Editor’s Picks for Best Schools and Camps
It’s winter, it’s cold, and the kids still have many months left in the school year. But as many parents know, this is the time of year when many families look ahead to summer months and how the kids will spend it. It may seem like it’s far in advance, but since some of the most popular camps fill up quickly, it’s never too early to book a spot. Camps are about more than just providing childcare during the weeks off from school and giving the kids something to do. Day camps of modern times are enriching experiences that expose students to new experiences, hone their talents, or challenge them to go beyond their limits.
In Northern Virginia, there are hundreds of options for summer camp. The variety alone is dizzying: locally, kids can choose from multi-purpose or general camps where they can do a little bit of everything (often with fun themes changing each week) and strengthen their academic skills, or specialty camps focused on activities they love. Among the specialties, children can spend a week, several weeks, or even a couple of months enjoying camps specific to music, dance, drama, visual arts, sports, language arts, gymnastics, horseback riding, outdoor and adventure, martial arts, cooking, or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
For parents, this means the problem is not finding camp options but selecting the very best for their children. To help with this decision-making, we present our Editor’s Picks for Best Schools and Camps. We selected our list based on the reputation of the school or organization, the strength of the programs offered, and the quality of instruction.
Fairfax County Park Authority
Camps for ages 3-15
Multiple locations in Fairfax County
For variety, value, and flexibility, Fairfax County Park Authority is a great choice for camps. With nearly 2,000 offerings through the expansive Fairfax County, parents get plenty of options. At historic sites, schools, recreation centers, nature centers, and more, campers can take camps in STEM topics, team and individual, sports, arts and crafts, dance and performance, nature, boating and aquatics, outdoor adventures, and more. Parents can choose from half-day and full-day camps for weekly and full summer sessions, and some programs offer extended hours.
Loudoun County Parks
Camps for kindergarteners through eighth-graders
Multiple locations in Loudoun County
Loudoun County Parks, Recreation, and Community Services offers a good value for camps, with low fees, extended hours, and varied programs. Weekly activities include science and nature, arts and crafts, sports, group games, music and drama, cooking and more. There are also weekly swimming trips and field trips, plus parties and celebrations.
Camps for ages 5-13
Chantilly and Ashburn, VA
Beantree Learning’s large, beautiful, and modern campuses offer great activities for young children. In 2019, the Ashburn campus will have camps dedicated to sports such as soccer, cooking, STEM programs, and more. The Westfields campus in Chantilly plans to offer a multi-purpose camp with different activities including visits to local parks and water parks plus other field trips.
Loudoun Country Day School
Camps for preschoolers through eighth graders
Loudoun Country Day School (LCDS) is an accredited and award-winning private school for kids in preschool through eighth grade students in Northern Virginia. Its summer programs (available for full-time and half-day) offer 10 weeks of fun and learning through specialty camps as well as theme camps and sports camps.
Camps for kids age 3 months to 5 years
Young children at Reston Montessori enjoy a full-day or half-day program (with extended hours available) that allows plenty of time for free play. Each week, fun themes explore subjects that are educational but highly enjoyable to kids, including animals, earth sciences, space, gardening, and healthy eating.
The Goddard School
Camps for preschoolers through sixth graders
Tysons, Herndon, Chantilly, Ashburn, and other locations, VA
The founding principle of The Goddard School’s curriculum is that children experience the deepest, most genuine learning when they have fun. The school’s summer camp puts this philosophy into action by fostering play-based learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom. Its STEAM (STEM plus art) programs provide hands-on experiences for children from preschool through sixth grade (depending on location).
Camps for children ages 4-14
Falls Church, VA
Congressional School hosts the “Congo Camp” each summer for children through the early teen years on its 40-acre campus. Its diverse programs include day camp, specialty camps, and even travel camps. Children can participate in a multitude of programs including studio art, crafts, swim and water games, outdoor adventures, music, team sports and games, archery, drama, martial arts, cooking, and more.
