When schools closed last Thursday due to all the wildfires, a whole lotta parents grabbed their kids and headed for the beach—my daughter and I among them.

As one mom in our gaggle packed up her sand-covered crew while seeking a missing flip flop, she sighed in exasperation. "School better not be closed tomorrow," she said. "I am not ready. I need to save up all my patience before summer." 

"Tis is the season of parental existential crisis. We wish desperately for an end to the school year (is there a person among us who hasn't started blowing off classroom obligations? Do you even care about that unit on crayfish?). And yet, we also hold the looming dread of the coming school-free months, when the words "I'm bored" make the most compassionate person want to take a giant cleaver, à la Game of Thrones, to a hand that should be playing with Legos rather than picking a nose. 

The planners among us have lined up a plethora of camps for our babes. But many of you are still designing the Spirograph Venn diagrams of summer, trying to maximize your dollars while splicing together travel and dentist appointments. For all you lollygaggers, here are a few camp ideas:

Topping my kid's Favorite Camps list is the program offered at the Elementary Institute of Science. Teacher Tom Watts started EIS in 1964 with a handful of curious kids and "an old 40-gallon aquarium that had been home to a couple of snakes." The hands-on program grew, and with the backing of the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation and The Kresge Foundation, among others, EIS now has a state-of-the-art building at the corner of Euclid and Market streets. Instructors are all young academics whose excitement for science is contagious. EIS offers summer camps, but also weekend and after-school enrichment programs, for kids age 7 to 17. Though the program is open to children of all backgrounds, there's an unapologetic effort to make it accessible to those who might not otherwise have such opportunities. At $75 a week (that's not a typo), EIS is the best bargain in town.

Don't fret if EIS is full. SDSU is launching Aztec Science Camp for Kids this summer with three concurrent weekly sessions for kids age 6 to 11. Conceived and developed by SDSU professors, here kids will engage in scientific discovery while hanging out on a university campus, which makes them smarter by osmosis. See? Science! The cost is $275 per week, with a discount for siblings. 

Maybe art is more your child's thing. If so, there are several great opportunities for them to get all Jackson Pollack on something other than your living-room walls. Beginning July 7 and running through Aug. 15, the San Diego Art Department on Ray Street in North Park is offering Summer Art Camps, both full-day and half-day, for kids age 6 to 17. Art materials are provided, but don't be surprised if your little Monet comes home looking like she walked straight out of 1982. Stop-motion animation and spoken-word poetry are among the options for the older set. This one will run you between $150 and $260 per week. Ask about scholarships or stipends if you're feeling pinched.

If your kid likes to sing until your ears bleed, $200 will get her out of the house and directly to Camp Glee Club in Chula Vista. There are only two one-week sessions offered this summer, with workshops led by Disney singers and choreographers. That sound you just heard? It was every Frozen fan passing out with delirium.

Another hit for the creative shorties is the Summer Youth Media & Tech Camp offered at Digital Gym Cinema. Founder and genius Ethan van Thillo has hit it out of the park with this place. Camps run all summer, and kids from 7 to 14 collaborate and see an idea from storyboard to movie. Oh, what they can do with a green screen! Kids learn to use cameras, iMovie, iStopMotion and Garage Band. The cost is $245 a week, unless you're a member, which you should be. Then it's less. But it's worth so much more.

If you have a girly girl who prefers a more intimate setting, check out Kamp Kids Kreations. Owner Joanne Shaddinger provides popular art activities to schools throughout San Diego, but in the summer, she opens the doors of her North Park home. These are only half-day camps at $160 per week, but kids will dig in the garden, make their own dolls and spend a week cooking foods from around the globe, with a lot of personal attention from Ms. Joanne.  

Kids who need to get their yayas out, as we say in our home, should turn their gaze toward Roots & Wings Global Arts Camp at the Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park. In its fourth year, this camp is for kids age 5 to 15 and focuses on dance and music from around the world. This full-day camp costs $200 a week, with scholarships and sibling discounts.

Finally, UCSD offers the incomparable Knock Around Camp. It's currently full, and there is a waitlist, but I'm including it here so that it's on your radar for future needs (they have Thanksgiving, winter and spring-break camps, too). Yes, it's a drive to campus, but at $180 per week and running as it does from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, it's great for working parents. Also, they employ the best counselors in the city, who'll wear your kids out. They'll fall asleep in the car on the way home. 

And when they're sleeping, they can't complain about being (insert "b" word here).

Email Aaryn Belfer. Aaryn blogs at aarynbelfer.com and you can follow her on Twitter @aarynb.


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