Active Kids Guide

Whatever your kids are into, there's a camp or program to inspire them

The options for enrichment here in the Twin Cities are a boon for both parents and children. Matching activities to a child’s developing interests can help him or her refine an emerging strength, coax out a latent skill, or maybe even spark a passion that lasts a lifetime and even becomes a career. It can be the difference between “It was okay . . .” and “It was so cool!” But how do you decide which classes and camps are the best fit for your child? We asked experts from across the metro area for tips on choosing the right programs and activities.

Cultural Creatives

Is your child curious about other countries around the world? Does she like hearing and telling stories? How about eating adventurously? If so, he or she might enjoy a camp focused on language and culture. At Concordia Language Village, kids choose from among 15 different cultures including French, Japanese, Chinese, German, and others. Kids learn the native language while eating authentic foods and engaging in activities inspired by native cultures including art projects, music, and skits.

“Language village sort of transports you to a new place,” says Vanessa Hughes, assistant director of marketing for Concordia Villages, which is based in Moorhead but offers camps in Bemidji and elsewhere throughout the state, including the metro. Some campers want to learn more about their own family’s heritage. High school kids may be able to earn language credits.

Attending a language camp is “kind of like the experience you get when you’ve gone abroad and you come home,” Hughes says. “You have that extra perspective. You just look at the world differently.”

And when the camp is over, you can help your child sustain those feelings by attending cultural events, movies, and restaurants, Hughes says. “You’ll see their interests broaden; they become more outgoing, and they’re more apt to try new things.”

Where To Discover Culture

Concordia Language Villages

The most extensive language and cultural immersion program in the United States. Ages 2–18, several locations, 800-222-4750, concordialanguagevillages.org

The International School of Minnesota

Culture-based summer programs on 55 acres. Ages 3-1/2 to sixth grade, Eden Prairie, 912-918-1828, ism-sabis.net

Minnesota History Center

Events, exhibits, and outreach celebrating Minnesota history and diversity including the Global Hotdish Variety Show. St. Paul, 651-259-3000, minnesotahistorycenter.org

Athletes & Sports Nuts

Sometimes it’s pretty easy to know if your child will enjoy a sports camp or class; the kid wearing the baseball glove and huge grin usually enjoys learning new skills, getting tips, and plenty of play time.

Other kids may come in with little or no experience. With a camp or class, newcomers can try the sport without the expense or commitment of signing up for a full league, says Eric Johnson, founder and lead instructor at Impact Hockey, which offers hockey training for players of all ages.

“[A camp] can be a nice time to try something, to determine if a kid really likes the sport,” says Johnson. An added benefit to the let’s-just-try-it approach: “You could borrow some equipment and not have to buy all of it.” Some camps and classes help kids focus on sharpening particular skills for use later in league games, he says. As their skills improve, kids in the programs build confidence and discipline. “They get the knowledge that if they work at something they can improve at it,” Johnson says. “Hopefully that translates into the regular season.”

Where To Play Sports

Impact Hockey

Summer training for metro-area players. Kindergarten and up, Minnetonka and Monticello, 952-545-7825, impacthockey.net

Footholde Soccer Camps

The largest soccer program in the Twin Cities, with camps and leagues all year long. Ages 4–18, several locations, 612-578-1919, footholde.com

Gleason’s Gymnastics School

Gymnastics, trampoline, and tumbling for boys and girls, plus camps, private lessons, open gyms, and birthday parties. Ages 2 and up, Eagan and Maple Grove, 651-454-6203, gleasons.com

Scientists & Inventors

Science camps turn science, technology, engineering, and math into kid-friendly activities, says Michael Wilcox, program manager for Lifelong Learning Programs at the Science Museum of Minnesota. “We approach kids using art, literature, drama, imagination, sports, and nature,” Wilcox says. The programming appeals to lots of children, but kids who get the most out of science camps tend to be curious and inquisitive, he says.

To find out if that’s your kid, “See what they’re doing at home if you just kind of let them loose,” says Wilcox. Does your child like to explore, ask questions, try new things, experiment, and tinker? Does she beg to take apart your old cell phone? “We have one camp where kids take apart toys . . . and recombine them into these cool Frankenstein toys,” he says. Does your child spend hours in front of the computer? “Instead of seeing that as a negative, we channel that into something positive.” There’s a camp that’s great for kids who like to build things from Legos; another is for kids who like to hang out in the kitchen.

