Junior chefs-in-the-making run loose at Chef Summer School, a camp for kids that runs in seven Ontario communities. Summer Chef School
Forget about simply gathering bundles of firewood. Today's young summer campers are picking up everything from ninja stars and chef's knives to improv and entrepreneurial skills.
Kids who want the traditional outdoor camping experience can have that and more at some of these unconventional camping experiences:
1) Get your silly on at comedy camp
Aspiring young comedians, actors and improv artists can enter the hallowed halls of Toronto's Second City training centre. Second City's Improv Camp introduces youth from Grades 2 to 12 to the fundamentals of improv, with instruction from trained performers in a "no-judgment" environment.
"By all means, send us your class clowns. They end up being the Marty Shorts," said Kevin Frank, artistic director of training and education.
"But you don't have to be funny either. We teach improv skills and the funny takes care of itself." Improv camp has been running for at least 10 years, and welcomes about 450 campers every summer.
2) Sharpen your cooking skills at chef camp
Budding gastronomic geniuses can don a chef's hat and apron while learning how to bake bread, make sausages and even take apart a whole chicken properly at week-long summer camp tutorials at Bryan Izzard's Summer Chef Schools in Ontario.
"They learn all the classical techniques of European contemporary cuisine. They're hand-rolling pasta, making homemade breads and bagels, they do their own smoked salmon," said Izzard, an instructor and owner of the junior academy.
"What we value is an appreciation for food, so while they enjoy the cooking and eating, we also want to sneak some lessons about sustainable eating and healthy food."
The camps are open to young people aged seven to 14, and run in seven cities throughout the province: Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Stratford, Guelph, Hamilton, Burlington and Hamilton.
3) Honour the peaceful warrior code at ninja camp
Rooted in aikido and anti-bullying principles, Sensei Vitold Jordan's Ninja Day Camp in Whitehorse is a mix of physical training and pacifist philosophy.
Attendees get to practise shuriken (or ninja star) throwing while targeting balloons, and shinai-style sword-sparring using bamboo weapons, as well as well as tumbling and rolling techniques.
"Most kids really want to be a ninja, but we teach principles of non-violent resistance as part of our peaceful-warrior program as well," said sensei Jordan.
Instructors teach Japanese language tutorials, calligraphy and anime art lessons.
"We want them to display the virtue of a warrior, but learning martial arts is not just fighting, it's learning a peaceful non-aggressive philosophy," Jordan said.
4) Animate your own art at 3D graphics camp
Vancouver's reputation as Hollywood North and a video-games publishing hub is part of the draw of the non-profit Byte Camp, which teaches kids creative technology skills, says Dave Hladik, who manages the project-based summer experience.
Instructors who graduated from Vancouver's arts and theatre schools teach stop-motion animation, 3D modelling, game design, visual editing, special effects and digital music production.
Byte Camps operate at around 35 locations around Metro Vancouver, and partners with city rec centres and art academies.
"We've got laptops with all the software we need, so we set up a mobile lab wherever we go," Hladik said. "We're all about getting kids to engage creatively and productively with technology."
5) Build a business profile at entrepreneur camp
Got a hot idea to make money? Youth can put that plan into practice at Northern Ontario Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative's Youth Enterprise Camp.
Future titans of business can mix campfires, wall-climbing, watersports and volleyball with marketing games and some resume-boosting tips. The camp, which is geared towards teens and older children, takes participants through the basics of starting their own business, including taking out a loan, writing a business plan, acquiring products and supplies, and manufacturing items for sale or providing a service.
"We bring them to the community and they set up shop for the day and sell their stuff to try to repay their loan," explained Alannah Pelletier, a youth entrepreneurial co-ordinator. "It's kind of a crash-course business experience."
The First Nations University of Canada also operates a six-day Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Camp in August, which teaches marketing, advertising principles, logo creation, and gets campers to develop business plans and make their own 30-second commercial.
6) Get your eureka moment at mad science camp
Robots, rockets and crazy chemistry converge at Mad Science of Southern Alberta's summer camps around Calgary.
Campers learn about the science of sound, outer space, movie special effects and how to program solar-powered robots that can transform into seven different modes.
"The mission is to spark the curiosity and imagination of children, and we do that with entertaining hands-on experiments and demonstrations," said Shannon Lirenman, director of Mad Science of Southern Alberta.
The five-day camping experiences are open to children ages five to seven, six to 10 and seven to 12, depending on the type of camp.
7) Resist the apocalypse at zombie survival camp
In a bid to make Canada "the most zombie-prepared nation on Earth," Zombie Survival Camp is expanding outside Toronto this summer.
"We can’t achieve that just in Ontario, so we decided we had to go to Manitoba," explained wilderness survival instructor Eric Somerville, a founding member of the camp.
Organizers are running this summer's two-day event at a tree farm just south of Winnipeg. Older teens and adults with a bit of a survivalist streak are welcome to join and learn zombie theory and anatomy (destroy the brain), defence techniques (archery, hand-to-hand combat) as well as how to attack using a variety of hand-held weapons (crowbars, machetes, spears, hammers and knives).
"We do something called zombie-jitsu, a martial art designed from the ground up for hand-to-hand combat," Somerville said.
The survivalist getaway culminates in a six-hour zombie infestation scenario, in which Somerville and other staff pretend to be the undead and chase campers around the property.
"Each 'survivor' gets two red flags, and if a zombie takes your flag, then you become a zombie," Somerville explained.
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