I used to panic when that last school bell rang, because many summers with my kids were marked by bad things on that first day: The frog that younger son Matthew whacked and killed (summer 2005) or the cell phone that older son Alexander killed by dropping into my coffee (summer 2008).
For many of us, summer often starts with a bang, but then what do you do with the kids to keep them entertained and educated?
As a mother who made a career of figuring out what to do with our little darlings during this 12-week stretch, I’m here to help. I can tell you that my summers have become an adventure in discovering the quirky side of Houston through summer day camps for my kids. They have tap danced, made movies that have screened at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and created monsters out of dead computer parts.
Here are some of the best among this summer's day camp options:
* Southside Skatepark
Inspired by Tony Hawk, many boys dream of skateboarding all day — and they can this summer on the rad indoor ramps at South Houston’s Southside Skatepark. Before you start thinking of wild kids doing death-defying tricks, Southside owner Tom Mixon requires safety wear for all skaters, CPR/Red Cross training for all his instructors and staff — and if you cuss, you’re outta there.
The Southside Skate camps run 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and are being held the weeks of June 7, June 21, July 5, July 19, August 2 and August 9. Participants will be grouped by level and there will be a free catered lunch and field trip to a nearby outdoor skate park daily.
Got a mini Jerry Seinfeld or Paula Poundstone at home? Send them to ComedySportz where they’ll be among friends. “Summer Improv Camp” is being held the weeks of June 14 and July 12 for 8-12 year olds and June 21 and July 19 for 13-17 year olds. Kids will learn the secrets of improv from the actors that have kept my family laughing during one of their many weekend audience-participation matches.
The group will build scenes, invent characters and react quickly — improv is much harder than it looks, so this is a big one! If your kid can’t make it to camp, bring them to a “ComedySportz4Kidz” matinee, held on the first Saturday of each month at 4 p.m.
Not only does Aurora screen alternative films all over town, it is unrolling its second year of the “Alternative Filmmaking Boot Camp” this summer. Aurora is run by two moms, Delicia Harvey and Mary Magsamen, so in hopes of raising really cool kids, they often program kid films and mini-workshops with artists like the Striking Viking Story Pirates.
This year’s boot camps are divided into two age groups — 9-12 years and 13-17 years — and are being held the week of July 12 (older kids) and the weeks of July 19 and July 26 (younger kids).
* Girls Rock Camp Houston
What happens when a punk/indie musician assembles a group of women rockers to form a girls’ rock camp? You get Anna Garza’s “Girls Rock Camp Houston,” a camp dedicated to not only learning the art of kick-ass music, but also to fighting sexism in a positive way and to teaching the history of punk rock music.
Indie/punk rocker Garza, currently in two girl bands, brought together local artists and community leaders to assist with her dream, including Dianna Ray and Linda Younger of MyDolls, Cinema Arts Managing Director Kim Castillo, MyCityRocks Community Outreach/music therapy teacher Veronica Llanos-Butler and Anime Networks' National Advertising Manager April Brem Patrick. Girls 8-18 years old can rock out August 8-13.
Gonzo247 and Carolyn Casey head a collective of artists creating urban art and graffiti projects with the mission of elevating street art to a serious art form. Their Aerosol Warfare Art Gallery has regular shows of work by urban artists but they take their art one step further by not only bringing it to the streets, but also bringing it to kids — either by coming to their schools or by hosting classes at the Gallery.
This summer they’re hosting a series of classes onsite and with Danny Clark Photography at Danny’s studio August 10-12 and 17-19.
Sarah Gish is something of a summer camp expert, having authored The Summer Book: A Guide to Houston Day Camps and Classes for Kids and Teens.