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Dear PDX Parents,

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Looking forward to summertime when the living is easy, right?

Unless, of course, you are the person in your family in charge of putting together your kids’ summer camp schedules. If you’ve done that, you know that it’s anything BUT easy.

There’s the scheduling of camps in and around vacation days, and the taking a long, hard look at your kids’ interests to figure out whether they would prefer a week spent learning how to light a fire without matches, say, as opposed to making their own animated short. Most of us co-ordinate with friends, too, so our kids will already have a friend in the group instead of flying blind, but that means swapping calendars and trading dates.

And even when you’ve achieved the ultimate in summer camp Tetris and come up with a schedule that works for one and all, there’s always the bottom line. Many summer camps in the Portland area are going to run you about $250 per week, give or take $25 or so.

So: This month, when you’re doing your research —– and our summer camps guide is a great place to start —– keep in mind that if something sounds too good to be true, it might be because the camp is only half-days, which works well for some, but can be tricky for work-outside-the-home families. And don’t underestimate transportation time. We speak from experience here. If you’re spending a half hour each way to get your kids to and from camp, that time will add up, and eat into your workday.

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Remember, too, that it could be worth paying extra for a camp that runs until 4 or 5 pm. Many of them end at 3, and then you’ve got to figure out an aftercare plan, if your boss expects you at your desk until 5 pm. 

We’ve sleuthed around to find some great camps on BOTH ends of the price spectrum, from more-than worth-the-price special splurges to great choices that are more affordable. Go forth and conquer —– the season of summer camps is almost upon us.

Yours, Metro Parent

SPORTS FANS

SAVE: After their impressive win in the MLS finals against the Columbus Crew in 2015, who among us doesn’t have Timbers fever? SummerCamps-BernieFagan1If your kids are among the afflicted, sign them up for a week at the Bernie Fagan Soccer Camp, for kids ages 5 to 12. Fagan himself is a former Timbers player who has also coached at the collegiate level; kids should be prepared for lots of fun scrimmage time in addition to learning drills. Coaches come from the ranks of professional players, college players and high school/college coaches. Best of all, the price is $185 for a 10 am-3 pm session. berniefagansoccer.com.

SPLURGE: Think golf is only for retirees and Wall Street backroom types? Think again. Golf is a great sport for teaching kids precision, focus and persistence. It’s hard to master, and that’s the point. Get them started at Glendoveer Golf + Tennis Club’s summer youth golf camps, where they will learn the fundamentals: how to swing the club, the right stance, grip and balance, plus how to chip and putt. (Kids with two or more years of golf experience can dig deeper in their intermediate level sessions.) SummerCamps-Lumberyard_postcardAll kids get out on the course by the end of the week at camp, and everyone gets a hat and gloves to look sharp while on the links. Pro tip: They offer a similar camp for young tennis players, too. Camps for ages 7-17 are $199 for a three-hour session from June 22-25, $119 for a two-hour session from July 20 22 and $149 for a two-hour session from August 17-20. playglendoveer.com.

P.S.: Kids N’ Tennis, the awesome program now in its 29th year that offers free tennis camp at Irving Park to a diverse population (kidsntennis.org). The Lumberyard’s rad indoor mountain biking camps for little shredders (lumberyardmtb.com).

MUSIC-MAKERS

SummerCamps-Ethos1SAVE: We love Ethos, a sweet community-focused music program in North Portland that offers week long camps that focus on different instruments. That means guitarists, percussion, piano and string instruments all get their week in the sun — along with some more unconventional choices, like hip-hop and rock band. Camps are open to students of all abilities, including beginners, and there is a final recital for proud families at the end of the week. The best part: It’s on a sliding scale, so cost for a week at camp ranges between $150 and $325 a week, depending on a student’s eligibility for their school’s free and reduced lunch program. ethos.org.

SPLURGE: Rock on with your bad selves, kiddos! SummerCamps-SchoolofRock1School of Rock will fix ’em up. The big draw here is that within the week’s span, kids will write, compose and perform a full set of songs at a local performance venue. Throw in some music trivia, song-casting, “gear education” and themed weeks including “Green Day vs. Nirvana” and “Black Keys vs. White Stripes”, and they are all set. Kids 8 to 18 are welcome, and if their instrument of choice is not one of those mentioned, don’t despair — chances are great that they can find a way to make it work. $450 for the week, but 20 percent off if you sign up before March 31. schoolofrock.com.

