when it comes to summer camps...engineering, mad science, sports, carpentry, art, music. They also have full day camps that have a different theme each week with various different outings. You can call them at 510-524-9283 to learn more about the different classes available.
FK March 10, 2011 at 07:47 PM
an all-summer (all inclusive camp) is Steve and Kate's camp. This summer, they are using a site in Berkeley on University Avenue. You can buy a 'membership' and book the entire summer, or some smaller portion. We haven't attended before, but they have been highly recommended to us by friends who have attended.
Holly White March 10, 2011 at 07:52 PM
Our favorites: Kids for the Bay - ecological-based camp, the kids visit a different local waterway each day. A bit difficult since you dropoff/pickup a different place each day, but it's a great, small, intimate program with a fantastic mission. Sarah's Science - play in Tilden all day! Definitely has extended hours, so good for working families. The projects they do aren't fantastic--end up being mostly assembling things that someone else designed rather than thinking through stuff themselves--but it's only part of a full day of hiking, games, singing, and all that good camp stuff. Camp Galileo - definitely one of the more expensive ones, but really good programming. Split between indoor/outdoor activities. Different theme each week and the kids do fantastic projects that really develop critical and creative thinking skills.
FK March 10, 2011 at 07:53 PM
things we have learned over the years (now ages 7, 10, 13) is how much time is spent outdoors (we had some sunburns once), where the kids are coming from (for developing local friendships - we have lots of friends all over the bay, but it's nice to have some local connections for our older kid who only spends school holidays with us), and convenience (ease of drop-off and pick-up, location of camp). We have really liked 'friendship club' and other albany rec dept camps. We've done some gymnastics camps, but one was too competitive for our tastes - something to ask them when registering. This summer we are doing a writing camp, albany rec-dept camps, and a sleepaway camp (winnarainbow). Not sure what is meant by 'extended hours' but camps seem to range from offering an average of 8am -6pm to occasionally offering 7:30am dropoff. I think albany rec is generally 8-6.
Holly McCroskey March 11, 2011 at 01:42 AM
In our experience most camps do have extended hours to cover the workday -- after all, the childcare need is the primary reason most school-age kids go to summer camp in the first place, these days -- but the exact times will vary. We've chosen to use summer camps as a way of exploring different things that there isn't always time for during the school year, and so our kids haven't done more than one consecutive session at any one camp, but you could easily use Monkey Business for an entire summer. The camp takes place at Tilden and is a very well-run traditional day camp, with arts & crafts, sports & games, swimming, hiking and a calendar of different "themes" each session. I've heard very good things about Steve & Kate's as well from a coworker whose children attended one of the Marin County locations, but they're not really set up for a full summer of attendance. Their unique selling point is the way you can pay for a certain number of days and then just "drop in" on any specific date you want without advance arrangements. That's great if you want flexibility but it does mean that the camp activities tend to be repetitive; there's no curriculum structured around an assumption that the same group of kids will be there daily. My coworker's kids got a bit bored after being there a whole week.
a March 11, 2011 at 03:51 AM
Thank you all so much for all these great suggestions!
Stacey Simon March 11, 2011 at 05:24 PM
Head Over Heels gymnastics and circus camps were always a favorite of my daughter's when she was younger. She alternated these sessions with others Cal's Oski Sports camps since she was in kindergarten. Neither are inexpensive but both are wonderful!
Joy Knott March 12, 2011 at 12:55 AM
This year I'm looking into Brushstrokes Studio in Berkeley for painting pottery and learning about clay, composition, mosaics, art history. They offer camps for 5-14 y.o and offer all day schedules. For creative writing and art for 8-12 y.o try Scratch Paper Workshops run by local artists/parents: http://www.scratchpaperworkshops.blogspot.com/, Hours: 9-1 pm. Other ideas: -Children's Fairlyland in Oakland offers camps for 5-10 y.o. focusing on theater, stories, arts and crafts. - El Cerrito Swim Camp through El Cerrito Rec. We've been really happy with camps already mentioned here: Camp Galileo. Sent our son to the camp 2 years in a row and he loved it. Lots of indoor and outdoor activities. Great counselors. CAL Athletics Soccer Camp, and Mini-hawks/Skyhawks Sports program through Albany Rec. @Suzanne Portnoy - I wondered the same thing about a closer horse camp. Heard great things about Castle Rock Arabians (my son took riding lessons there, not camp) but it's in Walnut Creek so it makes for a long trip. You could get there within 45 minutes for sure, though. :) http://www.castlerockarabians.com/Camps.html
Suzanne Portnoy March 12, 2011 at 03:44 PM
Thanks for the tip, Joy. I'll check out Castle Rock. We tried Robertson's in Hayward last year -- Anna had fun but it was really far to drive there and back twice a day (I got a good book on tape!) I always wonder about Grizzly Peak Stables (up in Tilden). It seems like they come up on old camp lists but the few times we have checked it out...well, not much seems to be happening there. By the way, we have really enjoyed the Brushstrokes camps. Our two favorites are the one that includes a trip to the SF MOMA and the tiling camp. The kids end up with really great art that is still displayed in our home, years later. By the way, does anyone else feel like they need a PhD to coordinated the multitude camps? Between coordinating friends, carpooling, drop off/pick up, and managing costs it ends up feeling like a REALLY long math word problem.
Nir Maoz April 21, 2011 at 12:57 AM
Check out the Journalism Camp For Kids camp, you can find more information in the City of Albany Recreation Guide.
JJMarieKK April 21, 2011 at 08:10 PM
My children have enjoyed the Kids on Stage, On Broadway, and Teens on Stage programs held by Stage Door Conservator - http://www.stagedoorconservatory.org/east-bay-about-plays.html. I highly recommend them for the child who loves acting, singing, and dancing. The emphasis is on working as an ensemble, where the directors emphasize teamwork and inclusion with all players in the production no matter the level of talent. My older daughter in particular has learned to interact better with other children because of this camp.
karen February 26, 2013 at 07:52 PM
We love Fencing Camp at Sport Fencing Center. You can get a great discount if you sign up at the Albany Recreation Department. Sport Fencing Center is located on Central Ave near Costco so it's easy to get to. The have full day camps with extended care and they provide ALL the equipment too:)


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