TAMPA - For kids who want to while away their summer vacation learning tap and jazz, there's a local summer camp. Young ones looking for outdoor adventure have multiple venues from which to choose. And for those who yearn to put their science and math skills to work building robots or creating video games, there are a few choices as well.
Families from Lakeland, Tampa, Riverview and Wesley Chapel flitted from one booth to another Sunday, collecting information and signing up children for any number of summer camps available in this area. Summer Splash, a free summer camp expo held outside of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday, drew hundreds.
Students from the Patel Performing Arts Conservatory, the expo sponsor, played original pop and rock numbers for guests with faces painted like butterflies, dragons and tigers. Several businesses offered games and free totes. Busch Gardens even brought along an armadillo and a screech owl to wow the future summer campers.
Most camps range anywhere from $150 to $350 per week.
"I have a 12-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son, so, we're looking at all different camps," said Amy French, of Land O' Lakes. "I usually try to mix it up with sports and find them things to do that they don't normally get to experience."
Last summer, her son, Joe French, attended summer camp at the Museum of Science and Industry and loved it. This year, he said, he's eyeing the Busch Gardens camp.
"For me, it's either something electronic or something with cause and effect, like growing plants that make flowers," he said.
Jason Reis hauled his six children - ages eight to 13 - over from Lakeland for a fun day in Tampa and a chance to check out the choices.
Bella Reis, 10, had her eye on the Circle F Dude Ranch camp, which offers archery. But she also liked the idea of attending the Fantasy Fishing Camp. For her 12-year-old friend, Alissa Harrison, art camp is the way to go. Sophia Reis, 8, would prefer to be outside, maybe somewhere with water, "only no swimming with alligators or fish," she insisted.
Sweetwater Organic Farm in Town 'n Country is offering a summer camp for the first time this year, teaching youngsters ages 9-11 how to grow and harvest food, compost for fertilizer and about the overall impact humans have on the environment, said Assistant Program Director Leah Burgess. It is all based on school science curriculum, she said.
"We even have one day where the kids will pick up litter and we will teach them how to upcycle, to turn it in to something else," said Education Program Director Chris Hawthorne.
The Davis Island Youth Sailing Foundation offers a camp to teach youngsters how to sail, tie knots and learn water safety, said Director Jane Millican. There are half-day camps for youngsters ages 5-7 and full days for kids 8-18.
"The majority of kids come with no experience and that's fine," Millican said. The older children need to know how to swim and the younger ones need at least have a level of comfort with the water, she said.
The Florida Aquarium Aqua Camps include classes in fossils, understanding sharks, tracking nature and more.
And for those with the budget, there's Skyland Camp for Girls, located near Asheville, North Carolina, which offers 17- to 21-day camps for $3,500 to $3,900. Girls can swim, play tennis, go whitewater rafting, build self esteem, learn theater and hone leadership skills.
Forgive Semacker, 12, of Riverview, said she'd be happy staying closer to home and taking tap and jazz classes at the Patel conservatory.