P.S.: Vibe of Portland’s sweet programs are mostly arts-focused but they blend it with music during the first week of August (vibepdx.org). Campers aged 6 to 12 can make their own music video, start to finish, at Portland Metro Art’s music video camps, from July 11-15 for $220 (pdxmetroarts.org). The West Linn-based Youth Music Project offers a chance for your kid to achieve her #squadgoals with its Taylor Swift-themed songwriting camp (check out their financial aid plans at youthmusicproject.org).

SUPER SCIENTISTS

SAVE: Here’s a great option for parents who are looking for half-day options for their STEM-oriented kiddos. Mad Science of Portland offers one of the broadest menu of science camps we’ve seen locally, from robotics to rockets, camps for biologists and chemists in training and for inventors — even for potential spooks (that’s spy camp, so think forensics.) They’re also mobile, with camps offered in nearly every quadrant of Portland plus suburbs from Battleground to West Linn, which will cut down on your transport time. Camps vary in price, but weeklong half-day camps are usually around the $150 mark. madscience.org.

SummerCamps-OregonZooSPLURGE: Got an animal lover? Head for the Oregon Zoo camp, which we can safely say is different than any other camp in the metro area. After all, there’s nowhere else that offers a giraffe camp, let’s say, or a rhino camp — and kids actually get to observe and learn about real giraffes and rhinos. Campers will zero in on particular species and learn about animal habitats and what it takes to survive in the wild (and how we can help the next generation of animals thrive, too.) All camps are $297 but it’s more than worth renewing your zoo membership if you’ve let it lapse to get discounts of almost $40 off that price. oregonzoo.org.

P.S.: The bright, sunny storefront at Art of Stem in North Portland will play host to fun camps all summer long (artofstem.com). Saturday Academy has options geared for talented and gifted students (saturdayacademy.org).

TUMBLE-BUGS

SummerCamps-TheChildren'sGym1SAVE: The Children’s Gym. The camps at this Portland institution are fantastic for their flexibility (appropriately enough) making this a really strong choice for parents who work part-time. You can sign your kids up for one, two, three, four or five days a week at the gym, and prices change accordingly. (Most Portland-area camps require a weeklong commitment.) Camps are from 9 am-3:30 pm and are for kids ages 3 to 14; the only requirement is that they need to be potty-trained. Think gymnastics, boulder-climbing, free play and professional gymnastics instructions — after-care is available, too, at a reasonable $7 per hour. Pro tip: If you’re really committed to this option, sign up for a membership at the gym for great discounts. Prices start at $65 for one day for members, and $80 for one day for non-members, with sibling discounts for same-day camps — sign up for more days and the per-day rate gets reduced. childrensgym.com.

SummerCamps-DancewithJoy1SPLURGE: Dance with Joy is a Sellwood institution, and they open their doors once a month this summer for week-long kids’ camps. Full day camps cost $300, and your kids will get introduced to just about every form of dance there is, from tap to flamenco, clogging to hip-hop. Plus, a little birdie tells us that there’s a history of fun neighborhood flash mob dance parties here. dancewithjoystudios.com.

P.S.: Budding ballerinas will be thrilled at the chance to join Oregon Ballet Theatre’s three week “ballet intensive” sessions, half-day camps that include class time and a behind-the-scenes look at Portland’s premiere ballet company (obt.org). Beaverton-based Oregon Gymnastics Academy offers hours of gym time for novices and pros alike (ogagym.org).

PICASSOS-IN-TRAINING

SummerCamps-Willowbrook4SAVE: Kids from all over Portland make the pilgrimage to Willowbrook Arts Camp, along the Tualatin River Greenway, for the sheer breadth of its arts-focused programming. Kids can choose from Japanese arts and traditional Native American crafts, learn their way around a camera and how to weave a basket, or practice needlework and fine arts. What’s more, there’s room for campers ages 3 to 14. Full days are a reasonable $220/week, with after-care available. Subsidized rates based on family income levels can bring that down to $190 for full days and $95 for half-days, and they also offer single-day options, which can be handy for those who work part-time. willowbrookartscamp.org.

OCAC_laughing_DSC6415SPLURGE: At the Oregon College of Art and Craft’s summer programs, on their spacious campus in outer southwest Portland, art history is woven into the curriculum. Kids might make abstract art painting inspired by Kandinsky; tweens can try their hand at graphic illustration and comic book design. Price is $325 for a week of full-day sessions (or $350 for grades 6-8), and programs are offered for preschoolers, elementary-aged kids, and teens and tweens. ocac.edu.