BASIS Independent McLean
Camps for preschoolers through middle schoolers
Welcome to BASIS Independent McLean’s Summer Program where kids can get messy, play hard, and make friends all summer long. We believe summer is a time for exploration and hands-on fun so our camps and classes are designed to get children involved and making both mental and social connections.
Green Hedges School
Camps for kids ages 3-7
The Montessori-guided Green Hedges School in Vienna provides a child-centered environment where kids feel confident to participate, discover, and grow. Each week young children will discover children’s literature from around the world along with a focus on a theme, be it arts and crafts, science, sports and games, outdoor play, music and drama, or even a Maker Faire. Parents can choose from half-day or full-day camp with options for extended hours in the morning and afternoon.
(703) 356-KIDS (5437)
Brooksfield offers a unique Montessori experience cultivating a love for learning for young children. This philosophy extends to its summer camps (for kids ages 3-5 or 6-10) where they enjoy learning through outdoor play. Campers ages 3-5 enjoy swimming lessons tennis each week along with field trips. Campers ages 6-10 go off-campus for weekly field trips to enjoy activities such as hiking, archery, canoeing, lake swimming, farm visits, nature programs, horseback riding and horsemanship, ra opes courses, indoor rock climbing, and more.
Eastern Ridge School
Camps for toddlers through first-graders
Great Falls, VA
Eastern Ridge makes good use of its “outdoor classroom” with children and teachers being outside most of the day enjoying uninterrupted play, exploration and child-inspired projects. The full-time summer camp program (with extended morning and afternoon hours available) give students the chance to work in the gardens, explore natural habitats, and enjoy singing, storytelling, and art.
Crème de la Crème
Camps for kids ages 5-12
At the state-of-the-art Crème de la Crème, summer camp students enjoy an integrated program with a variety of activities to stimulate learning through fun and recreation. Weekly camp themes can include STEM, animals, drama and puppetry, art, outdoor summer fun, and water and water parks, cooking, and even a “TEAM USA” patriotic session.
Camps for kids age 3-14
With a mission to “experience, explore, and create,” Westminster School’s Camp Griffin taps into children’s curiosity and creativity. Younger campers enjoy enrichment programs in sports, science, technology, art, cooking, and more, while students in fifth through eighth grade get additional experiences through the school’s travel and specialty programs.
Fairfax Christian School
Camps for kids in grades K-12
Fairfax Christian School, now in a new 50,000-square-foot, state–of–the–art campus on 15 acres in Dulles, offers a variety of camps for students of all ages. Its summer camp programs include sports and athletics, academics, adventure, and social skills. It offers its camps in partnership with YMCA of Metropolitan Washington/Fairfax County Reston.
The Langley School
Camps for kids in preschool through middle school
There truly is something for everyone at the Langley School’s Summer Studio, with dozens of classes on a multitude of subjects. With nearly 100 classes, the summer program offers sessions on science, food and cooking, sports and games, visual and performing arts, technology and robotics, design and engineering, travel and the environment, and more.
Camps for kids in kindergarten through eighth grade
Whether exploring the school’s five acres of lush woodland and fields or experimenting in a lab, exploration is limitless at Edlin School. The summer camp’s options include opportunities for these and more, with weekly sessions on nature and exploration, STEM subjects, art and animation, history, sports, and more.
Camps for kids in elementary through high school
This girls-only academy (day and boarding school) provides summer camps for students from kindergarten through high school levels (options vary by camp). Set on 376-acre campus overlooking the Potomac, Madeira has broad summer offerings cover athletics and special interests. Depending on their grade level, students may choose from weekly programs in STEM/STEAM, chess, horseback riding, sewing, Minecraft and other game design, and more.
Camps for kids in (rising) grades 5-12
Cortona Academy seeks to spark imagination through a STEM-heavy summer program of academics and fun. In the morning, students focus on academics, selecting focus areas such as math, algebra, and geometry; reading and writing; PSAT and SAT test preparation; biology, and more. In the afternoons, they can choose from fun educational experiences including culinary 3-D printing, furniture painting and design, wearable electronics and fashion design, knitting and sewing, LEGO robotics, or drama, music, and dance production.
