Pitching Camp

T emperatures are rising, days are getting longer and local parents who haven’t yet registered their children for summer camp might be feeling the heat. Lucky for procrastinators and art lovers alike, there’s extra summer camp inventory this year courtesy of the Westville Performing Art Center. Barbara Alexander founded the school, which began offering classes in music, theater, art and dance, in late 2021 as part of her larger nonprofit Arts in CT. Alexander says WPAC still has open camp spots, offering children a chance to develop their theater skills via The Wizard of Oz or to tap, ballet, jazz, hip hop or contemporary dance their way through the summer.

With life now on the edge of normal, interest is high in New Haven’s many summer youth programs, some of which are already close to capacity. The Eli Whitney Museum’s, for example, are nearly full. No surprise there with its reputation for hands-on learning and sessions with names like Star Maps, Aquatecture and Mud Works, where campers get to make a mud house of magical forest creatures. (Those are just a few of the options for “younger” kids, with “middle” and “older” ages also well-served.) But while it may be too late to get in for this year, there’s good news from the Peabody Museum, where registration for summer camps for sixth through eighth graders in three categories—forest, ocean and ancient ecosystems, taking kids on field trips and into the museum’s world-renowned collections, despite ongoing renovations—opens May 13.

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Yale Philharmonia at the Yale School of Music

Every day could feel like a field trip during the Jewish Community Center of Greater New Haven’s two four-week day camps on the JCC’s 54-acre campus in Woodbridge, where there’s an outdoor pool, stage, hiking trails, ropes course and more. Fun activities and Jewish values abound here: participants practice “tikkun olam”— helping one’s local community and repairing the world — through acts of kindness. A few openings remained last week, but there were already waiting lists for the younger grades, according to Alison Lurie, assistant camp director.

As of last week, there was more room at the half-filled Shubert Summer Camp, where, even in summer, budding thespians may be asking each other, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” The popular Frozen song is one of many that will fill the auditorium at Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School, not far from the Shubert, where middle schoolers will join professional artists and emerging student-teacher-artists in creating a play—Frozen Kids; Jungle Book Kids; Beauty and the Beast Jr.—depending on the student’s age and session. There’s also a more general camp where participants take acting, short film and visual arts classes.

Over at Common Ground High School, Urban Farm and Environmental Education Center, kids will be spending much of their time outdoors, including during a Treehouse Camp based out of a “treehouse cabin” that sees kids visiting farm animals, digging in a mud kitchen, wading in a stream and building forts in the woods. Common Ground’s six camps (seven if you include the junior counselors program) are mostly filled already too, but Rebecca Holcombe, director of community programs, suggests putting your name on a waiting list if you’re interested because grants are popping up to help open more spots.

Were he real and alive today, Tom Sawyer would probably have a tough time picking between Common Ground’s offerings and Gather New Haven’s Schooner Camp, which meets at the Sound School and “aims to bring kids to the Long Island Sound coastline to explore, learn, grow, get their feet wet and above all else—have fun.” Exploration activities include seeking out horseshoe crabs, oysters and seabirds while sailing sessions teach knot-tying, boat rigging and, of course, how to sail. Karen Nelson, camp director, says there are still some open spots in what she describes as “a very unique camp.”

Slots are still available with the YMCA as well, at the Hamden/North Haven YMCA Camp Mountain Laurel. “It’s a beautiful outdoor camp where children are in nature with their friends participating in all sorts of physical activities, including swimming, sports, gaga [a game sort of like dodgeball] and hiking, along with STEAM and so much more,” says Marketing and Communications Director Donna Gill Lisitano. Here in the city, LEAP’s summer program, free and open to children ages 7 through 12 who live in Dixwell, Newhallville, Fair Haven, Dwight-Kensington and West River, spans “literacy, athletics, arts, computer science, cooking, and gardening” as well as field and camping trips.

Parents will also find a nice range of offerings from the city of New Haven itself. New Haven’s Youth and Recreation Department lists numerous reasonably priced programs, from Tiny Tots to Eco Adventure camps to weekly midnight basketball games. One New Haven mother said her grown sons still talk about the lessons they learned from Ranger Dan and Ranger Wray during camp days at East Rock Park.

This article certainly isn’t a complete list. Neighborhood Music School’s Audubon Arts program (where it appears only the camp for grades 9-12 has openings) and Hopkins School’s Pathfinder program (which is no longer accepting applications this year) offer rich summer programming, too. But time marches on and the hot months will dawn soon, so if your child’s summer calendar is looking too open, it may be time to camp out at a computer and work up a plan.

Written by Jill Dion.

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Jill Dion is a 1987 graduate of Quinnipiac College, where she earned a degree in mass communications. She wrote for newspapers in New Haven and Fairfield counties from 1989 to 2021, now working as a high school writing tutor and freelance journalist and copy editor while she pursues fiction writing. She has four grown children and three grandchildren.

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