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THE GREAT OUTDOORS / GETTING STARTED

Summertime Blues? Try a Camp for the Cure

June 26, 1996|DAN ARRITT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's that time of year again. The school bells are silent, the playgrounds are collecting weeds and you're itching to burn some energy.

"The Price Is Right" is no longer a challenge and the rest of the channels are filled with unrecognizable talk show hosts. It's too hot to venture to the park and too far to go to the beach.

You're caught in a summer stagnation. A case of the doldrums is sure to follow.

This scenario may have been the case a decade ago, but the energetic children and busy parents of the '90s have more suitable options during the summer months.

Summer camps have become so specialized that parents can choose between a half-day program or a three-month excursion. Or spending the summer learning to surf, learning a foreign language, losing weight or gaining culinary skills.

No longer is summer camp associated with long nights in a stuffy cabin, four strangers sharing a single flashlight and mosquitoes snacking on their extremities.

Choosing a summer camp is like watching cable TV. If one doesn't catch your attention, there are plenty of others to choose from.

Shirley Walch, executive director of the American Camping Assn., which promotes and accredits summer programs, said there has been a change in the way summer camps are designed.

"Day camps are growing rapidly because both parents are working these days," Walch said. "It's a sign of the times."

Therefore, for some, summer camp is no longer an option, but a necessity, Walch said.

The ACA follows strict industry and government standards relating to health and safety, aquatics, program, administration and transportation in its accreditation process, Walch said.

The ACA accredits 230 camps in Southern California and 2,000 nationwide.

Walch said parents are most concerned with safety and supervision at the facilities and during transportation. The ratio of campers to counselors is also a popular question.

The rush to get enrolled in a program begins early in the year. By March, most of the brochures have been mailed and by mid-June the sleep-away camps are usually full.

Camps such as the YMCA and school district-operated programs don't have a limit for their day camps, which cost about $100 a week, enabling the late-comers to find a place.

"We can always hire another counselor or get another bus," said Richard Chevalier, community program director for the North Orange County Family YMCA in Fullerton.

The YMCA also has another advantage that privately operated camps do not: the ability to subsidize for families who can't afford to send their children.

"Nobody gets turned away here," Chevalier said. "If somebody can't afford to pay, they can always get a scholarship from us."

Privately operated camps tend to be more expensive, with limits on the enrollment and no scholarships for the underprivileged.

At the Summer Surf Camp located in Sunset Beach Park and Salt Creek Beach Park, the cost to ride the waves on loaner equipment is $195 a week. At Camp Los Cab, a sports camp at Los Caballeros Sports Club in Fountain Valley, a dose of cardiovascular fitness costs $395 a day.

Other private institutions attract academically motivated campers.

At Computer Camp, which is run by FutureKids Computer Learning Centers in Rancho Santa Margarita and San Juan Capistrano, children ages 7 to 15 create their own computerized storyboard and learn the basics of music on a computer.

Meanwhile, the 3- to 6-year olds use educational software to explore numbers, letters, shapes and colors.

The Carden School in La Habra offers a six-week course with instruction in Spanish, computers and science. Field trips are scheduled every Wednesday with trips to an airport and an airport museum on the list for this summer.

"The families like the calm, peaceful atmosphere at the school," Director Carol Tracy said. "It encourages people who want to work on academics to attend."

Scott Kambak, an educational psychologist in Fullerton, said it's a tremendous advantage for kids to continue to think and be active during the summer months.

"In my work, kids who get away and experience different environments over the summer have a real advantage over those who do not," Kambak said. "That's why studies have shown in favor of year-round schooling, especially for those with learning disabilities."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Camping Out

Here's a look at some of the many summer options available for Orange County kids this summer:

* Anaheim Child Developments

Now-Sept. 6

Ages 2-6

Balance of academics, adventures and on-site field trips

Full-day rate: $70 a week; Half-day rate: $55 a week

(714) 821-3520

* Arrowhead Ranch

Location: San Bernardino National Forest

June 30-July 27

Ages 6-14

Traditional summer camp

$210 a week (equestrian program is extra)

(909) 867-7041

* Astrocamp

Location: Desert Sun Science Center in Idyllwild

Now-Aug. 10

Ages 8-15

Explore the wonders of the universe

$500 a week

(800) 645-1423

* Camp Frazier

Locations: Four in Orange County

Now-Aug. 23

Preschool age to 15

Variety of recreational activities

$35 a day

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