British Columbia·Parental Guidance

Summer camps can be a great place for kids to explore new things — and give parents a break

Summer camps offer kids a place to explore their interests, learn to express themselves, and connect with others, writes Amy Bell.

For one mom, summer camps can help expose her son to many different worlds, from Lego to archaeology

Four kids gathered around a table outdoors each hold a magnifying glasses, looking through it at a specimen on a glass slide.
Kids look at leaf under a magnifying glass. Summer camps offer kids a venue to explore a variety of activities, from sneaker design and music production, to drag and making costumes. (Robert Kneschke/Shutterstock)

This story is part of Amy Bell's Parental Guidance column, which airs on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.

As school wraps up for the summer, many summer camps are ramping up for a busy season.

But whether it's a sleep-away, half- or full- day camp, they are expensive and incredibly difficult to get into.

There's stiff competition for parents finding a spot that works for their children, considering age, interests, time and location. So are they worth it? 

Jenn Wint's son is wrapping up kindergarten. She dipped her feet into the world of camps for the first time this year, and after striking out during spring break, she says she was determined to make summer camp a success. 

"I have a spreadsheet, and put in all the community centres in our area," Wint said. 

"It's hard because if you register for the ones that open early, you end up paying a lot more than if you wait for the community centre camps, which cost a lot less," she said, "but then it's more risky because if you don't get into those, the more expensive ones might be sold." 

But Wint says it's worth the price, stress and the compromises: camp was an important part of her childhood, and she says she loves how her son can be exposed to worlds she doesn't have the capacity to introduce him to, from Lego to archaeology.

A safe place for new interests

Camps can be a place for kids with various interests, gender identities and abilities to fully embrace and express themselves.

One such camp can be found at the Carousel Theatre for Young People in Granville Island, as this year marks the debut of Summer Drag camp.

Led by some of Vancouver's best drag artists, kids from ages 7 to 17 can learn to embrace the stage and express their inner diva. Shea Heatherington, education co-ordinator at Carousel, says she is excited for all the skills campers will learn. 

"You can expect a lot of different things! Learning how to engage with an audience, exploring different ways of expressing, moving to music, making clothes with unconventional materials, finding out how to work with people or just be on the stage alone," she said.

Outreach co-ordinator Hartley Reed Schuyler says she is excited for kids of all orientations to challenge themselves.

"Drag is not something that is exclusively for queer people, which is a pretty big misconception," she said. 

"But it's a way for people to discover what they like, how they can be more confident in expression and to really break down those binary gender expectations. It's really lovely to hold that space for young artists."

'I became more creative ... more sociable'

For some kids, camps can be a place for connection.

Ethos Lab, a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) academy, is also a Black-led organization that offers anti-racist, tech-forward programming, most of which have been online over the last two years.

But they've recently opened their first physical space in Vancouver, and now they're running summer camps for a range of activities, from coding for music production to sneaker design.

Cleo Petric-Neighbour, who has participated in the lab's programs during the pandemic, says the lab is a welcoming space to participants, regardless of their age.

"Everyone is around a younger age — no one is really an adult — so you feel accepted as a kid or a teenager," she said.

She says more than technological knowledge, the lab has also given her more confidence and connections. 

"During quarantine obviously everyone was at home, but it was great to have people to talk to even if it was online. I think I became more creative and maybe more sociable."

For so many parents, there are no other option but to enroll their kids in camps so they can continue to work.

More and more, there are truly special and specialized camps that don't just take care of kids, but keep them engaged, and help them work toward discovering who they are — and that's not a bad way to spend part of the summer vacation.


Amy Bell is a digital contributor to CBC. She can be heard weekdays on The Early Edition as the traffic and weather reporter and parenting columnist.