The vaccine is rolling out, and summer is just around the corner — which means you can officially get your darling children out of the house for a glorious eight hours at a time (trust me, they’ll be thrilled too). But with the whole, wild world of summer camps, where should you send your brood? Here are 16 picks around Chicago and the North Shore that are sure to appeal to any future camper.
For the little one:
Little Beans is perfect for the small ones who will surely grow up to while away the hours in their favorite coffee shop. And what better way to start them off than this fun-filled camp for kids between the ages of 3-9? Each week of camp has a fun, unique theme that is incorporated into all of the activities and classes. With imaginative play, sports, art classes, outdoor games and more, your little one will never want to leave the café. Plus, parents: if you forget to pack lunch one day, a healthy meal can be purchased for just $5. That’s the kind of café we never want to leave. Bonus: they do birthday parties and also function as a space for working parents. Pass me a cappuccino, please.
1809 W. Webster St. Chicago IL, 60614
North Shore Montessori Schools are accredited by the American Montessori Society. They pride themselves on providing children with the freedom to move at their own pace and engage in hands-on learning. Their camps are nine weeks long, and are located in Riverwoods and Glenview.
Riverwoods: 3140 Riverwoods Road, Riverwoods, IL 60015
Glenview: 305 Waukegan Road, Northfield, IL 60093
For the budding botanist:
If your little buddy is always digging in the dirt, then the summer camp at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe is just what they need. Surrounded by some of the loveliest landscaped and wild gardens, campers ranging from pre-k to 7th grade will find out just how neat nature can be. Each day, campers will visit a different area of the Garden, conduct a science investigation, do an art project, and prepare their own healthy snack as they learn more about the natural world at the Garden. Plus, you can sign up for a single day or the whole week, depending on your needs. Your kiddo might be a little muddy when they get home, but you can bet this summer camp will help them bloom.
1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, IL 60022
For the techie in training:
For children interested in all things technology, this is the STEM camp for them. Campers learn coding, game development, design and robotics in small groups. At the end of the program, everyone receives an iD Tech diploma and skill certification to add to their portfolio.
633 Clark St, Evanston, IL 60208
For the burgeoning chef:
For the kid who always wants to be in the kitchen (and has maybe already mastered Bisquick pancakes), there’s Oui Chef, the camp I wish I had attended when I was between 5-12 years old. Campers will learn to make both sweet and savory pastries, breads, and more. This is the perfect place to help your child learn and grow in the kitchen…without you having to do any of the dishes when they’re done cooking. It’s a win for all parties involved, especially if they bring home any of the treats at the end of the day.
2622 N. Halsted Street Chicago, IL 60614
For the soon-to-be Jackson Pollock:
For the kid who can never put down the crayons (or, perhaps, has already graduated to pastels), there’s the dream: summer camp at School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Campers between the ages of 4 and 9 will complete exciting, creative projects and visit the Art Institute on a daily basis. Campers will express their inner artiste with a variety of mediums, including drawing, painting, mixed media, fibers, performance, wearables, and animation. Each session has a different project, so students can sign up for multiple weeks. With themes such as Upcycled Artists and World Builders, this will be a summer full of artistic exploration — don’t forget your apron!
36 S. Wabash Ave. Chicago, IL 60603
For the superstar athlete:
For your girl who can’t bear to miss a Bears game, and gets positively bullish about watching the Bulls, there’s Girls in the Game: a summer camp dedicated to making sure girls get fair play in the wide world of sports. Girls will spend the summer not just playing sports and encouraging athleticism, but learning leadership skills and confidence as well. For older kids, there’s Teen Squad, a program that engages high school girls to participate in health, sports and leadership workshops. Teens will start the summer off with training from Girls in the Game and learn how to lead workshops about healthy lifestyle for younger children. Other activities include fitness challenges, skill-building workshops and other fun all-squad activities. This summer’s Teen Squad will be fully virtual due to COVID precautions, so your teen can partake in the skill-building no matter where you spend the summer.
1401 S. Sacramento Dr. Chicago, IL 60623
For the naturalist:
The one who has to stop and stare at every leaf…inspect every bug…can never have too many books about dinosaurs (this was the author, for the record — right down to the collection of cicada shells)…there is summer camp at the Field Museum. Tragically, they cannot accommodate overeager 29-year-olds, but they can offer programming for everyone between pre-k and high school. Young ones can attend dino camp, while older kiddos can engage in more immersive science and natural history experiences. Teens can even be a part of the summer volunteer program at the museum.