Afterwards, you can keep your budding scientist engaged with books, technology, a supply of odds and ends for tinkering, and outings to science-based museums and even entering science competitions.

Where To Explore Science And Math

Science Museum of Minnesota

Camp-ins, on-site summer camps, and learning sessions. Ages 3 and up, St. Paul, 651-221-4511, smm.org

The Bakken Museum

Inventor’s Club, Summer Science Day Camp, LEGO Robotics, and other programs. Ages 7 and up, Minneapolis, 612-926-3878, thebakken.org

Computer Explorers

Project-based classes on rocketeering, robotics, programming, video game design, and other subjects. Ages preschool and up. St. Paul, 651-730-9910, computerexplorers.com

Theater Lovers

Performing arts programs are great for kids who are natural entertainers, extroverted, and dramatic. But even kids who may be less outgoing often enjoy them and learn a lot about being part of a group, too, says Debra Baron, theater arts training director at the Children’s Theatre Company.

“We have very shy kids come to us, and we have kids who are just itching to perform,” she says. “Kids who do well here are really open to the idea of working collaboratively, and they are creative kids who are ready to have fun with their imaginations.”

Participants in Children’s Theatre programs start with a children’s story. They discuss its dramatic possibilities as a group, pursue their ideas, and wind up staging their own unique play. “They hear the story, and the story either gets enlarged by them and they add characters, or the story gives them an idea that takes them in a different direction,” Baron says. “We utilize their natural instincts to play in a performance-art way.” Those who aren’t interested in performing can have fun with set design and other aspects of a production, she says. Along the way, kids develop specific theater skills, as well as “collaboration, problem solving, active listening, and making decisions within the context of a group.”

Where To Experience Theater

Stepping Stone Theatre Company

School-year classes, summer camps, and in-school performances. Ages 3-1/2 and up, St. Paul, 651-225-9265, steppingstonetheatre.org

Children’s Theatre Company

Multiple programs on site and in schools and communities. Preschool and up, Minneapolis (with satellites in St. Louis Park and Chaska), 612-879-5685, childrenstheatre.org

The Guthrie Theater

Year-round and summer camps on various aspects of performance, from Shakespeare to slapstick. Ages 7 and up, Minneapolis, 612-225-6237, guthrietheater.org

Nature Enthusiasts

Nature camps help children understand the world of plants and animals and how they fit into it, says Judy Hohmann, marketing and communications manager at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska. “Many kids, unless they live in a farm-type setting, don’t understand the nature of plants,” she says. “When they go to the grocery store and see a carrot, they don’t know exactly how it gets there.”

At the Arboretum, kids learn how carrots get from the ground to the store to the plate, and much more. Participants sow seeds and then nurture, water, and weed the growing plants, which they can take home for transplanting. “We’re giving them a dose of what we call ‘Vitamin N,’” she says.

It’s part of a growing national movement to help today’s kids step away from their screens and become familiar with and comfortable in nature. “It’s science learning, but we try and keep it more unstructured, informal and fun.” And you can extend the experience afterward with a backyard garden, as well as family outings to the Arboretum and other outdoor places.

Where To Explore Nature

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Day camps, family weekends, and a kid’s garden. Chaska, 952-443-1422, arboretum.umn.edu

Minnesota Zoo

Year-round programs include teen conservation and family learning. Apple Valley, 952-431-9200, mnzoo.com

YMCA Twin Cities

Day, overnight, and family camp, plus teen wilderness training. Many locations, 612-230-9622, ymcatwincities.org

Three Rivers Park District

Family days, nature programming, and geocaching on 27,000 acres. Western suburbs, threeriversparks.org

Artists & Dreamers

Art programs are fun for future Picassos and kids who love finger painting. But, even kids who aren’t into paint or clay can enjoy other aspects of the experience. At the Walker Art Center, they’re divided into makers, dreamers, and explorers, says Christina Alderman, program manager for families at the Walker Art Center. “Makers are the kids who want to get their hands dirty and do stuff,” she says.” They’re more concerned about the process, and what they’re experiencing in a tactile way, than they are about learning names or how to look closely.”

Dreamers use ideas as a jumping-off point to let their imaginations loose and see where they go. Explorers like to solve and find things. Give them a clue, such as a fragment of a picture that’s hanging somewhere in the gallery, and they relish the challenge of tracking it down, Alderman says.

Art programs help develop a variety of strengths, from fine-motor skills to creative abilities to problem-solving. Participants also learn to feel at home in an art museum. Rather than being intimidated or bored, Alderman says, kids find that museums are great places to learn, hang out, and appreciate the work of others (and their own).

