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3 Great camps in Ulster and Dutchess County for Kids

Your guide to the Hudson Valley’s specialty camps

Computers, the arts, and animals can all be found in Hudson Valley camps. The Dutchess Art Camp in Poughkeepsie, iD Tech Camp at Vassar College in Pousghkeepsie, and Camp Kindness in Saugerties are three camps that offer very specific educational activities for kids. Three With the advent of specialization, summer camps for children have evolved significantly over the years. Camp is no longer the exclusive domain of fire building, canoeing, and basket weaving. With specialization, children can now participate in interest-driven programs leading to real-life skill building.

Much more than arts & crafts

Carol Wolf has first-hand knowledge of the evolution of specialty camps. She founded Dutchess Art Camp 30 years ago when she could not find an arts-oriented camp for her children. She filled the void by starting her own camp in her Mill Street Loft Studio in Poughkeepsie. Three decades later the camps have four locations, the original, as well as Millbrook, Red Hook, and Beacon. Wolf notes that due to the longevity of her camps, she is now seeing previous campers bring their own children to the camps. Some also have returned as instructors. “There is a real personal connection,” Wolf says, “we really get to know the families. This is not a cookie-cutter operation.”

However, the connection is only one of the benefits of a specialty camp according to Wolf. She points out that her camps, which are all staffed by professional educators, encourage self-confidence and self-expression by “exploring, discovering, and creating” in a variety of artistic mediums. The camps focus on blending performing and visual arts to help stir imagination and creativity. Each Friday during camp, are afternoon “sharings” when family and friends are encouraged to attend as the children present their unique multi-arts explorations and performances. “We are the only program of our kind in the region and have a national reputation,” Wolf says, “but the thing I’m most proud of is all the lives we’ve touched.”

Learn lifelong lessons

Some specialty camps can allow children to pursue a specific interest and build upon skills that may help them succeed later in life. iD Tech Camps offer two programs at Vassar College this summer. The first Tech Camp is available to all age groups, while the Visual Arts Academy is for ages 13-18. During these programs participants learn to use industry-standard software and programming languages to create professional iPhone apps, websites, movies, animations, games, robotics, and programming. Karen Thurm Safran, VP of marketing for iD Tech, feels these camps are unique in the skills that they offer children. “We are not a typical camp.” she says, “Kids are not just dropped off, like we are babysitters. Our programs have changed people’s lives.”

She says that the camps allow young people to take a hobby like video gaming, drawing, or computer programming and turn those interests into potential careers. Safran relayed the story of 9-year-old twin boys who spent two weeks at iD Tech and wanted to return the following year. Their mother told them they had to somehow earn the money on their own in order to attend. The boys found a local business that did not have a website and offered to design and build one for the owner using skills they had learned the previous summer. They did such an outstanding job that other businesses were soon looking to hire them and the boys now have a thriving web design business. To read more success stories and to find out more, visit the iD Tech Camps website. ID Tech programs are also offered at such prestigious universities as MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia.

Get in touch with your wild side

Camp Kindness, an animal-education camp run by the Catskill Animal Sanctuary in Saugerties, provides young animal lovers a chance to connect directly with animals, as well as learn about and care for them. Education Director, Betsy Messenger, who established the program with Melissa Bamford and Dawn Hubbe, says the children have a lot of interaction with the horses, pigs, and goats at the Sanctuary. “Last year we discovered that turkeys love to be sung to” she says, “we would sing “You Are My Sunshine” to them and they cooed right back. It was adorable.”

This close connection with the animals often leads the children to question where the food they eat comes from. Messenger says that they encourage age-appropriate discussions on issues such as factory farming, organic growing, and vegetable-based cooking. These discussions develop critical thinking skills which Messenger, a certified teacher, notes is one the State's learning standards. To commemorate their one week stay, the campers create a book that features pictures of the animals they've bonded with as well as vegan recipes they learned from Chef Kevin Archer.

She also is proud that the program has such an impact on the parents. “The parents have become support systems for themselves. They network and find resources of where to find good tofu, or where to find a good vegetarian restaurant.” Messenger says she knew that her specialty camp struck the right chord when parents started lobbying for a “Camp Kindness for adults.”

Summer camp can provide your child with the chance to develop character, learn valuable life skills, make new friends, and discover new interests. The key to finding the right summer camp is to first ask some questions. What do you and your child hope to achieve from the camp experience? Does your child have any special interests that they want to explore? Is a lot of structure or variety desirable? Once you’ve answered these basic questions you might discover that a specialized summer camp is the perfect choice for your child.

James Meyers is a freelance writer living in Kingston. He is a frequent contributor to Hudson Valley Parent.

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Is your child off to camp? Before your child goes, make sure you get answers to these questions:

What is the staff-to-camper ratio?
What is the background and experience of the camp director? Staff members?

-Is staff paid or volunteer?
-What kind of training does staff receive?
-How many children will be in my child's group?
-What medical care is available on site?
-Will the camp dispense medication if needed?
-What kinds of activities will my child do?
-Does everything take place at camp, or will my child be leaving camp -ground?
-What are the safety protocols the camp has in place?
-How does the camp handle behavioral and discipline issues?
-Is there tuition assistance?
-Are there special services like speech, occupational or physical therapy, and do they cost extra?