Mixing academics, sports, and dramatics in a day camp

When Judy Whtie's eldest daughter came home from camp and announced that she was "bored," her mother knew it was time for a change. Mrs. White decided to find a day camp that provided the same kind of variety and creative environment all four of her children were exposed to in school.

Then Mrs. White heard about Holiday Hill, a seven-week summer day camp on 27 rolling acres in Mendham, N.J., where campers may participate in a range of 180 activities.

Offering foreign languages, music, fottball, creative dance movement, and wrestling is just part of what sets Holiday Hill apart from other day camps, according to dancer-turned-camp founder Elizabeth Bernard Pettit.

Mrs. Pettit started the camp 21 years ago, convinced that professionals should be teaching fine and performing arts to children.

"I'd been asked to teach a dance class and when I tried to find someone to observe, I found nothing," she remembered of the tour she took through the public school system trying to find professional dancers who could give her teaching advice.

The "Education in Dance" program she ultimately designed and launched, and continues today, was so successful that Liz Pettit decided to try a summer day camp.

"Mothers were asking me, "What will we do with our children in the summer?" Mrs. Pettit said.

Firmly believing that fine and performing arts and good eating habits could be mixed in a traditional day camp regimen of athletics, Mrs. Pettit began Holiday Hill with 60 campers, or "little people," as she calls them.

"We're not in it for the loot," she said about the tuition, which runs $525 per child for the seven-week session. "We're interested in teaching the kids how to use their creativity for a more satisfying life."

Today the staff of 50 teachers, many of whom have advanced degrees in their specialties, run a day camp whose emphasis is on experience gained through participation.

For example, in music composition, campers create melodies; in dance movement , they do their own choreography.

The campers' experiences are enhanced when professional performers and artist from New York City are invited to Holiday Hill to conduct master classes.

"Kids are interested in what's going on in this big world," said Mrs. Pettit, who has a master's degree in psychology from the New School, New York City.

Called clubs, the camp's activities read like a college catalog, with yoga, photography, ecology, music theory, creative writing, Japanese, Russian, and French mixed with horseback riding, soccer, badminton, and tennis.

The clubs, like the red and white camp T-shirts the children must wear, reinforce the feeling of belonging.

"Children need to feel a part of something," Mrs. Pettit said of the campers, whose ages run from 4 to 14 years and who include handicapped youngsters.

To show what they've learned, campers participate every Friday in choral presentations, dance concerts, and dramatic skits. During these weekly recitals it's not uncommon for their teachers to perform as well.

Between the mandatory swimming classes in the 14-foot-deep, spring-fed pond and the activities they sign up for, campers also take time out for lunch -- a meal supplemented with natural fruit juices. According to Mrs. Pettit, "Children don't work to their capacity if they're eatng junk food."

Parents don't need appointments to visit the day camp while their children are there. When they do come, Mrs. Pettit said, they're invited to participate in the clubs along with the campers.

Mrs. White, who is sending her children to Holiday Hill for their fifth year, is pleased with the summer day camp.

"My children are getting exposure to things I never provided at home: foreign languages, fencing, archery, theater, and music," she said.

"The teachers do a really good job about making the campers feel good about themselves," she added. "My children really get the chance to concentrate on what they're interested in."

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