For kids inspired by Jason Bourne or Melissa McCarthy’s Susan Cooper, there’s a camp that will get them one step closer to the covert life. Spy Tech Camp is among the many offerings at Lavner Camps, based in Bala Cynwyd and Narberth. Founded by Lower Gwynedd native Justin Lavner, the summer program teaches campers how to use drones and robots. A robust background in technology isn’t required, but having a basic understanding of Minecraft is helpful.
Now in its third year, the weeklong program is open to children 8-12 and offered at six Main Line area locations. Each day has a different focus, and by the end of the week, campers are using all of their newly acquired skills in group challenges like scavenger hunts. “It requires a lot of skill,” says Lavner.
Combining coding with drones and robots is “a great way to marry those technologies,” Lavner adds. “Some campers may have experience with phones and cameras but not with robotics,” Lavner says. “This brings them together for a purpose.”
Based on the beloved Harry Potter series, Brandywine School of Wizardry brings J.K. Rowling’s magical world to life. At its eight locations, phones and other modern technology are eschewed in favor of the wizard life. À la Hogwarts, students are sorted into houses and earn points for the house cup, which is awarded at the end of the summer. “It’s really exciting to have a series of books capture so much energy and excitement,” says the day camp’s owner and founder, Gina DiGiacomo, a former teacher.
For a week, campers ages 6-15 takeHarry Potter-themed classes on potions, the care of magical creatures, and divinations. Lessons are themed, which carries through to a mystery at the end of the week. “We have to look for clues with the potions we make, or we have to do research in magical history,” DiGiacomo says.
To keep Muggle life at a distance, some locations are shrouded in fog. Staff members dress up in robes, as do some students, who also play Quidditch—albeit without the flying brooms.
But in this immersive world, it’s about more than just wizarding. “They learn teamwork,” says DiGiacomo, who notes that students can also brush up on other skills. “We get a lot of feedback from parents that it seems to help reluctant readers, because it’s not a school setting.”
For over 10 years, Shana and Greg Kennedy have been giving kids an authentic taste of what it’s like under of the big top. At their Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, which is open to children 5-14, campers work on a variety of skills ranging from acrobatics to juggling. They also learn to tumble and, of course, walk on a wire. “They support each other in a noncompetitive way,” says Shana, who’s an aerial specialist. Her husband has toured with Cirque du Soleil.
Last September, the school moved into a 28,000-square-foot former church in Germantown, offering more space for learning. “It includes two giant studios,” Shana says.
Naturally, safety is one of the biggest concerns. “People think of it as being risky and dangerous, and it’s not,” says Shana. “We have a very simple approach for all our classes that includes crash mats, aerial equipment and spotters. You can’t ask kids to do a skill they aren’t ready for.”
Fun is high among the objectives, too. During the two-week camp, students prepare and rehearse for a show that parents can attend. “They’re so proud of themselves,” Shana says. “The joy they have is infectious.”
At New Garden Flying Field in Toughkenamon, aviation isn’t just for adults—at least for two weeks a year, when it hosts its Future Aviators summer camp. Now in its 10th year, the two-week day camp is open to kids 7-15. “We want to expose them to aspects of aviation and get them interested,” says Jon Martin, aviation director at New Garden, who founded the camp with flight-school owner Court Dunn. “The campers learn about the science of how to make [planes] fly throughout the week. They learn about thrust, lift, drag and weight, and how it affects an airplane up in the sky.”
The camp focuses on many aspects of aviation as campers work with simulators, remote-controlled planes, bottle rockets and even real planes. To break things up, campers also participate in more traditional camp activities like waterslides and hiking. They also take a trip to an aviation-related museum or facility.
The highlight of Future Aviators is the actual flight time. Throughout the week, each camper has the chance to take to the skies in an aircraft—usually a Cessna—with an instructor. The 30-minute discovery flights allow campers to pilot the plane, though an instructor also has a set of controls. “They take the controls, and the instructor shows them how to turn and climb and descend,” Martin says. “All that time gets accumulated in their log book, which they take with them at the end of the week.”
Kids who want to stay active in a more unconventional way thrive at West Chester’s iCore Fitness summer camp. Open to children 6-14, the weekly half-day camp takes its cues from obstacle courses and extreme sports.
Now in its fourth year, iCore was inspired by owner Mike Falcone’s early love of snowboarding, surfing and skateboarding. “When American Ninja Warrior came out and I saw the show, I was like, ‘I need to do this,’” says Falcone, who adds that many campers are avid fans of the show.
Throughout the week, campers train on obstacle courses that change daily. They also partake in plenty of stretching, plus activities like Parkour, aerial dodge ball, acrobatic stunts and Nerf wars. To ensure safety, all equipment is heavily padded and has safety features. Plus, the camp director is an EMT-certified instructor. “We’ll demonstrate each obstacle—the techniques, how to properly get through it—then we’ll run them through it,” says Falcone.
At the end of the week, iCore hosts a friendly competition to see which camper can get through the obstacles the quickest. “The kids like working together and learning how to overcome obstacles and get through things they thought they’d never be able to do,” Falcone says. “It’s a big confidence booster—especially for that age.”