P.S.: Let your kids reuse and recycle to their heart’s content at the summer programs offered at SCRAP in SW Portland (scrappdx.org). Get inspired by nature at the Leach Botanical Garden botanical drawings and science camp for ages 9 to 12 (leachgarden.org).

GET OUTSIDE

SAVE: The camps offered by Friends of Tryon Creek are so cool, we kind of want to sign up ourselves. In their “shelter” week, for example, campers will build owl nesting boxes and bat boxes, play camouflage games and search for bird nests in the tree canopy. These are priced at $247 for members ($236 before March 1), but the organization offers scholarships that can knock 15 to 90 percent off the cost of camp, depending on your family’s income. tryonfriends.org.

SummerCamps-AdventureWild4SPLURGE: This one may be in our “splurge” category, but it’s all for a good cause. All fees at Adventure WILD summer day camp go to support Outdoor School, a cherished outdoor education program for middle school kids throughout Multnomah County. It’s especially nice because this camp makes room for younger campers, with programs for kids as young as 4 years old. $295 a week and note that camp is from 9 am-5 pm, when many camps end at 3 pm. adventurewild.org.

P.S.: The granddaddy of them all, Trackers Earth, which offers amazing camps for dreamers and doers alike (and early bird discounts) (trackerspdx.com). Rewild Portland, where kids play (as they should) with sticks, stones, sand and mud at Kelley Point Park (rewildportland.com). Kids get out on the river — and even learn to build their own boats — at the Tualatin Riverkeepers summer camps, and scholarships are offered, too (tualatinriverkeepers.org).

LANGUAGE LOVERS

SAVE: Portland’s Woodstock neighborhood is home to the Yu Miao Chinese Immersion summer camp, where kids from ages 3 to 7 can learn all about Chinese culture, from martial arts to Chinese instruments, calligraphy to culinary arts (um, yum). Along the way, they’ll learn some key Mandarin words and phrases, too. Camp costs just $210/week for a full day, with discounts for early registration. ahscpdx.org.

SPLURGE: If your kids are ready for sleepaway camp — generally by about age 9 — consider heading north for a week away at Canoe Island French Camp, located in the absolutely gorgeous San Juan Islands. (Trust us, there is a reason both Bill Gates and Paul Allen have summer houses nearby.) Kids can follow in the footsteps of Jean ValJean, track the progress of the Tour de France, or celebrate Bastille Day. It sounds idyllic, mais c’est un peu cher, as they would say in France: One week of camp starts at $2,095. canoeisland.org.

P.S.: The International School offers summer sessions for students of Chinese, Japanese and Spanish (intlschool.org). The Portland Early Learning Project is especially popular with the preschool set and has fun Spanish camps on its schedule (portlandearlylearning.com).

A LITTLE OF THIS, A LITTLE OF THAT:

SAVE: Easy call here: Your local parks and recreation district is pretty much unbeatable in terms of value. (The two most varied programs are Portland and Tualatin Hills, but don’t overlook the camps offered at local community centers around Vancouver, Wash.) Case in point: Those camps in Vancouver cost about $35 a day, or $175 for the week, and include swimming, crafts, sports, games, arts activities and at least one field trip per week — and parents can drop off as early as 7:30 am and pick up by 6 pm. Pricing is similar for most municipal programs. SummerCamps-SteveandKate's4Pro tip: Some parks departments offer more specialized camps, too — the Portland Parks’ Nature Camp programs are absolute gems, with small camper-to-counselor ratios. Another good choice for parents looking for super-flex options is Steve and Kate’s Camp, which expands to Beaverton this summer. Parents love this option, because you can drop in with no advance warning — and they even provide lunch. It’s $90 per day for a one-day drop-in, but that price goes down as you buy more days.

SPLURGE: Lots to choose from in this category too. Why not check out the facilities and programming at some of Oregon’s premier private schools, including camps at Oregon Episcopal School, Catlin Gabel or Portland Jewish Academy or the nearby Mittleman Jewish Community Center? If you’ve been thinking of applying, summer is a great chance to see if it’s a potential fit. Or let the pros at Club Sport or Villa Sport gyms run your kiddos ragged at their decked-out campuses. Pricing ranges; head to their websites for more info.

P.S.: NW Portland parents swear by the fun, reasonably priced offerings at the Kids Community Learning Center summer programs at MLC. There’s not a kid in Portland who doesn’t love the Portland Children’s Museum, so a week at camp there will win you plenty of brownie points.

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Julia Silverman
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