By Nicole Villalpando
Clara Brady, 8, scampers up the rock face at Reimers Ranch Park in Dripping Springs. Below her, Asha Rountree, 10, belays the ropes under the watchful eye of Adam Mitchell, the head of Rock About Climbing Adventures Camp.
He gives out instructions like “there’s a hole right there,” or “all the way over with your left hand.” He tells the belayer to give more slack or to avoid crossing the ropes.
In North Austin at Fantastic Magic Camp, Alex Friedman teaches a group of about 20 kids a sleight-of-hand trick using a bead and two shoestrings. “Notice what I did,” he says as he teaches them how to “tie” the strings in a way that looks like the bead is attached to them when it’s not really. Then he shows them how to sneakily palm the bead to hide it from an audience.
In Southwest Austin, three different groups of kids are making art inspired by pets at Art Garage. The preschoolers are making airplanes out of paperclips for “Paw Patrol.” The grade-schoolers are making story quilts using geometric designs done in oil pastels, washed by watercolors, based on Faith Ringgold’s work. The middle-schoolers are painting paper they will later cut and paste into Pete Comer-inspired birds. Elsewhere, an older group is exploring the Blanton Museum and visiting an artist’s studio before coming back to the Art Garage to create art.
These are three of the camps held one day last summer in Austin. Whether you’ve got preschoolers or high-schoolers, Austin’s camp scene has something for everyone all summer long. Your challenge: finding the one that your kids want to attend, at the right week, for the right price and in the right part of town.
Higher and higher
Rock About Climbing Adventure Camp is an adventurous kid’s dream. Each day for five days, Mitchell takes kids to a different natural climbing wall. They start out with easier climbs at the Barton Creek greenbelt the first two days, then head to Reimers Ranch Park for two days, then finish the week at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. Each day they climb in the morning, stop for lunch, and then go for a swim in a natural creek or pool. At Enchanted Rock, they also climb through a cave.
It’s a small group, so each kid gets individual attention, and they can climb as many times as they want, Mitchell says. He encourages each kid to at least try a climb once.
Last year, Lizzy Brady, 10, was encouraged to climb, even though she wasn’t as eager as her sisters. “It’s fun,” she says, “but scary. I don’t like to climb. I cried the whole way up.”
Mitchell assures her. “It’s not dangerous,” he says. “You know you have a lot of protection.”
“Yes,” she answers him, then adds, “swimming is a lot of fun.”
A future rock climbing champion she might not become, but she’s encouraged to try this climb.
Safety is always at the forefront. The climbers learn how to communicate with one another and check the ropes before they start to climb. “They’ve got to be responsible for someone else,” Mitchell says. “It’s amazing what that one thing will teach you.”
Because it’s a small group, with only two climbers at a time, Mitchell is there to remind them what to do and make sure they are being safe first.
Mitchell supplies the helmet, the harness and the climbing shoes. The kids just need to bring a lunch, water, a towel and swim gear.
“Oh, this is too cool,” Asha says as she gets to the rock face they’re going to climb that day.
The Brady sisters, who in addition to Clara and Lizzy include older sister Kate, 12, have climbed indoor rock walls but never outside before they tried this camp.
“This is way more fun than other camps,” Kate Brady says. She likes that it’s a small camp as well as that it’s outside and they get to hike and swim.
Quinn Callahan, 10, is excited as he rappels down the rock. “I made it all the way to the top!” he says. “I could have climbed more and more.”
Fantastic Magic Camp attendees gather around the main room as they wait for camp to start. Then comes the announcement: “Today’s the day you’ve been waiting for. You’ve been waiting for it, and you don’t even know it.” This day, an ordinary Thursday in July, will now be known as Judi Day. Why? Because an attendee named Judi is having a birthday, and each year her birthday is forgotten. Judi also has become sort of the camp scapegoat each session, and so to honor her, it will be Judi Day and everyone will be named Judi. (Oh, and the real Judi is totally loving all this attention!)
