8 Unusual Summer Camps

From fighting wizards to coordinating movie stunts to going on top-secret missions, these special camps will give your kids a memorable summer.

  • Fancy Photography/Veer

    Offbeat Summer Camps

    These days, summer programs featuring traditional warm-weather fun aren't the only options available to families. A number of quirky camps now offer experiences kids won't find in school. Would your kids like to sound out their rock-and-roll dreams alongside the pros? Or magically transform into wizards for a live-action role-playing game? Or go undercover as budding CIA operatives or increase adrenaline as movie stuntmen? Kids can live out all of their aspirations, fantasies, and more at eight offbeat programs that will promise campers a memorable summer.

  • Wizards & Warriors Camp

    Location: Day camp is in Burlington, MA; sleepaway camp is in Westford, MA
    Age Range: Day camp is 6 and up; sleepaway camp is 10 and up
    Price: Day camp starts at $325 per week; sleepaway camp starts at $1,045 per week
    Dates: Day camp is June 20 to September 2; sleepaway camp is July 18 to 29 and August 1 to 12

    Prep your potions and powers! At this myth-inspired camp, run by Guard Up! Family Swordsmanship, kids invent their own characters, which they role-play in an ongoing, interactive story. No video games or dice here -- campers act out the epic tale, using their magical skill set, their smarts, and a variety of foam weapons. In addition to battling evil on their quest for treasure, kids will get a chance to meet famous figures from history and fiction, like Greek philosopher Hippocrates and Captain Ahab from Moby Dick, all portrayed by professional performers. If your kid's more into The Walking Dead than Harry Potter, the same company runs the NERF Zombie Camp, where participants match wits with brain-eating monsters in a post-apocalyptic world.

  • Circus Arts Camp

    Location: Hartsdale, NY
    Age Range: Ages 6? and up
    Price: $1,225 for a two-week session
    Dates: June 27 to August 5

    Got a kid who wants to run away and join the circus? First he's got to learn the tightropes. Although many camps offer the flying trapeze these days, this particular day camp offers instructions on what little kids need to know to be a big top bigwig -- juggling, clowning, unicycling, wire-walking, stilt-walking, and acrobatics. Every two-week session ends with a show where campers reveal their brand-new circus skills. The program offers a special Aerial Arts Week (August 8 to 12; $850) for campers who want to spend a lot of time in the air learning the trapeze, plus other high-flying feats.

  • Hollywood Stunt Camp at Pali Overnight Adventures

    Location: Running Springs, CA
    Age Range: 9 to 16
    Price: $1,615 per week
    Dates: June 19 to August 20

    Pali Overnight Adventures includes Girl Power Extreme, Secret Agent Camp, and Watersports Extravaganza, but Hollywood Stunt Camp is the one that should really catch little daredevils' attention. Athletic (and brave) kids learn how to tumble, duel, stage fight, and jump off the top of a three-story building -- all under the direction and guidance of movie industry professionals. Safety is the number-one priority: Mats are omnipresent and the equipment is state-of-the-art. After they've learned the basics, stunt campers collaborate with campers in the Pali's Film Institute department to conceive stunts for scenes in the students' short movies. The camp ends with a stunt show spectacular, where the kids show off what they've learned by directing and choreographing stunts.

  • Role-Playing Games at Independent Lake Camp

    Location: The Poconos, PA
    Age Range: 6 to 17
    Price: $1,695 to $2,395 for two-week session
    Dates: June 26 to August 28

    Along with the usual summer fun, like soccer, swimming, art, and performing, this camp has many unusual offerings, like a Dungeon where kids play all sorts of role-playing games. Despite the lair's name, it's not all about Dungeons & Dragons: "We've got World of Darkness, Vampires, Star Wars, Shadow Run, Magic the Gathering, and Secret Identities. Some games use nothing more than a few pieces of paper and a pencil or two," says camp director Nigel Watson. Campers are encouraged to make up their own games -- in fact, Secret Identities was created by a former counselor. Although LARPing (live action role playing) is also an option, most kids prefer to stay sequestered in the Dungeon because the games require a lot of preparation and strategy. The upside: no need for sunblock.

  • Spy Camp at Camp Lohikan

    Location: The Poconos, PA
    Age Range: 10 to 15
    Price: $1,900 for a two-week session; $7,100 for all eight weeks
    Dates: June 26 to August 18

    Like nearby Independent Lake Camp, sleepaway camp Lohikan lets kids create their own schedules, which is quite a challenge, as there are close to 65 different disciplines offered each day. Spy Camp is the most intriguing. Over the course of three days, campers hone their secret-agent skills (code breaking and stealth surveillance) and participate in exciting activities (paintball, jet-skiing, and martial arts). On the final day of camp, wannabe spies are grouped into teams and given a nation-saving mission. "They may be uncovering a mole or defusing a bomb," says camp director Mark Buynak. "Each week we run a new session and change the scenario."

  • Mad Science Summer Camps

    Location: Countrywide. For a list of locations, visit madscience.org.
    Age Range: 5 to 12
    Price: Varies, depending on location
    Dates: Varies, depending on location

    This international chain of day camps was started by two Canadian brothers who enjoyed putting on science spectaculars as kids. They're all grown-up now, and so is this summer camp program, which boasts franchises all over North America and beyond. Although offerings vary by location, all activities are hands-on and aim to educate and entertain young science lovers. Every week, campers study a different theme, which may include Rocking Rockets, where they build individual flying devices; Crazy Chem, where they get creative in the lab; Secret Agent Lab, where they become scientific sleuths; and NASA Academy of Future Space Explorer, where aspiring astronauts learn about space.

  • Plantation Camp

    Location: Sonoma County, CA
    Age Range: 8 to 17
    Price: $4,300 for a 3?-week session
    Dates: June 20 to August 11

    Want your kids to unplug for the summer and go back to a simpler way of life? They'll really go retro at this camp, where kids get to live -- and work -- on an operational 500-acre sustainable farm. All campers live a green lifestyle in the stunning but rustic setting. They'll be responsible for two chore periods a day and learn to milk cows and goats, garden, take care of horses, and feed chickens. Recreational activities include hiking, swimming, and arts and crafts. Meals are prepared using the farm-fresh food, and every Saturday night there's a Barn Dance. Kids will certainly leave with a newfound appreciation for Mother Nature. Parents can join in the fun on family camp weekends (June 16 to 19 and August 18 to 21; which are $675 for adults and $500 for children ages 3 to 17).

  • Camp Jam

    Location: Countrywide. For a list of locations, visit madscience.org.
    Age Range: 7 to 17
    Price: $399 to $549 for the week
    Dates: Varies, depending on location

    Cofounded by guitarist/songwriter Jeff Carlisi from the rock band 38 Special, this program invites kids to live out their rock-and-roll fantasies. Campers are organized by age (7 to 10, and 11 to 17) to form their own bands, play live concerts, and hang out with pros who've played with stars from the music scene. Because the camp is open to all skill levels, even kids who have more attitude than aptitude can enroll. Instruments taught include guitar, bass, keyboard, and drums. Singers and audio/video techs can also get in on the action. Camp Jam occasionally offers weekend sessions for adults.

    Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.

    This piece was accurate at publication time, but all prices, offerings, and availabilities are subject to change. Please contact each summer camp for up-to-date rates and information before registering your child.

    Raven Snook has written for Time Out New York, New York Magazine, The Village Voice, and TV Guide. She currently works at home in her pajamas for MommyPoppins.com, a local NYC events site for families.