Not all knowledge can be gained in a classroom or from a book. Sometimes kids need to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty!
By Dwain Hebda Photography by Katie Childs and courtesy of venues
Whoever wrote, “Summertime and the living is easy,” never had to keep a houseful of youngsters engaged and entertained after school lets out. Fortunately, Little Rock is chock-full of great hands-on day camps to serve virtually every interest. The following is a sample of what’s out there to hold the kids’ attention and burn off some energy.
MUSEUM OF DISCOVERY
The mission of the award-winning Museum of Discovery is to open children’s minds, which it does daily through highly-interactive exhibits. The slate of summertime offerings is no different.
“We’ve got kids that come back every year,” said Kendall Thornton, chief marketing officer. “Some kids are at every single camp all summer long; some come to two or three of their favorites. We literally watch these kids grow up and continue to be amazed with what they do and what they learn.”
Summer offerings include Wiggle Worms Wednesday, from 9 a.m. to noon, a science primer for very young children, each with a different theme such as dinosaurs and space monkeys. Starting at age 6, children can choose from weeklong Discovery Camps that run 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. These camps wrap science lessons in fun themes, including Minecraft, Legos and Harry Potter.
This year, there’s also an engineering camp that not only shows how to construct something, but how demolition experts tear it down. And Createch provides campers with the basics of telling stories through stop-animation, green screens, drones and other fun aspects of filmmaking.
The Museum of Discovery is a great place where families can drop in anytime. Among the attractions is a new exhibit called “Diamonds,” with a focus on Arkansas’s own Crater of Diamonds. The Room to Grow area, targeting children under 6, has also undergone a major renovation catering to the younger set.
Museum of Discovery
500 President Clinton Ave., Suite 150
ARKANSAS REGIONAL INNOVATION HUB
The North Little Rock maker space challenges the ingenuity of youngsters all year long, but really turns things up in the summertime with its Maker Faire, Saturday May 12, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., on the North Shore Riverwalk. This free event draws thousands to browse makers’ products and experience hands-on activities, said Errin Stanger, deputy director.
“There is a lot of hands-on learning that day; for example, there will be onsite screen printing and there will be onsite ceramics being made,” she said. “We’ve got virtual reality; we’ve got robots. Kids can get really hands-on with stuff, which is exciting.”
Maker Faire is broken down into different worlds, each featuring its own slate of activities and creators. Flying, art, tech and gaming are just a few of the themes these worlds offer the roughly 3,500 guests it attracts.
“It’s definitely inspiring, because you see things you may not realize you can do, or that you even enjoy,” Stanger said. “Let’s say you’re coming to a tent and seeing these 3D printers making something incredible that you didn’t even know was possible. You may say, ‘How does that work?’ Well, we have a class at the Innovation Hub where you can come and do that.”
The Innovation Hub also sponsors a number of summer camps for kids, in both its maker and artistic programs. On the make side, video game design and robotics are two of the most popular camps, while on the art side, screen printing and ceramics are the camps in highest demand. Also popular is a six-week program called Creative Art Teen catering to kids ages 14 to 17, providing formal instruction in the morning and staff-supported free creative time in the afternoon.
Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub
204 E. Fourth St., North Little Rock
For youngsters whose tastes run to dance, Ballet Arkansas has several options to keep kids on their toes. In addition to its long-running summer intensive camp July 31 to August 3 for dancers ages 11 to 21, the organization has also rolled out new programs this year.
“We have a new junior intensive that will run the same week,” said Catherine Fothergill, associate artistic director. “It’s a little shorter, from 9 a.m. until noon, and it’ll basically prepare them so that when they’re 11, if they’d like to be a part of a longer or larger intensive, it gets them ready for it.”
Another brand-new, half-day summer camp is for ages 5 to 8, slated from June 11 to 15.
“This is Princess Camp, where they can learn to dance,” Fothergill said. “We’ll provide tutus which they’re going to decorate with a craft hour and then wear them to dance at the end of the day. They also have story time with a professional ballerina. It’s just a really fun way to get them moving.”
Unlike the regular intensive, which requires an audition, junior intensive and Princess camps are available simply by registering. Both intensives are held at UALR, while the Princess Camp is held at Ballet Arkansas.
“Dance is such a human art form and it is something that people do truly connect with,” Fothergill said. “Children in particular are so open to this and we want to open those doors and provide that opportunity.”
520 Main Street, Little Rock 72201
ARKANSAS REPERTORY THEATRE
Late last month, the Arkansas Repertory Theatre announced it’s closing its doors, however the 2018 summer programs are scheduled to continue. The Rep’s summer theatre program serves children across all grade levels, from rising Kindergartners to rising high school seniors, in a series of camps called sessions. Anna Kimmell, education director, said the curriculum offers something for everyone.
“We have sessions in acting and musical theater training,” she said. “Most programs are a week long and run the full day, performing a final showcase in our black box theater. The high school program is what we call The Conservatory and it’s a two-week program. Again, it’s a healthy balance of training and performance, and they have a fuller showcase at the end.”
The sessions are non-audition, first-come, first-served which makes them a very popular summertime option for kids with an interest in the stage. Scholarships are available to help families afford the cost of the experience.
“It’s open to all ages and all experience levels,” she said. “We really try to meet people where they are and accommodate all experience levels.”
Arkansas Repertory Theatre
601 Main St.
ARKANSAS ARTS CENTER
There’s not enough space to detail the long roster of hands-on art education available at the Arkansas Arts Center, both in the summertime and all year around. Miranda Young, youth and community engagement manager, said the variety of educational programming reaches a wide cross-section of the community.
“We reach somewhere between 500 and 600 students per year in our Museum School classes,” she said. “That doesn’t count the school groups and the outreach that we do elsewhere in the building. We also have free programs that people come to on the weekends and a reading program during the week in the galleries.”
That yearlong reading program, a joint effort with Central Arkansas Library System, combines literary works with representative art in the gallery. It’s one example of how the Arts Center connects the dots for its youngest consumers.
The Arts Center offers a catalogue of classes for young people in visual and theatre arts on a variety of topics through the Museum School. Summer camp themes this year include working in clay, underwater worlds, magical and mythical creatures and Studio Zoo, which focuses on capturing animals in art.
“New to us this summer is a pinhole camera workshop,” Young said. “We’re going back in time to give kids an understanding of how photography started. They’ll be building and making their own camera obscura and developing RC paper negatives. That should be pretty exciting.”
Arkansas Arts Center
9th & Commerce streets
The Youth Chefs Culinary Camp program at UA-Pulaski Tech’s College of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management may just be the hardest camp in Central Arkansas to get into and not because of any high prerequisites or exacting entrance exam. The 14 camps are just that popular, routinely selling out practically as soon as they are open.
“We’ve been doing this for about five summers now and it’s grown every year,” said Todd Gold, dean of culinary arts. “We started it because we had some interest from people saying, ‘Hey, my kid loves the Food Network or “Cake Boss,”’ and so we said let’s put together a little culinary camp for one week. That’s how the whole thing started. It just exploded from there.”
The 14 half-day camps focus on three levels of culinary skills and baking for 10- to 17-year-olds. Each class accommodates about 25 kids and culminates with a camper-prepared buffet for family and invited guests.
“I think last year we had seven camps and still had a waiting list of 180 kids after they were all full,” Gold said. “If you ask me why 10- to 17-year-olds have become so interested in it, I guess we could attribute it to the Food Network. There’s definitely a strong interest.”
UA-Pulaski Technical College Culinary Arts and
Hospitality Management Institute
13000 Interstate 30