Where To Discover Art

Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Summer and school-year programs in printmaking, painting, design, fashion, and other mediums, with visiting artists. Ages 5 and up, Minneapolis, 612-874-3700, mcad.edu

Walker Art Center

Family events in art (including Arty Pants Tuesday Playdates) and teen workshops in graffiti, film, and other mediums. Minneapolis, 612-375-7600. walkerart.org


Art shop and open studio space, plus classes and parties. Ages 2–10, St. Louis Park, 952-926-7871, kiddywampus.com

Performers & Innovators

Some children (and many children’s programs) just don’t fit into tidy categories. For example, what if your kid says, “I’m really into being a circus performer?” No problem. “If you’re looking for something different, Circus Juventas is going to fit the bill,” says founder and executive director Dan Butler.

At Circus Juventas in St. Paul, kids learn to walk a tightrope, swing on a trapeze, ride a unicycle, juggle, and other skills, taught by coaches from all over the world who have worked in real circuses such as Ringling Bros. and Cirque du Soleil. At the end of each session, whether a week-long summer camp or a weekly class during the school year, participants show off their new skills with a public performance.

To the uninitiated, circus skills may sound scary. But children of every ability level are capable of developing them in a safe environment, Butler says. Kids of all different sizes have important roles. Participants gradually acquire competence, not to mention some pretty impressive bragging rights. “We have kids come in who are clumsy and uncoordinated; there wasn’t anything else out there for them,” he says. “That’s our specialty. We take kids who aren’t gifted, and they become gifted.”

And, unlike many organized sports, boys and girls at Circus Juventas learn side by side. Together, they develop hand-eye coordination, teamwork, and self-confidence. “They learn that if they work hard on something, they can do it,” Butler says. And that’s a lesson kids can apply to just about any future endeavor, he says. “If kids have self-confidence, they can do anything.”

Where To Find The Unusual

Circus Juventas

Dedicated to inspiring artistry and self-confidence through “a multi-cultural circus arts experience.” Ages 2 and up, St. Paul, 651-699-8229, circusjuventas.org

Leonardo’s Basement

Everything from free-build junk sculpture to an entire week of Star Wars-themed build-and-play camps. Ages 6 and up, Minneapolis and St. Paul, 612-824-4394, leonardosbasement.com

Creative Kidstuff

Regular toddler play, plus weekend art and build projects, including summer bike-decorating events. Ages 1–8, six metro locations, 612-876-3980

Keeping Kids Healthy

The Twin Cities is home to a variety of world-class hospitals, specialty clinics, and other healthcare facilities for children.

Children’s Hospitals and Clinics

An independent, not-for-profit children’s health-care system with six metro-area locations, including St. Paul, 651-220-6000, childrensmn.org

Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare

Headquarters in St. Paul, with clinics in six other locations, including Duluth and Brainerd, 800-719-4040, gillettechildrens.org

Mayo Clinic’s Eugenio Litta Children’s Hospital and T. Denny Sanford Pediatric Center

General and specialty pediatric care, plus neonatal intensive care and pediatric intensive care in Rochester, 507-284-2511, 507-255-5123, mayoclinic.org/pediatrics-rst

Children’s Heart Clinic

Cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons specializing in infants and children in Minneapolis and St. Paul, plus nine other locations, 612-813-8800, 651-220-8800, childrensheartclinic.org

Shriners Hospital for Children, Twin Cities

The Twin Cities location of the International Shriners Hospitals for Children, with specialties in pediatric orthopaedics and burn injuries, 612-596-6100, shrinershospitalsforchildren.org

Courage Center, Child and Teen Therapy

Four pediatric specialty locations in the metro for kids and teens with disabilities, 888-846-8253, couragecenter.org

Where To Find Special Needs Programs

Summer camps and year-round enrichment programs for kids with all kinds of needs exist in the Twin Cities. Consider St. David’s Center (stdavids.net) in Minnetonka, where inclusion is the philosophy. Students learn in integrated early-childhood programs and classrooms and on the state’s first toddler-specific playground that integrates nature.

The Courage Center (couragecenter.org) offers vocational services for teens with disabilities to help them identify career-related strengths and interests, as well as a college preview camp.

For more information on camps and activities for children with special needs, contact the Minnesota Children and Youth with Special Health Needs office at 800-728-5420, or health.mcyshn@state.mn.us.