Summer camp used to be the place where parents sent their kids to learn how to build a fire, row a boat, fend off mosquitoes, and acquire a taste for bug juice. But as modern parenting became more intensive, new summer camps emerged to meet the demands for less laissez-faire kid’s activities. There might still be plenty of bugs (and probably some juice) at general summer camps for kids, but these days there’s a specialty camp for every activity your kid has taken an interest in. From the niche (see: Entrepreneur Camp ) to the nerdy (see: Space Camp) to the “no way that’s real” (see: Zombie Camp), these 17 alternative summer camps will blow instructional swim right out of the lake.
Ninja CampBe honest, 9-year-old, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-worshipping you is pretty jealous that this is a thing. At these 3- and 4-day camps, kids learn the ways of the Japanese Shinobi, including stealth and camouflage training, weapons skills, hand-to-hand combat, and a pizza party on Wednesday. Just don’t look at the camp photo album and make the same mistake CNN did, because you do not want your kid going to that camp.
Ninja Warrior Camp
Entrepreneur CampIf your kid would rather watch Shark Tank than Shark Week, Camp BizSmart will start them on the path to success. Campers spend 10 days learning to solve business problems, getting mentored by up-and-coming Silicon Valley CEOs, and ultimately pitching their ideas to angel investors. By the end of the program, your kid will know better than to accept that damn royalty-contingent offer from Mr. Wonderful.
Wizards, Warriors, And Zombies CampA company called Guard Up! Inc. Family Swordsmanship has cornered the market on double take-inducing camps that are zany even by this list’s standards. First up, Wizards And Warriors Camp, where kids create a character and embark on a heroic epic to defend the realm from monsters and solve mysteries to reclaim lost treasure. Their other Choose Your Own Adventure-style camp is Zombie Survival Summer Camp, which is basically a week-long Nerf gun fight with creepy undead counselors. You have to admit, though, your daughter will look adorable wielding a bloody battle axe.
Wizards And Warriors Camp
Zombie Survival Summer Camp
Motorsports CampKids at Motorsports Camp get to experience the thrill of driving every day, either in a racing go-kart, a dirt kart, or half-scale race car. It beats the hell out of sitting on your lap and steering, and you won’t have to teach them to drive stick when the time comes. No prior experience or driver’s license is necessary, which is good because kids can enroll starting at age 9.
Circus CampThere are still a few ways to keep the dream of running away and joining the circus alive — only you can sleep easy knowing your kid will, in fact, return at the end of the summer. The Westchester Circus Arts Camp is run by professional circus performers, aerialists, and trapeze artists, while Camp Winnarainbow was founded by Wavy Gravy in the ’70s and is pretty much exactly what those 2 names suggest. If Circus Camp is too hippie dippy for you, you should probably stop reading this list right now.
Westchester Circus Arts Camp
Comedy CampIf your kid is a different type of clown, get them on the next bus to Camp Kids ‘N Comedy at the Gotham Comedy Club in New York City. They’ll learn everything they need to know to make a joke instead of be the butt of one. Also eligible: kids who prefer air conditioning to sun.
Kids ‘n Comedy Camp
Space CampThe original summer camp for nerds you read about in the back of a Boys’ Life magazine, Space Camp has been the reason to visit Huntsville, Alabama for 33 years. More than 700,000 baseball-hating kids have passed through Space Camp’s hallowed shuttles, and as easy as it is to rag on them, they probably made off with a whole bunch of those precious STEM skills everyone seems to covet these days. Plus, come on — what kid doesn’t want to be an astronaut?
Lego CampBricks 4 Kidz offers programs all over the country that use the king of all toys to teach kids about architecture, engineering, and mechanics. Kids spend one-week sessions building sets and figures (all of which are awesome, naturally) arranged around themes like pirates, amusement parks, Minecraft, and retro arcade games. You’ll probably want to volunteer as a counselor in training for that last one.
Bricks 4 Kidz
Spy CampFor 2 weeks each summer, the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. becomes a training ground for groups of kids between 10 and 13 who want to learn the science of stealth. Their teachers are real-life James Bonds who school them in disguise, code breaking, escape and evasion, and all those wonderful spy toys. You only have yourself to blame when they come home and that last piece of cake mysteriously disappears.
Dinosaur CampKids love dinosaurs, so they’ll obviously love this paleontology camp that features activities like Dino Building, Dino Art, and Dino Sports. What the hell are Dino Sports, you ask? Not sure here, either, but as long as the dinosaurs at this park haven’t been reanimated by an eccentric billionaire, they’re probably safe. JurassiCamp is held in locations throughout Miami and Boca Raton.
Maker CampKids embrace the maker movement at camps like Gever Tulley’s Tinkering School and Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs, sponsored by the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association. The idea is simple: don’t have to wait for the Amazon drone to drop the fun at your doorstep — just go make it. The NBT camps incorporate technical elements like CAD design and manufacturing machinery operation, while the Tinkering School simply wants kids to make something huge, whether that be a flower-delivering robot, 17-person pontoon, cardboard city, or Godzilla monster capable of destroying them all. What if their next project was to make a maker camp? Mind. Blown.
Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs
If your kid is more interested in knife skills than games of red rover, the Kids Culinary Academy of Florida, which offers both day camp and week-long residential sessions, might be right for your family. Campers start the day collecting fresh eggs and herbs from the garden, and then shift their focus to a specific lesson, from sauces to breads, cake decorating or sushi making. At night, residential campers are taken to dinner a stretch limousine, and the week culminates at graduation, where the campers are gifted with chef uniforms and diplomas.
Middle Schoolers enrolled in the Broad Reach Intro to Marine Biology camp spend a week and a half living on a sailboat in the Caribbean learning how to scuba dive. If that doesn’t sell you, they’ll take excursions to the beaches of St. Barths, have the opportunity to get scuba dive certified in St. Martin, see coral reefs and sea turtles first hand, learn about ocean health, and cook, clean and work together to make life on the boat go smoothly. Other programs include rainforest and reefs in Central America and veterinary and wildlife care in the Bahamas.
At this specialty week-long Vermont camp, kids start the day with a unique myth from somewhere around the world and then venture into the woods to explore and act out different characters. The people behind this camp, the Willowell Foundation, also put on unique weeklong camps ranging from Lord of the Rings to Girls Plant Magic and Jedi training. All camps, no matter the theme, aim to instill a love and respect for nature in kids, a goal which is aided by Willowell’s 230 acres of meadows, forest, and wetlands. These day camps are surprisingly affordable, at least when compared to other options on this list.