1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago, IL 60605
For the avid snorkeler:
Yes, you can go to summer camp at the Shedd Aquarium. Yes, the author is blind with jealousy. Catering to campers K-5, kids will learn about different aquatic animals (like the penguins who famously got to wander around the rest of the aquarium at the start of the pandemic) and various aquatic habitats. Plus, if you have multiple campers sign up for the same session, you get a discount…so it seems like this is the perfect summer for everyone to learn about the wonders of the watery world.
1200 S Lake Shore Drive Chicago, IL 60605
For the future veterinarian:
A “lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” joke might be tired in this instance, but your camper is unlikely to tire of the fantastic zoo camp offerings at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Kids from preK to 8th grade will do hands-on activities, learn about conservation, and, of course, meet the animals. Campers will learn about animal habitats and explore various themes surrounding animals of all stripes, spots, and feathers. By the end of the summer, they might be headed for a career in zoology…or they might just have a well-developed love of the beautiful animals on our beautiful planet.
2001 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614
For the all-around experience:
Discovery Day Camp has been in the business of enriching campers lives since 1984, and this author can personally attest to the wonderfulness of a summer there. For campers ages 4-14, there are all of the classic aspects of summer camp: from daily swims, to arts and crafts, to sports, to lanyards, to a ropes course, to glasses of bug juice at lunch, Discovery has it all. Caring counselors, small troop sizes, and good-old-fashioned fun are in abundant supply at Discovery Day Camp.
241 US HWY 45 Lincolnshire, IL 60061
At NSCDS’s day camp, campers ages 4-12 can participate in age-specific activities such as gymnastics, swimming lessons, archery, outdoor adventures and more. For five days a week, campers are placed in groups with other children their same age and gender along with experienced senior counselors and junior counselors.
310 Green Bay Rd., Winnetka, IL 60093
For rising 1st through 5th graders, the McGaw YMCA’s day camp gives them the opportunity to explore different “camp-tivities” including fishing, drama, crafts, field trips and more. Each week has a different theme to help promote camp spirit. This camp is great for children looking to experience a variety of new activities.
1000 Grove St., Evanston, IL
At Banner Day Camp, campers participate in sports, aquatics, arts, adventure programs and more. Swimming is essential to the camp experience and participants enjoy swimming at least once a day. The non-competitive environment is designed to help children develop social skills and self-esteem in small groups, with one staff member for every three campers.
1177 Riverwoods Road, Lake Forest, IL 60045
The Park District of Highland Park’s Crew Camp is for children in grades 1-8. Some of the activities include Camp Olympics, culi- nary classes and swimming at Rosewood Beach and Hidden Creek Aquapark. Grades 1-2 meet at the Sherwood School and Grades 3-8 meet at the Red Oak School.
Park District of Highland Park, IL 60035
Gorton Community Center offers several camps including Art Camp, Sewing Camp, Acting Camp and more. The week-long ses- sions allow students to learn new artistic and STEM skills, and improve the ones they already have. Best of all, there are options for kindergarten-age children up to age 15 so everyone can participate.
400 E. Illinois Road, Lake Forest, IL 60045
Located in beautiful, quaint Delafield Wisconsin lies St. John’s Northwestern Academies. Our unique in-house summer programs offer something for every child. For high schoolers, Academic Ops will give your child an added edge in the new school year while our Raider School focuses on physical endurance, teamwork, and leader development and will have your child outdoors and enjoying the fresh air electronics-free! Adventure awaits your first to sixth graders who will never want to leave our Lancers Day Camp. All our camps take place in person on 110 acres of sprawling grounds that house facilities such as an Olympic-sized indoor pool, athletic track, and baseball field to name a few. Fully supervised, your child’s health and safety remain our highest priority. Visit us as sjnacademies.org/summer/ or call 262-646-7199 to reserve your spot today and make this summer an unforgettable one for your child.
1101 Genesee Street, Delafield, WI 53018
To browse a list of the best summer camps in the area, check out our 2021 Summer Camp Guide:
How to help:
Many are finding that helping others is an effective way to help combat feelings of powerlessness in the face of COVID-19. Here are some deserving nonprofits, including food pantries, that need your support.
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Jessica Suss is a native Chicagoan residing in Washington, D.C. She is currently getting her master’s degree in secondary English education at the University of Maryland. She enjoys petting other people’s dogs and is faithful to Lou Malnati’s alone. Jessica is also a supporter of MAZON and No Kid Hungry.