Camps for kids age 10-18
Front Royal, VA
Randolph-Macon Academy (RMA), a renowned boarding and day school in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, has summer programs for tweens and teens. The Middle School day camp (grades 5-8) includes sports, swimming, community service, conservation projects, games, and other activities. Evenings activities include bonfires, movie trips, bowling, mini golf, and more. The overnight camp (grades 6-8) includes activities and trips on the weekends, or returning home on the weekends. The theme for Summer Camps 2019 is Space Exploration & Investigation, with history, science, and reading and writing focused on the topic. A Summer School option (for high school credit) offers more than 20 enrichment courses such as SAT Prep, Creative Writing, and Study Skills. And teens ages 13-18 can enroll in Randolph-Macon’s Flight Camp, with first-class instruction both in the air and on the ground with a Cessna 172.
Children’s Learning Adventure
Camps for preschoolers through elementary-school age
Summer camp at Children’s Learning Adventure involves many STEAM activities to sharpen students’ academic skills in a fun environment. At this large, modern, beautiful campus, campers enjoy cooking classes in a professional kitchen, an art studio, performing arts opportunities, traditional and high-tech games, a television production studio, and amenities such as basketball courts and a bowling alley. There are also field trips each week.
NoVA Play Labs
Camps for children ages 5-14
NoVA PlayLabs offers a well-rounded mix of fun and academics, relaxation and active play. Campers spend their time on STEM projects, reading and writing, nature walks, fitness activities, art, and even cooking classes.
Reston Community Center
Camps for preschoolers through high-schoolers
For children of all ages and all kinds of interests, Reston Community Center provides good choices in its camp offerings. The program offers recreation, adventure, creativity and fun for children from preschool through high school. Campers may enjoy sports, archery, rock climbing, performing arts, visual arts, and more.
Camps for kids in (rising) grades 3 through 9
Multiple locations in Fairfax and Loudoun counties, VA
Fairfax Collegiate offers more than 110 courses at 10 summer locations, for a great variety of programs that are educational and engaging. Students can enroll in programs for art and design, writing and test preparation, science and mathematics, filmmaking and animation, debate and public speaking, or robotics, programming, and engineering. The emphasis of its programs is to offer creative activities that stimulate a love of learning.
SPORTS AND ATHLETICS
Camps for kids ages 5-14
The all-sports camps at The nZone are not just for athletes but for elementary and middle-school students who love to move, play, and stay busy. The camps here also do not focus just on one sport at a time but provide participants the chance to experience all kinds of games. Sports campers enjoy at this indoor large venue can include soccer, kickball, Wiffle ball, dodgeball, capture the flag, flag football, noodle hockey, sharks and minnows and a variety of other fun games.
Camps for kids ages 4-12
Multiple locations in Fairfax and Loudoun counties
(703) 378-1000 (Chantilly)
More than for physical fitness and self-defense, a solid martial arts training provides personal development skills. Highkicks Taekwondo is a leader in our area for martial arts training, with locations in Chantilly, Herndon, Fairfax, South Riding, Sterling, Ashburn, Clifton, and Centreville. Its summer camp is filled with martial arts instruction and sports, plus arts and crafts, games, field trips, and more. The program offers parents flexible hours from early morning to evening, and both full- and half-day options are available all summer long.
Camps for kindergarteners through eighth-graders
Active kids can learn new skills and stay busy all day at Evergreen Sportsplex. Here, kids can test their multi-sport ability, learn a new skill, tap into their artistic side, and explore and learn more about nature. Older kids (ages 8-14) also can enjoy an adventure camp with a ropes course and zip line.
OUTDOOR AND ADVENTURE
Camps for children ages 7-13
Adventure awaits at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park in Clifton for children seeking to make the most of summer in the great outdoors. With several pickup locations throughout Northern Virginia, Adventure Links takes campers Hemlock, where they can enjoy numerous activities in an all-natural environment. Camp activities may include kayaking, navigating a challenge course, enjoying a ropes course and zip line, caving, river tubing, paddling and learning about outdoor living skills.