Make sense? No? Don’t worry. A lot of Fantastic Magic Camp doesn’t make sense unless you’re a camper in it … and then, once you start as a camper, you might not ever leave. Seriously. You might turn into a counselor in training and then a counselor. That’s what happened to Friedman, who, at 19, is a college student at Brandeis University, but he’s been at camp since he was 6. “I’ve always had magic stuff with me,” he says. Anytime people find out he knows magic, they come up to him and ask, “Oh, show me a trick!” he says.
He starts kids off with a few simple tricks as well as teaching them magic terms and bringing more and more difficult tricks to the older kids.
While kids are learning from Friedman in the big room, another set of counselors and counselors in training are teaching juggling. Kids are spinning plates and moving diabolo sticks in the air.
“I really want to learn how to do the swords,” says Gavin McFarlen, 11. He has tried it. “I’m still alive,” he says. “I haven’t been hurt yet.”
In a different room, the youngest kids are making puppets out of paper plates. Each day, it’s a different kind of puppet, and not just making them but giving them names and personalities.
Fantastic Magic Camp has been running for 24 years and tried a variety of classes. No year or day is the same.
“I love that I get to learn new things,” says camper Kat O’Brien, 12, who has been coming for two years.
Fantastic Magic Camp caters to all kinds of kids, including those who might have trouble in traditional social settings or have anxiety, attention deficit disorder or are on the autism spectrum. “I like how accepted everyone is,” says camper Hayden Misenti, 12, who has been at camp since age 7. “There’s all different kinds of people.”
Hayden also likes the performance academy that happens at the end of each session. “It allows people to show off,” Hayden says.
Director Peter Hinrichs, who goes by the stage name Peter the Adequate, says parents will tell him all the time that “my son or daughter found their people” at camp.
Wild about art
At the Art Garage each week, art takes on a different theme. On this particular week it’s all about pets, tied to the movie “The Secret Life of Pets.” Each group, no matter how young, is making art based on the masterpieces of artists who came before them. The kids study the works of the masters as well as contemporary artists with each project.
In the youngest group, each table of four kids is named after a different artist. The instructor calls for the Monet table or the Van Gogh table as they take turns flying their Da Vinci planes.
Each group makes art in a variety of media, from paper sculpture to clay to paintings to collage to sewing. Some days they work on a couple of little projects; other days they might be working on one big project or take the next step on a project they’ve already started.
“I love animals, and I love art, and then putting them together is awesome!” says Erin Shick, 11.
While each work is based on a famous artist, the kids make it their own by drawing or painting what they love: “Minecraft,” their own pets, “Pokemon,” San Francisco.
Aubry Morrison, 7, is painting a story quilt that includes her favorite colors and her pet cat, Charlie. “I like painting and drawing,” she says. “I love all the art.”
Five-year-old Izzy Mattis is enthusiastic about camp. “There’s lot to do,” she says. “We wish we could never go home.”
ROCK ABOUT CLIMBING ADVENTURES CAMP
What: Learn to rock climb at outdoor climbing areas.
Where: Meets at Seismic Wall Barton Creek greenbelt, 3755 S. Capital of Texas Highway
Who: Ages 9 and older
When: 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., except on Fridays when it is 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. One-week camps June 5-Aug. 4.
Information: (512) 415-0804 , rock-about.com
FANTASTIC MAGIC CAMP
What: Learn magic, juggling, puppeteering and more.
Where: 7500 Woodrow Ave.
Who: Ages 5-12
When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with extended time from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Two-week camps June 12-Aug. 18; one-week camp June 5-9.
Cost: $590 for two-week camps, $295 for one-week camp
Information: 512-988-3045, magiccamp.com
ART GARAGE CAMPS
What: Half-day art camps with themes like galaxy, sharks, rainbows, “Pokemon,” Disney, monsters, dragons, animals, horses, comics and France
Where: 11190 Circle Drive, Suite 202
Who: Ages 4-13; camps are divided by age group.
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with an early and aftercare option. One-week camps June 5-Aug. 18.
What: It’s a traveling art class. Visit the Blanton Museum, Contemporary Austin downtown or Laguna Gloria, plus art studios and public works, and learn techniques like wheel pottery throwing, metalsmithing and bookbinding.
Who: Sixth- to 10th-graders
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. One-week camps June 12-July 28.
Information: 512-852-9900, theartgarageaustin.com