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North Hills Monthly

Academic and Arts Camps Keep Boredom at Bay and Offer Kids Amazing Opportunities

Feb 26, 2016 05:38PM ● By Jennifer Monahan

I Am Poems at Bottlebrush Gallery

For parents anticipating summer with visions of bored children complaining, “There’s nothing to do!” dancing in their heads, Pittsburgh offers an incredible array of summer camp options for kids of all ages and interests. From Winchester Thurston’s Jedi Knight Training day camp to a 60-minute workshop creating glass fusion patterns at Katie’s Clay Studio to a week-long, overnight language camp, the local camp scene really does offer something for everyone.

Winchester Thurston summer camps are notable for the breadth, flexibility and sheer creativity of options. Campers may attend half- or full-day sessions for the week. Camps run one week at a time, with sessions offered throughout the summer. The North Hills Campus caters to campers ages 3 through fifth grade, while the City Campus hosts sixth-graders through high school seniors.

Themes such as Ninja Warrior, Minion Mania, Video Game Design and Kaboom Chemistry Jr.  will entice kids with their engaging activities, and all the summer enrichment programs are infused with academic components, according to Director of Programs Dionne Brelsford. For example, Saddle Club camp includes horseback riding lessons and hands-on care of horses as well as learning about characteristics of various horse breeds, preparing snacks for horses, painting horseshoes and meeting a farrier.

Coding for Girls, Backstage Pass Rock Band Camp and Animal Behaviors Lab are just a few of the cool opportunities geared toward middle and high school students. Brelsford said summer camps offer an opportunity to try something different or to pursue a passion that students might not have time for during the academic year. “We want to inspire kids to explore and grow over the summer,” she said. For more information, visit

Helena Schaefers has been involved with Language Camp for all of its 31-year history, first as a teacher and then as director for the last 21 years. The overnight camp runs from July 31 through August 6. Children in first through ninth grades spend the week at the Family Retreat Center in Cranberry Township, where they swim, cook, canoe, do crafts and archery, and play soccer and volleyball—all while learning a world language. A day camp option is available.

The unique thing about Language Camp, according to Schaefers, is that kids have the benefits of traditional summer camp activities, but also learn a language as they go. Campers select a Spanish, French or German track. Certified instructors and native speakers ensure that campers are immersed in their chosen language. “Our foremost goal is that people have fun,” explained Schaefers.

One marker of the camp’s success is that former campers often return as counselors in training. The 5:1 ratio of campers to staff means that kids have significant attention as well as ample opportunity to practice the language. And Schaefers brings her own joy and passion for her work to create a meaningful experience for the kids. “My heart is in this. I love it so much!” she said. For more information, visit

Located in Cranberry Township, Garden Montessori provides hands-on learning activities, fosters creativity and nurtures curiosity in children aged 3 through 12. Most sessions run for one week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., but extended-care and half-day options are available.

Garden Montessori’s approach to camp follows the Montessori philosophy of helping children develop their natural curiosity as they explore the world. Many of the faculty and instructors have backgrounds in science and all are trained in child development. Popular camp options include Nature Study, Biology Week, Exploring Art, Magnets and Electricity, Dino Discovery and a Literacy and Math session.

Director Sandy Durkin said that the camp focuses on fun and helping children cultivate a love for learning. More information is available at

For people who may not want the commitment of a week-long camp, Katie’s Clay Studio in Allison Park offers stand-alone workshops lasting approximately 60 to 90 minutes, for kids ages 6 and older.

Owner Katie Petrovich’s philosophy is that it is important for children to try new things and to understand the artistic process. “We want them to learn something and to make something at the same time,” Petrovich explained. Summer 2016 workshops include glass fusion, clay sculpting, pottery or canvas painting, using a pottery wheel and creating mosaics.

Participation is intended to help kids expand their knowledge of different artistic mediums, and Petrovich keeps the class sizes small to insure children get individual attention. With its tag line encouraging kids to “Get muddy!” Katie’s Clay Studio focuses on creativity and fun. Details are available at

Harmony’s Bottlebrush Gallery offers an array of summer workshops for children ages five and older. Perennial favorites such as Playing With Mud and Create Your Own Fossils will be presented again this year, along with a session on creating chain maille jewelry and a new workshop on collages.

One popular class designed specifically for girls, said Bottlebrush owner MJ McCurdy, is an affirmation poem painting called “I Am.” Everyone starts out their poems with “I Am,” she explained, then fills in words they feel describe them, such as “smart,” “pretty,” “helpful,” “brave” or “funny.”  Kids paint their canvases and fill in the words.

One unique feature of Bottlebrush workshops is that students benefit from making art in a working gallery. They are surrounded by color, shapes and textures, which serve to stimulate their creativity. Classes are taught by practicing artists who have teaching experience and enjoy young people. Class schedules and registration will be available in May; details are available at

The Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, adjacent to Mellon Park, provides summer camps for children and young adults from age 4 through seniors in high school, of all ability levels. Camp sessions are both full and half-day, and most run for one week. Classes are facilitated by teaching artists who are professionals in their creative fields, and include painting, sculpture, media arts, photography, metalwork, ceramics and jewelry.

Rachael Cooper, children’s program manager at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts School, said that all the kids benefit from the great location—which includes an onsite gallery—and the way instructors incorporate components of science or literature into many of the camps.

One special feature geared toward high school students is the effort made to create a college-like atmosphere. Cooper explained that the more advanced students have smaller classes and access to equipment not typically available at a high school, such as a soft brick kiln (used for a technique called soda firing) or soldering tools and can even get experience helping the gallery prepare for a show. “We want to provide an elevated artistic experience,” said Cooper. Discounted registration is available before March 8; more information is available at

The Center for Young Musicians, with locations in Wexford, Sewickley, Fox Chapel, and Shadyside, offers summer camps for children of all ages and musical experience. Kids ages 3 through 6 enjoy Music Discovery, a half-day, week-long camp that focuses on a new instrument each day. Children learn about the cello, piano, violin, and voice through seeing and touching the instrument, listening to music, creating their own instruments, musical story time and lots of body movement.

Music Explorations is aimed at children ages 7 through 12, and focuses on learning keyboard and guitar during half-day, week-long sessions. Students learn to play music, study different musical styles and perform for their families and friends on the final day.

Autumn Kunselman, vice president for student affairs, said that in addition to the traditional week-long camps, the Center for Young Musicians offers summer classes that are ideal for students who already play an instrument but may want to try something new. “Summer is such a great time for exploration, discovering new strengths and trying something you’re curious about,” said Kunselman. Details are available at