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From Safaris to Spacewalks: Exotic (and Educational) Summer Programs

Want to fire up your child's curiosity about space, nature or college life this summer? If so, check out these unusual summer learning programs.

By Marian Wilde , GreatSchools Staff

Exotic summer learning programs for children are more plentiful than ever. That's good news for parents. These programs tend to fill up fast, however, so you might find that some already have waiting lists. But don't despair if you haven't made plans for your child's summer yet—even the most popular programs have last-minute cancellations.

What Kinds of Programs Are There?

  • Family programs
  • Kids-only programs
  • College programs for high school students
  • General interest camps for the younger set
  • Specialty camps

A Summer Program Sampler

The Whale Camp

If you'd like to give your child the opportunity to sail near a rare Right Whale, kayak past a falcon's nest and hike to a Native American graveyard, check out The Whale Camp. Located off the southeastern tip of Maine, on the Bay of Fundy, The Whale Camp is situated near one of the world's most diverse marine environments. Says co-director Dennis Bowen, "The Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world and that tidal action creates excessive amounts of plankton, which is the basis of the food web. So there are lots of whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals. There's also a little island with hundreds of nesting puffins and there's always bald eagles around."

Whale Camp offers youth-only sessions as well as family programs. The youth sessions include whale, marine mammal and bird observation, sailing, and ecology studies. "We go out on a sail boat with the manager of the whale research station. The kids participate in not only whale watching, which is awesome, but whale research," says Bowen.

Sessions last from one to three weeks.

Crow Canyon Archeology Camp

Located in the Four Corners region of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, Crow Canyon offers programs in archeology for teens and families. "Right now we're working at Goodman Point Pueblo which is part of Hovenweep National Monument," says Stephanie Ramsey of Crow Canyon Camp. "Goodman Point is rare in the sense that the area was one of the first to be designated for protection and conservation over a 100 years ago, so it hasn't been homesteaded or farmed in all that time. It's a pristine landscape. Some of the artifacts may not have been touched by human hands for 800 years or more. Of course, the Southwest is one of the most prolific archeological areas in the United States."

With history lessons about the Pueblo Indians and hands-on archeology activities, campers will experience the thrill of uncovering the past. No previous archeological experience is required to enjoy this program. The teen program offers high school students the opportunity to work alongside professional archaeologists as they dig into the Pre-Columbian past of the Pueblos.

Yellowstone for Families

This program is a must for nature-lovers. Explore Yellowstone's amazing canyons, geysers, wildlife and waterfalls. Lodging and meals for four nights are included in the price, plus guided explorations with a Yellowstone Association naturalist. Programs are available for families with 5 to 7 year olds, and for families with 8 to 12 year olds. Other national parks also offer learning adventures. Yosemite National Park in California, for example, has a summer programs for teens.

Cornell University Summer College

If you have a teen with an academic bent, you might want to consider Cornell University's summer program, where your scholar can enjoy an Ivy League setting, take courses for college credit and contemplate her future college career. Cornell is one of many universities that open their college campuses to high school students and offer special programs geared to them during the summer. Check out Harvard University, University of California at Santa Barbara and Northwestern University, to name a few.

Comments from readers

"My name is Tipoa and I think that this website is helpful for me to get up and do things with my kids!"
"Thank you for such great advice and help! I am new to Florida and moving from a small country town,I am thrilled to recieve such great community information!"
"I found the article informative and interesting. My 11 yr old daughter might have a chance to go to a 3 week camp for gifted children. It is actually a specialty program, and is educational. She has been away from home many times. Just not for that length of time, nor that far away for that lenth of time. Is there always 1 reluctant parent? And how does one parent get another parent to ease up and let the child go. My husband worries about our daughter's safety. Even if they are supervised as completely as possible, and in 20 years this program has never had any serious problems. "
"My child is 6 years old she is in first grade and her math is thirth grade level.when She was 3 years old,I and her played a simple card games like,lay 2 to 4 cards face up on the table and players takes turns by matching the card numbers in their hand.also we played memory card games.We play this game very often and we still do.she start counting to 200 and regonizing the numbers up to 50 at age 3.The card games we played its really helped her love math.please try it and your child will love it."
"If you should go to Pensacola Florida, check out the National Naval Aviation Musuem. You will be transported back to the thirties and fourties by walking through a simulated town. fantastic naval aviation artwork, and a fanatastic simulator--- my son experienced it three times. There are also replica of planes for children to climb representing a span of navall history to include Blue Angels simulators . The designatae areas recoginizin significant contributors to naval history is magnificant . The museum provides you the opportunity to walk across a siumulated flight deck and experience the quarters of a ventage ship. I admit that my husband had to drag us in but he also had to drag us out !"
"Because summer can be a setback to children who have learning disabilities, we have our children do a math page everyday at home, play with flash cards and give them (1) hour of tv everyday. They have to use democracy in deciding which programs to watch other than videos"
"Consider chess camps like the one in Nashville,TN at the Nashville Chess Center June 20 through June 24."