Time to sign up for camp

Four places where kids go in-depth with their interests

As this winter's weirdly springlike weather has been suggesting, summer is not far off. Summer is the time of year when grownups go to work at 7 a.m. so they can take Friday afternoon off. Summer is also the time of year when kids get to go to camp. And yes, one of these options definitely sounds more appealing than the other.

Here are some camps where kids can explore specific interests. Yes, summer may be a few months away, but the time to sign up is now.

American Players Theatre A.C.T. Camp
at Bethel Horizons Camp and Retreat Center, 4651 County Highway ZZ, Dodgeville, 608-935-5885, $875

It was the Bard who wrote, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." And perhaps there is no summer program where this holds more true than American Players Theatre's annual A.C.T. (Acting for Classical Theater) camp. Designed for motivated teens (they accept students 13-17) looking for in-depth drama training, this overnight experience (Aug. 12-17) involves campers in daily workshops led by APT acting company members.

From text work, to movement, to auditioning, students spend the day mastering skills on the beautiful Bethel Horizons grounds in Dodgeville. Then, on four of the evenings, campers will make their way "up the hill" to take in one of APT's 2012 productions in Spring Green. And if your child has always wanted to try his hand at playing one of Shakespeare's famous lovers, the week culminates with participants performing an abridged version of Much Ado About Nothing on APT's flagship stage.

"A lot of our campers have grown up on APT," says camp director Kathy Hiteman, "but others come from out of state. They all agree the chance to work with professional actors every day and then see them perform at night is truly unique."

- Sari Judge

Boulders Climbing Gym
3964 Commercial Ave., Madison, 608-244-8100, $150-$250

Does your little one beg to spend "just one more hour" at the jungle gym? Does she clamber up every rock pile she comes across? Unleash the kids' inner Spidey with a week of summer camp at Boulders Climbing Gym.

With its 8,000 square feet of space, Boulders gives kids lots of room to move. And climbing is a great sport for kids, says Boulders manager Katie Schultz. "It builds confidence, and a lot of them take to it naturally." Moreover, she adds, "It's a chance for them to have fun while exercising."

And it's a terrific mind-body workout. Climbing not only teaches teamwork, balance and agility, but also requires mental concentration and problem solving. (And yes, Mom and Dad, with proper instruction and supervision, it's safe as milk.)

Boulders offers three levels of climbing camps: Base Camp (6-9 years), Summit Camp and Expedition Camp (both 10-17 years). Base Camp, as the name implies, introduces your budding rock hopper to the sport, with an emphasis on basic climbing terms, safety and structured games. Summit Camp teaches more advanced climbing skills, including belaying, rappelling, balance and control. Expedition Camp replicates Summit Camp, but also includes a daylong climbing expedition to Devil's Lake State Park, one of the best climbing areas in the Midwest.

All camps are offered weekly, June 18-Aug. 13, Monday-Friday, either morning or afternoon (except for the one-day trip to Devil's Lake).

- Michana Buchman

Monroe Street Fine Arts Center
2526 Monroe St., Madison, 608-232-1510, $140

When parents think of "arts" with regard to camp, they expect it to be followed by the words "and crafts." But at the Monroe Street Fine Arts Center, summer creativity isn't limited to friendship bracelets, macramé and gimp lanyards. Each year, June through August, this neighborhood arts studio runs a series of weeklong (Monday through Friday) mini-camps dedicated to bringing fine art instruction to area youth. Five- to seven-year-olds might choose to get messy in one of the popular themed classes like "Aliens and Robots" or "All About Animals." And new this summer, future horror film fans can enroll in "Monsters of Art," where they'll use paint, fabric and clay to invent their own scary, or perhaps cuddly, monsters.

Eight- to 10-year-olds itching to dial up their technique can sign up for "Drawing Fundamentals," which provides an introduction to gray scale, still life creation, and figure drawing. And budding Van Gogh or Warhol wannabes might consider taking "Artist Exploration"; it's entirely possible the art world is ready for fresh takes on Starry Night or Campbell's soup cans.

There are classes for the tween set, too. And for those artists who already have a vision, but just need some supplies to bring it to life, the center offers a non-instructional, supervised open art studio for ages 6-15 every weekday from 3:30 to 4:45 p.m.

- Sari Judge

Camp Woodbrooke
Richland Center, 608-647-8703, $650-$1300

Camp Woodbrooke is a nature-centered take on the traditional summer camp, located on 162 acres outside of Richland Center. The dining hall and game room are in a vintage Wisconsin barn, campers sleep in rustic cabins in the woods, and once a week campers go on a tent camping outing. A spring-fed pond is the site for swimming lessons and canoeing. While the program is based on Quaker teachings, camp directors underline that religious beliefs are not stressed; principles like peace and cooperation are. Activities also include archery, woodworking, cooking, gardening and pottery. From-scratch vegetarian or vegan meals are available, as are glucose-free and other diets, by request. Some foods come from the camp garden.

A weeklong session for children 7-12 starts June 24. Following that, three two-week sessions for children 7-12 take place starting July 1, and two two-week sessions for teens 13-15 take place starting July 15. There's also a family camping session to close out the summer on Aug. 31. An open house will take place May 20 from 1-4 p.m.

- Linda Falkenstein

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