Mulford Riding Camp
Camps for children ages 6-16
Young horse lovers can bond with their favorite animals over the summer at Mulford Riding School. The program includes horse education, riding instruction, general horsemanship, and how to play games on horseback. Kids learn how to work with the animals and care for them through feeding and grooming. They also learn about horse psychology, horse management, and barn maintenance. During breaks, campers also can enjoy the swimming pool. Extended camp hours are available
Hidden Hills Farm
Camps for children ages 4-15
Riding camp at Hidden Hills Farm provides children introductory and expanded horseback riding skills. Campers receive a daily riding lesson, daily stable management lesson, and enjoy horse-themed arts and crafts and water activities. Full-day camp is available for children ages 6-15, and half-day options exist for kids ages 4-6. Before and after care options are available.
Mount Vernon Community Children’s Theatre (MVCCT)
Camps for children in (rising) first through third grades
MVCCT camps stretch kids’ imaginations, nurture their creative energies, and build skills through dramatic action. Whether they want to be front and center on stage or learn about the behind-the-scenes work on a production, campers get experience putting on a show from start to finish. Participants learn techniques designed to exercise their minds, bodies, voices and imaginations.
Acting for Young People (AYP)
Camps for kids ages 5-18
AYP provides actors of all ages with professional-level training in a supportive and fun environment. The school is affiliated with George Mason University and its faculty is made up of working professionals in the industry, including actors, directors, and teaching artists. At AYP camps, students develop acting skills and build self-confidence while learning about the theater and film industries, all leading up to a final production of their own.
Children’s Science Center
Camps for kids in first through fourth grades
The Lab by the Children’s Science Center at Fair Oaks Mall is a beautiful, modern space where young explorers can discover the wonders of science through exciting, hands-on activities. Campers n first through fourth grades will learn about STEM topic and how they are a part of, and impact, our daily lives. Camps offer fun themes and a new curriculum each summer and sessions for different grade levels.
Camps for children in grades 3-12
Multiple locations in Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties
Northern Virginia Community College’s NOVA SySTEMic camps focus on hands-on, project-based science and technology learning for third- through twelfth-graders (depending on the specific course). The programs enable students to begin exploring STEM fields their educational and workforce opportunities. Courses include robotics, coding app design, cybersecurity, aerospace topics, and more.
STEM and Flower
Camps for kids ages 3-14
STEM and Flower runs STEAM camps that combine science and technology with art.
All projects, experiments, and crafts are hands-on and follow a theme. On the science side, kids will learn about engineering, astronomy, chemistry, and biology, while for the art portion they work on painting, music, theatre, and more.
Camps for kids ages 6-17
Ideaventions offers hands-on, small group, STEM camps that are taught by professional and experienced educators, scientists and engineers. Camps combine lab work, outdoor exploration and computing and robotics around different themes for the youngest students, while those grades 7-9 participate in research academies building or doing experiments each day on advanced topics. High schoolers can take summer courses in language arts, test preparation, and history.
Camps for kids in first through sixth grades
Multiple locations in Fairfax County
Mad Science camps offer a daily combination of in-class discovery and exploration, outdoor games, and physical activities, with hands-on applications of the scientific principles presented.
Using simple, real world science techniques that allow even the youngest of campers to enjoy the learning environment, campers see science in action. Weekly camp topics include robotics, rockets, forensic science, and more.
Camps for kids in kindergarten through sixth grade
Multiple locations in Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties
STEM exCEL supports STEM enrichment programs and summer camps at more than 80 schools across Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William Counties. Its summer camps cover a broad range of topics including 3D printing, programming, electronics, robotics, website design, fashion illustration, game design, comic book illustration, digital art, graphic design, Minecraft modding, and Minecraft chess.
Patricia Lee Hall is a freelance writer and communications consultant who began her journalism career at The Miami Herald. She is the founder of FairfaxFamilyFun.com and lives in Fairfax County. She can be reached at email@example.com.