Summers camps are a place to try out new interests

Melissa Kossler Dutton
Lola Perez, 11, tries her hand at cooking.

When Lola Perez watches the TV show Dancing With The Starsnow, she understands how hard the contestants are working.

The Powell fifth-grader has tried her hand (and feet) at fancy dance steps. Two summers ago she participated in a weeklong camp at The Wellington School in Columbus that was themed around dancing and performing. The experience taught her more than how to dance: It gave her an appreciation for how good the dancers on TV are.

"They make it look easier than it is," the 11-year-old said.

The Wellington School's dance-oriented camp is just one of many local summer programs inspired by pop culture. Area organizations have created camps based on television programs like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Cupcake Wars; the popular video game Minecraft; the Pirates oftheCaribbean movies and the growing farm-to-table food movement. At the OhioHealth Chiller Ice Rinks, they are looking forward to the spike in summer-camp enrollment that always follows the Winter Olympics.

When Alyssa King sets the summer schedule at Columbus Academy in Gahanna, she deliberately tries to be "as connected and plugged in as possible" to what interests kids. Tying programing to pop culture has created numerous opportunities for kids to learn new skills or expand on concepts taught in school, she said.

Her summer offerings include cake decorating, local farm tours and the performing arts. Although she didn't tie the summer archery program to The Hunger Games, she's wondering whether the movies in that popular series will create greater interest.

Much of popular culture lends itself to enrichment opportunities, added Peggy Berger, Director of Options at The Wellington School. The key is finding teachers who can bring the topics to life and engage the student, she said.

"Parents - and kids - are eager for summer programs that add depth to their school work, teach a new skill or get them excited about learning," Berger said.

Wellington's summer courses cover, among many other things, forensics lessons, using Legos and motorized models to add a new dimension to the Minecraft game, and cooking international dishes.

Lola looks forward to learning new things over the summer, said her mother, Linda Romano-Perez.

"The summer is not a dead zone for us," she said.

Lola usually devotes a few weeks of camp to tennis and basketball but always mixes in something new. One year, she signed up for a cooking camp based on the family's passion for food and its interest in food-related television shows.

The camp taught her some useful tips that she shared with her dad Michael, who's the family cook.

"It helped me a lot. I learned that you should always spray (pans) with cooking spray before you bake so it won't stick," Lola said.

Romano-Perez appreciates that her daughter has so many options during the summer because they feed her mind and keep her active.

"Her summers are rich," she said. "I never feel like she's losing any ground."

Summer is a great time to develop new passions or strengthen existing skills, Berger said.When Jodi Andes' son, David Nirode, developed an interest in sword play because of the Pirates oftheCaribbean movies, she looked for a fencing camp.

"It was honestly all David," said the Columbus resident. "He had this desire that pop culture gave him. I knew absolutely nothing about fencing."

David got hooked on the activity during a weeklong camp at Columbus Academy. He continues to study the sport twice a week at Royal Arts Sport Fencing Academy in Gahanna.

"It's a lot of fun," the 15-year-old said. "It's so fast-paced. You have to outsmart your opponent."

The movies do bring a lot of kids through the doors, which is great for a sport that does not get much exposure elsewhere, said Julia Richey of Royal Arts. She runs camps at her facility and at Columbus Academy, and they serve as an introduction to the centuries-old sport. Many participants find they like the combination of physical and mental skill that fencing requires, Richey said.

At the OhioHealth Chiller Ice Rinks, instructors have created a camp that gives youngsters an introduction to several winter Olympic sports. Over the course of a week, the kids learn about figure skating, speed skating and hockey. The camp always gets a boost from the Winter Olympics, said Jeremy Rogers, assistant general manager for the company, which operates ice rinks in several central Ohio locations.

"People see it on TV and they want to learn," Rogers said. "We embrace it. We look forward to it every four years."

Summer Camp Guide