7 summer camps for kids who want to make a difference
Whether your kid is into craftsor critters, there’s a campwhere they can give back
By Micah Toub
Summer camp has always been about making friends, enjoying the outdoors and learning new skills, like pranking neighbouring cabins or properly roasting a marshmallow before it falls into the fire.
But this spring, as you search for the perfect sun-dappled spot for your kids, maybe it’s time to look for something more—like a fun-filled experience that also nurtures a budding sense of altruism. If you want to send your offspring away this summer and have them return with a new worldview that includes a desire to make a difference in their communities, here’s a handful of camps that will give them that, and more.
This summer camp (run by ME to WE, Craig and Marc Kielburger’s global non-profit devoted to community service), provides kids and teens with an education in social issues and opportunities to give back. But rather than just more talk about doing good, campers are encouraged to go a step further by spending a day volunteering, as well as coming up with an action plan for creating positive change back in their own communities. (Also included: the usual camp fun stuff, like making tie-dye T-shirts and singing songs around a campfire).
Where: Bethany, Ontario
Age range: 9-18
Good to know: Discounts are available for sibling registrations, as well as those staying more than one week.
Featuring a wind turbine, the latest in solar systems and even a greenhouse made from straw bales, this camp located on 186 acres off the shore of Clear Lake is the perfect place to inspire future environmental activists to look after each other’s backyards. Founded in 1921, Camp Kawartha has decades of experience proving that sustainability isn’t boring—campers race model solar cars and get to cook food on a parabolic oven that looks like it’s straight out of a sci-fi movie.
Where: Duoro-Dummer, Ontario
Age range: 5-17
Good to know: The camp’s goal is “to create a supportive community which recognizes and values every child” and to that end has a capacity of 125 campers for each session.
TIFF Summer Camps
A penetrating documentary or provocative drama have the power to touch hearts and change minds—and for creative kids with an appreciation for film, it’s never too early to learn the skills of the trade at TIFF’s fun and collaborative camps. As they work on their own creations, future changemakers are exposed to a range of formats and possibilities, from silent film and stop-motion animation to moving images captured with 360-virtual reality.
Where: Toronto, Ontario
Age range: 8-17
Good to know: This is a day camp. Programming ends at 4 p.m., but after-care is available until 5 p.m.
Debate Camp Canada
While a lot of camps may promise to teach kids skills in diplomacy, this one for future global changemakers takes it seriously. Offering both day and overnight camps across the country, Debate Camp Canada gives kids the skills to brainstorm ideas and effectively communicate them. Programming includes Model United Nations activities, which in the past have challenged campers to solve hypothetical world health crises or respond to markets collapsing and cybercrime.
Where: Available in eight cities across Canada
Age range: Grade 5-11
Good to know: Campers are divided by ability rather than age and can move between groups as necessary.
Camp Fur, Fins and Feathers
Through the months of July and August, the Calgary Humane Society offers campers close encounters with bunnies, reptiles, birds—and yes, cats and dogs. While it’s a lot of fun for young pet lovers, the camp’s underlying purpose is also to instill emotional literacy and compassion for all living beings—an appreciation they can take back to their classmates at the end of summer (and hopefully even to their siblings). Older campers may also take part in helping shelter animals socialize and creating media campaigns encouraging adoption. (Many local Humane Societies offer similar camp opportunities, so check with the one in your community to see what’s available.)
Where: Calgary, Alberta
Age range: Grade 1-9
Good to know: This day camp’s programming runs from 9 a.m.-4 p.m., but kids may be dropped off at 8:30 a.m. and picked up at 5 p.m.
As most initiatives for queer and trans youth are located in urban settings, this camp’s forested island setting is a great opportunity for LGBTQIA2S+ to have a fun outdoorsy experience that is safe and inclusive. Run over four days in July and affiliated with the University of British Columbia’s Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice, CampOUT’s community-building and self-esteem boosting exercises are equally matched by arts and crafts, games, yoga and dance. On the last day, before heading home, the group discusses how to use their new tools to be agents of change back home.
Where: Gambier Island, British Columbia
Age range: 14-21
Good to know: While LGBTQIA2S+ campers are prioritized, CampOUT welcomes allied campers regardless of their orientation.
Tundra Science and Culture Camp
For over two decades, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has hosted a small group of campers at a research station on Daring Lake—one short plane flight from Yellowknife. The teens who embark on this adventure are richly rewarded, gaining hands-on experience with environmental monitoring and even contributing to actual scientific studies. They gain a holistic picture of the interconnectedness of plant and animal life from both the researchers who work on site, and Tlicho elders who guide campers in learning about the land from an indigenous perspective.
Where: Daring Lake, Northwest Territories
Age range: High-school students
Good to know: Students must apply to participate, including a recommendation from a school liaison.