The phrase "summer camp" may have once conjured images of swimming in lakes and crafting macaroni necklaces. But these days, it's come to mean a lot more.
Think rock 'n' roll, science, zookeeping and running.
Camp options abound for families, with an estimated 12,000 day and overnight camps to choose from throughout the country, according to the American Camp Association.
In the Sacramento region, there's no shortage of choices, from weeklong programs in the city to overnight camps in the Sierra Nevada.
Just think – with a little customization and planning, those "my summer vacation" essays could read a little more like choose-your-own-adventure tales.
Have a budding biologist or a child who's mesmerized by molecular gastronomy?
Lodi's World of Wonders Science Museum has four weeklong day camps (running 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) geared for children interested in science.
"It introduces science in a really fun way," said Liz Brown, the museum's educational programs coordinator. "They are really learning through doing."
Explainable Magic: Held June 10-14, this program teaches scientific concepts through magic with the help of a real magician. On the last day of camp, parents are invited to watch their children put on a magic show. Open to children ages 7 to 12.
Tasty Science: This camp focuses on health, nutrition and the science of food. Kids will conduct edible experiments and wow parents with a cooking demonstration on the camp's last day. The class is scheduled for June 17-21 and is open to children 9 to 12.
Calling All Chemists: Matter, energy and interaction are the center of this class, which runs July 8-12. Children ages 7 to 12 can learn about acids, bases and their reactions, and will put on a chemistry show for families at the end of the program.
Your Body and You: Children will learn about what goes on inside the human body down to a microscopic level. The camp runs July 15-19 and is open to children ages 9 to 12.
Children attending the summer camps should have an interest in science, but it's not a must, Brown said.
"I had a (mother) whose child was really apprehensive about the human body and she thought (her daughter) would be all grossed out, but she ended up having fun," Brown said. "We really try to make it fun and not intimidating."
Cost: $190 per member, $220 per nonmember
Information: http://wowsciencemuseum.orgor (209) 368-0969
Run, run, run
Get little legs moving this summer with Fleet Feet Sports' Fun with Fitness summer camp.
The running business offers two weeklong summer sessions for children entering second through sixth grades. They're held in William Land Park.
The camps, which take place from 9 a.m. to noon June 17-21 and June 24-28, will introduce children to fitness through walking, running and hurdles. In addition, sessions will boost confidence and teach teamwork and sportsmanship in a noncompetitive setting.
The camp culminates in a "Little Feet" Olympics event.
Camp cost: $125 per child
Information: training.fleetfeetsacramento.com/kids; (916) 442-3690, ext. 3
Rock the summer
For the up-and-coming Micks and Madonnas, there's Jam Fest, a three-month summer music program hosted by Sac Valley Guitar.
Young musicians will be teamed up in bands, which work with an instructor to learn several cover songs. At the program's end in August, they'll perform a concert at a local venue. Last year, it was Luigi's Slice in midtown Sacramento.
The program, which begins June 9, is open to ages 7 to 25, but it's geared primarily to children and teenagers, said Eric Morrison, owner of Sac Valley Guitar.
Participants need some music experience – most students have been playing for a year or two. There is an audition process, Morrison said, but it's mostly to gauge skill level and place musicians accordingly (auditions will be held in mid-May).
Once placed, band members practice two hours a week at the Arden Way music studio, in addition to a weekly two-hour rehearsal at a band member's home.
Morrison said. "Taking lessons teaches you how to play, but not how to play with a band," Morrison said. "There is no substitute for playing with a band. I also try to teach that music is a business, not just about having fun."
Each band member receives a CD that includes up to three of their songs recorded in a music studio.
The program can accommodate any kind of instrument, Morrison said. The most interesting pairing to date? A horn section in a punk band.
Cost: $100 per month
Info: http://sacvalleyguitar.com; (916) 254-1111
One of the region's most popular day-camp programs features wild animals in the heart of the city.
The Sacramento Zoo offers 61 classes for children from June through August, attracting about 1,000 youngsters each year, said Tonja Swank, public relations director for the zoo.
The classes include half- and full-day options for children 2 to 14.
Classes that involve hands-on interaction with animals such as "It's Showtime!" offer campers a chance to work with the zoo's animal ambassadors. In this option the kids perform with critters in a live show – this one tends to be more popular and fills up quickly.
Curriculums for the weeklong classes evolve from summer to summer based on interest. One class that's become a hit is "Animal Yuckology," tailored to first- and second-grade campers. It's offered July 29-Aug. 2.
"As you can imagine, that one is really popular," Swank said. "It's a chance to learn about the smellier, slimier animals at the zoo."
Cost: Ranges from $25 to $275, but generally $149 for one week of half-day class (9 a.m.-noon); $259 for one week of full-day class (9 a.m.-4 p.m.).
Info: http://www.saczoo.org; (916) 808-8814
Go horse around
Have a horse lover in the house? Consider signing up for Shadow Glen Family Stables' riding camp, a one-week program aimed at teaching children ages 8 to 16 to control horses on trails and in arenas.
The traditional camp, held at the Fair Oaks facility, takes place June 17-24, June 24-28, July 15-19 and July 22-26, from 8 a.m. to noon. An advanced camp – for riders 10 and older – will be held July 8-12. Youths can sign up for multiple sessions.
Knowing how to ride isn't a must, but a little confidence should be in place as campers will be paired with a large animal, said Kelly Godwin, the camp's general manager.
"They're either working with the horse, handling a horse or riding a horse the whole time," she said. "If a kid is horse crazy, this is the camp they should be going to."
The majority of horses have been rescued, so it's also an opportunity to teach children how to be respectful custodians of animals, Godwin said.
Cost: $365 per rider ($350 for repeat students)
Information: http://shadowglenstables.com; (916) 989-1826
Hello Muddah, hello Fadduh
Though day camps are wildly popular – the number having grown by 90 percent in the past 20 years, according to the American Camp Association – resident camps remain a staple for thousands of children each summer.
One of the many options is Camp Pendola, a nonprofit, ACA-accredited residential camp in Camptonville, about 45 miles north of Nevada City. The camp, owned and operated by the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, has weeklong sessions available in June and July, and is open to any child interested in attending, regardless of religious background.
There, campers ages 6 to 17 can spend a week swimming, performing skits, having water balloon fights and learning about nature. Camp activities also help build self-esteem and foster friendships.
"Children learn lessons that really can infuse their growth," said Lori Rosene, camp director. "It allows the opportunity to make friends and develop social skills on their own."
It also affords the chance to gain independence.
"Kids really learn resilience at camp, and it's because they don't have someone there to always solve problems for them," she said. "They have to work through the process."
If parents want more advice about picking the right summer camp for their children or to learn more about available camps, Rosene advised checking out the ACA's website, acacamps.org.
Cost: $450 per camper per week; some discounts available
Information: http://pendola.org; (916) 733-0141.