Many quickly reach registration capacity
Few communities of this size boast as wide a range of summer camp offerings for kids as the Methow Valley.
Infants through teens can enroll in camps ranging from art to archery to acting, from engineering to fishing to tracking. They can cultivate gardens, learn to groom horses, and practice yoga.
Or they could, at least, a couple of months ago. Now, unless they’re already registered it might be too late; nearly every camp in the valley — Little Star Montessori School (Little Star), Classroom in Bloom, the Bush School, The Merc Playhouse, Methow Valley Riding Unlimited — is full, and many have wait lists.
Focus on local enrollment
The Bush School summer camps, which were developed several years ago with the express purpose of providing opportunities for Methow Valley families, filled within two days of registration opening, said Hilary Kaltenbach, the Bush School’s Methow Campus Program Director.
Kaltenbach noted that the Bush School advertised its Methow campus summer programming only on the Little Star website, and knew that parents were eager to enroll their children as soon as registration opened.
“We offered five weeks of programming and everything was full 36 hours after we opened,” Kaltenbach said. “Some sessions filled in 30 minutes. And four of these five camps currently have wait lists.”
The Bush School’s summer camps are specifically designed to be a resource for local families and the enrollment reflects that, with more than 90% of participants residing locally. Additionally, the Bush School worked with the Methow Valley School District to provide scholarships to eight local children whose might not have the resources to attend camp, through the Bush School’s Ian Fair Memorial Fund, which connects Methow kids to high quality experiential outdoor education programming.
Little Star Executive Director Dani Reynaud said that most of the school’s camps are filled with Methow Valley children. Similarly, 90% of Classroom in Bloom’s summer enrollment is local students, with the remainder coming from Seattle, said Kim Bondi, the school garden program’s executive director.
Missi Smith, Executive Director of The Merc Playhouse, said that The Merc’s camp participants represent more of a blend of local and Seattle-area students, which is similar to the registration in Methow Valley Riding Unlimited’s (MVRU) Pony Farm Camps, said camp director Annie Budiselich. She added, “Many families plan their summer trips to the Methow around our camps.”
Kaltenbach also said that the Bush School, Classroom in Bloom and Little Star collaborate on scheduling camps, so that no one camp is competing with any other in terms of age groups and camp theme. In a typical year, two summer camps for, say 8-11 year-olds, might both end up under-enrolled due to the similarity of the offering. This year, as has become increasingly obvious, is anything but typical. It’s quite likely that any number of camps with duplicate offerings would fill up, as working families struggle to find child care options.
Barriers to expansion
If camps filled up so early this year, why didn’t the camp’s host organizations simply offer more sessions?
“We have the space and resources to offer more camp sessions,” Kaltenbach said, “and the demand is there, but we couldn’t find any more instructors. We wish we could meet more demand, but we just don’t have the staff.”
Kaltenbach also noted that some of the camps — such as the fly fishing camp — involve field trips to different sites, and due to COVID constraints bus capacity is at 50%, which limits enrollment.
Smith said The Merc faced similar limitations with its drama camps, which are full.
“Instructional staff and space [are barriers to adding camps],” she said. “We had to cut down our camp sizes to keep cohorts small in the limited space we have to accommodate COVID guidelines.”
“We just don’t have enough staff to add any more sessions,” Reynaud said. “We’ve added capacity wherever we could because the demand for child care for working families is so high. It’s a valley-wide problem.”
Reynaud urges those interested in registering for summer camps to contact the school.
“Enrollment is always in flux as families make their summer plans. Spaces open up quite frequently,” she said. “Contact us and we’ll see if there is a space for your child.”
MVRU typically offers four camps and faces staffing challenges, but this year it is in the process of relocating operations and thus only offers two this summer. Budiselich said “It is likely we can offer a couple more [camps] after moving to Crown S Ranch. We can then piggyback on the bus schedule for kids with transportation challenges. These are the very kids we really hope serve.”
Classroom in Bloom, which offers seven weeks of summer camps in July and August, designs its programs to coincide with the garden being in full bloom, said Bondi. Although the camps incorporate many other elements of outdoor exploration and education, the garden is the camp’s hub, and it’s important to allow children to experience it at its prime, with vegetables, edible flowers, and berries available to captivate the senses.
The garden season is best leveraged during the seven weeks of existing camps, Bondi said. “We hope this is supporting the valley’s need for child care, fitting into our instructional capacity, and allowing Classroom in Bloom to grow our summer programs when much of the garden is in full bloom.”
Camps or child care?
Although summer camps clearly fill a need for child care for working parents, camp directors agree that most camp participants are registered out of a genuine interest in the camp itself.
“These kids want the theater experience. Summer camp provides a great opportunity to work on theater skills in an intensive week of instruction,” said Smith. “Our campers participate in other performances at The Merc and in their own local theaters when they are from out of town. Kids learn from their instructors and from one another in a fun atmosphere and there’s a terrific performance at the end of the week.” (The public is invited to attend the campers perform at the TwispWorks pavilion on Sat, July 3 at 12pm. BYO chair or blanket to sit on.)
“After more than a year of hybrid-type school, parents want their kids to connect with other kids, which is their primary motivation for signing their students up for the Bush School camps,” Kaltenback said. “But we also designed the camp hours to complement parents’ work schedules, so they can use that time while their children are at camp. We provide transportation from the Winthrop Barn, which saves parents the time it takes to drive to and from Mazama twice each day.”
“High-quality horsemanship, incredible horses, character development, building confidence, reflection, and appreciation of nature and horses”— this is what attracts participants to MVRU’s camps, Budiselich said.
Bondi said “We feel it is important to offer an educational yet fun way for children to grow during the summer months. The themes of our camp are intentional, with science, art and natural history activities as a purposeful way to explore the outdoors during the summer months. Games, water play, free time and art projects are how we incorporate fun, all while exploring the garden and the outdoors.”
Additionally, Classroom in Bloom is working with the Methow Valley School District and Schools Out Washington to provide summer reading and free lunches for students in their camps. “We are also building our teen work program, which includes farming and helping with these camps,” Bondi said.
Some spaces open
At press time the following camps still had space available:
MVRU’s Pony Farm Camp II for 7-9 and 10-11 year-olds from June 29-July 1, 2021.
Little Star’s Outdoor Adventure & River camp for 6-7 year-olds from July 19-22, 2021.
Classroom in Bloom’s Artistic Chefs camp for 6-10 year-olds from August 9-12, 2021.
Registration information for Classroom in Bloom, Little Star, and Bush School summer camps for kids can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/methowsummercamps.
Merc Playhouse camp information is here: www.mercplayhouse.org.
MVRU registration is located here: www.mvriding.org/registration.