How to Plan and Choose Summer Camps


The school year is finished and summer is here.  Time for some relaxation.  No more kids’ homework.  No more carting them everywhere.   BUT WAIT…flash forward one week and my kids are bored, at each other’s throats, spending three hours a day on the computer video games and driving me nuts.  Time to gas up the Swagger Wagon (i.e. mini van) and let’s get some summer activities brewing!  If your family is like ours, you have a hierarchy of how you plan your summer.  Ours is:

• Non-Negotiables (for instance: vacation, piano lessons, swimming)

• Favorite Summer Camps (horseback riding, day camps, chess, fencing, etc.)

• Sports (baseball, softball, lacrosse, soccer, etc.)

• Camp Grandma and Grandpa

• Free Time (believe it or not, yes, we have to consider having enough unscheduled time in the summer)

Non-Negotiable Activities

Shing Wako Resort at Lake Edwards, MN

Start with the non-negotiable activities.  The things that are must-haves for your family.  For us, that is vacation in the Brainerd Lakes Area.  Our kids start asking about this in November.  They love it.  Our favorite resort is Shing Wako.  Because we still have grade schoolers, the zero entry beach is perfect for our family.  Our six year old can go 100 feet away from the shore and still only be shoulder deep.  Other non-negotiable activities for many families can include visiting relatives across the country or across the world.  Many of our friends will spend 6-8 weeks on the other side of the Pacific visiting relatives in India, the Philippines and Malaysia.  We’ve enjoyed for ourselves a number of trips to Las Vegas, Albuquerque and Omaha to visit family.  For us, other non-negotiable activities are piano lessons and swimming lessons.  Living in Minnesota, we feel that swimming lessons are a survival skill, not just recreation.  We place great value in music and piano lessons in our house. Hearing our children practicing piano, recorder or mock-opera singing always warms my heart and reminds me of my mom practicing piano.

Favorite Camps

Fencing Summer Camp

The next step in our hierarchy is asking our children what their favorite camps are.  It changes every couple of years, but right now our kids’ favorite is the YMCA Day Camps. Particularly Camp Christmas Tree.  Our kids love the hiking, swimming, singing camp songs, eating s’mores and the energy of the youth staff there.  It’s been number one on their lists for the last three years.  Our kids are chess players, fencers and team members on the local FIRST LEGO League team.  Summer camps are a great way to keep there skills sharp and build on previous skills for the coming school year.  {YEL!} Chess Summer Camps are taught by top chess teachers.  Our kids have studied with {YEL!} coaches: National Master Nathan Hoover, Expert Level Player Terrance Opine, seven time state team champion coach Igor Rybakov and more.  Add kids’ favorite Coach Mark Ball to the list and you can see why {YEL!} summer chess camps are so popular.  {YEL!} Fencing Summer Camps are also taught by top coaches who are perennial kids’ favorites.  Coaches Christopher Kratoska, Bruce Eyton, the illustrious John Cade, as well as Paddy Murphy, Jacob Mickelson and Nathaniel Holzgraf are kid-friendly, fun and knowledgable coaches.  These camps are great ways to fine tune your current skills or, if you are new to fencing, to try this fast-growing sport.

youth robotics education

Rockin’ Robot

Project Runway Summer Sewing Camp

{YEL!} Robotics Summer Camp classes are fantastic primers for kids who are interested in learning about robotics, programming, teamwork and building awesome LEGO ‘bots!  I’ve coached FIRST LEGO League (FLL) for four years and I strongly encourage my teams to enroll in these camps.  When they come back to me in the fall (at the beginning of FLL season) after taking a {YEL!} Robotics camp, they have wwwaaayyy more skills and it makes my coaching job much easier.  One of my personal favorite {YEL!} summer camps is the Project Runway Sewing Camp.  I can’t help but cheer when I see the girls showcase what they have sewn that week in a runway-style presentation at the end of the week.  The ear-to-ear smiles by the girls and their parents says it all.  Give the gift of a wonderful craft!  

Our kids have also enrolled in the {YEL!} Forbidden LEGO camp (great fun building specialty LEGO

Forbidden LEGO® Brick Launcher

projects); {YEL!} PreK STEM camp{YEL!} Junior Robotics Camp using LEGO WeDo; and a variety of {YEL!} STEM Builders Summer Camps – this year’s theme is Varsity Builder’s Club…difficult LEGO projects for discriminating LEGO builders.  As well as STEM non-LEGO camps like {YEL!} Destination Mars: Rocketry Course and {YEL!} eXtreme electroniX summer camps.  There are other camps separate from {YEL!} and we’ve taken a number of those.  The last two years, our favorite non-{YEL!} camp is the KidCreate PreK art camp.  Our youngest girl thoroughly enjoyed that camp as a four and five year old.  Lots of take-home art projects.


Outside of summer camps, our kids look forward to being part of a summer sports team.  Whether it’s baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse…whatever sport they want to try that summer.  They get on a team and hit the practice field.  Sports teams, I’ve found, are also a great way to connect with our small town community.

Camp Grandma & Grandpa

Even if it’s only for date night or for a short weekend, lean on Grandma and Grandpa for a few days throughout the summer.  Our kids love visiting Grandpa’s house because they get to eat anything they want (there are always gobs of goodies) and play lots of video games.  Plus they get to hear someone else say, “Brush your teeth!”, “Eat your broccoli!”, or sometimes Grandpa gives them a pass and no one will tell them to brush their teeth or eat their broccoli.  We have an extra bonus that Grandpa lives in an area surrounded by cornfields.  So, when they get peeled away from junk food and screen time, we hope they might take in some nature.  That all being said, we just want them safe while we (mom & dad) get a night to ourselves.  This year, we’re hoping to see West Side Story at the Guthrie Theatre!

Free Time

It seems odd to even say it, what with it being summer break and all, but we have had a couple of summers where we over-scheduled our kids’ summer activities.  By the time mid-August rolled around, they didn’t want to do anything except stay inside and play computer.  Since then, we’ve learned to dial-it-down and work to strike a balance between our non-negotiable activities, favorite camps, sports, combating summer brain drain and free time.  Our unscientific formula is to do no more two weeks of camps per child per month.  We also generally take a week off right after the school year ends and take the week off before the beginning of the school year.  Thank you for your time.  Hope you have an active, adventurous, fun and relaxing summer planned.  Oh yeah, don’t forget to put gas in that Swagger Wagon.

Swagger Wagon by Toyota…Go Mom!!