IMAGE: SUMMER CAMP
Al Behrman  /  AP
Instructor Kollen Hryb helps Loren Littlejohn, 11, take her fingerprints during a Discovery Detectives summer camp class at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.
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updated 7/19/2006 1:03:11 PM ET 2006-07-19T17:03:11

At summer camp, 11-year-old Loren Littlejohn did a lot more than hike and toast marshmallows. She learned to crack codes and figure out how tall a person is from their shoe size.

Littlejohn, who attended Discovery Detectives camp in Dayton, is one of a burgeoning number of youngsters trooping off to specialty summer camps, where they can do everything from analyze fingerprints, swing from trapezes and learn hip-hop dance moves.

“I would really get bored, if I had to be home all the time or do the same things every day,” said Charlie Chen, who was looking forward to a whitewater rafting trip planned at his Adventure Camp, which also offers campers the chance to ride roller coasters, race go-carts and go scuba diving.

The popularity of such camps has flourished in the past several years to meet children’s evolving interests, although traditional camps remain the mainstay of the 18,000 operating in 80 countries.

“I think the idea of camp is changing to reflect our society,” said Rodney Auth, editor of the Camp Business magazine. “Our society is moving pretty fast, and now you can literally find a camp for anything you’re interested in and for any length of time.”

At some themed camps around the country, children create comic books and animated cartoons or try to emulate celebrities by learning to act, sing and dance.

There also are finance camps that give children the chance to learn about the stock market and others that turn them into junior debaters focusing on problem solving and critical-thinking skills.

Inventors get in on action
Camp Invention, created by the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, has grown since its start in 1990 to nearly 900 weeklong day camps for about 50,000 children in 47 states. It has been so successful that it’s become a revenue source for other hall programs.

Campers often create things from old items brought from home.

“It can be as simple as making a lunch tote from a basketball to something more complicated, like creating a robot,” spokeswoman Sherry Paprocki said.

Even more traditional camps are pepping up their activities.

About 75 percent of camp directors were adding new programs such as cave exploring and rock wall climbing, according to a 2001 American Camp Association survey.

Independent Lake Camp in the Pocono Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania maintains traditional water sports and crafts but also offers campers opportunities to role play in sci-fi fantasy games, walk tight ropes and learn how to entertain people as clowns, magicians and jugglers.

Specialty camps have a wide price range, sometimes costing $1,000 or more weekly. Campers pay about $1,500 for the weeklong Pali Overnight Adventures camp in southern California where they can emulate James Bond with ATVs and undercover techniques at Secret Agent Camp or learn how to take falls and choreograph fight scenes at Hollywood Stunt Camp. They also can just relax and be pampered at Pali’s Spa and Well-Being Camp.

$20 billion industry
The length of camps — now a $20 billion industry — is becoming more varied to fit with families’ vacations or other summer plans, with some sessions as short as a few days.

Lenora Littlejohn said she starts looking for summer camps for her daughter, Loren, in February because they fill up quickly. Her daughter also plans to attend camps on computers, science and foreign language this summer, as well as a volleyball camp.

“I can be confident that Loren is secure while she’s having fun and learning,” Littlejohn said.

Camp activities may change, but traditional goals such as teaching leadership and responsibility and just allowing children to have fun remain the same, said camp experts.

“Young people are surrounded by more sophistication now,” said Peg Smith, chief executive officer of the American Camp Association. “But when they get to camp, they just want to be kids.”

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