AT Cent$ible Kid$ money-management camp, the campers build portfolios, not campfires. There are basketball courts and a pool at the summer camp, which is run by the Sellinger School of Business at Baltimore's Loyola College. But like Loyola's year-round MBA students, the teenagers study banking, finance, and economics.
``Kids are very entrepreneurial. They want to know how to make money and what to do with it,'' says camp director Gail Yumkas, an assistant dean at the Sellinger School. Now in its sixth season, the camp teaches kids how to balance a checkbook, buy auto insurance, and start a business. ``They even visit a local fast-food franchise - Subway - and learn how it operates by working behind the counter,'' Ms. Yumkas says. But because this is camp, they wear shorts and T-shirts instead of suits.
Cent$ible Kid$ is one of more than 1,500 special-interest summer camps in the United States, says Jeff Solomon, executive director of the National Camp Association, a residential summer camp referral service in New York. Travel and weight loss camps are popular, as well as those that offer environmental studies or wilderness programs, he adds.
But general summer camps that offer sports and arts activities are still thriving, drawing about 80 percent of the nation's estimated 5.3 million summer campers, Mr. Solomon says.
``You hear a lot about the growth in specialty camps, but over the past 10 years, parents and kids still ask for general exposure/general interest camps 2-to-1,'' says Barbara Davis, New England public services director at the American Camping Association. But to stay competitive, many camps are adding specialties to already-existing programs, with marine biology, video technology, community service, and academics among those most often requested, she says.
``What we are seeing is a re-shaping of traditional summer camps ... where what was once considered specialty is now mainstream,'' Solomon says. He points to the large number of now-defunct computer camps that sprung up in the '80s. ``Kids did not want to spend the entire day at the computer,'' he says. But many general camps saw that there was an interest and added ``computer cabins,'' he notes.
The Computer-Ed High Tech Camp in Newton, Mass., has survived for 12 years by offering computer and sports programs. A camper can study desktop publishing, build a PC, or create computer art or music in a two-hour period, then play softball or make a clay tray in the next. Six-hundred kids ages 8 to 17 will attend this year, including many from overseas, says camp coordinator JoAnne Knowles.
Both general and specialty camps are reporting an increase in international campers, with Japanese, South Americans, and Europeans requesting English as a Second Language programs. The Pine Tree Camp, founded 15 years ago as a traditional Boca Raton, Fla., day camp, is now a summer language camp with branches in New York and Dublin, says executive director Helen Ross, who developed language programs in response to requests from southern Florida's growing Latin American population. Today, the camp offers English, Spanish, French, Russian, Japanese, and German. But there is also windsurfing, archery, volleyball, soccer, and multilingual cheerleading.
Robin Farr, executive secretary at the YMCA of Greater New York summer camp in the Catskills, administers programs for racially and culturally diverse campers from New York City and Long Island. The campers reflect New York's changing population, she says.
The camps are open all summer, says Solomon, but more kids are attending two-week and one-month sessions. An eight-week residential camp can cost up to $5,000 - a price many parents can't afford, she says. And many parents want to spend at least some of the summer with their kids.
The Computer-Ed High Tech Camp offers two weeks at $1,085 for residential camp and $525 for day camp. Cent$ible Kid$ charges $495 for a five-day residential program. The Greater New York YMCA camps average about $295 a week.
The average stay in a private camp is now four weeks, which might make a specialty camp attractive to some, offering a less-intense introduction to a new subject, while still allowing time for other activities, Ms. Davis says.
With flexible pricing and scheduling, some campers can mix and match. Benjamin Koff, 18, of Baltimore, attended Cent$ible Kid$ three years ago ``because my parents thought it would be interesting, and I thought I'd give it a try.'' He then went to Blue Star in Hendersonville, N.C., a residential general-interest camp he attended for nine years. He says he learned from both experiences. ``I'm used to being away from home,'' he says. And thanks to money-management camp, he was a step ahead when he bought car insurance for the first time this year.