Hello Muddah ...

Published April 6, 2007

This summer, forget the video games and endless reruns of Growing Pains. For Hillsborough County children who are aren't attending summer school or away on family vacations, there's plenty to do. Amusement parks, zoos, schools and fitness centers are all offering summer camp classes that make you think, move, jump and climb. You can act in a play, sing in a band, take professional photographs or design a Web site. You can learn how to babysit or how to play chess, become a master (of sorts) in calligraphy and origami. The offerings are endless.

At Carrollwood's Independent Day School alone, students can sign up for more than 60 summer camp activities such as needlepoint and knitting, canoeing and snorkeling.

"It's a great way for children to try out something new," said Barbara Soule, the private school's camp director, who last year oversaw more than 650 children. "They get to meet new people, have fun in a safe environment, get out of the house and away from the TV, get exercise and brush up on their academics."

With a delayed school year lengthening the summer by about two weeks, cash-strapped parents will be looking for bargains.

Think county and city - and don't wait too long.

While the city of Tampa's parks department has ended registration for its 11-week summer program, there still are spots in many city programs that focus on arts and athletics. Children can paint on silk screen in an art studio, learn glass flameworking and bead making; tumble in gymnastics classes and compete in basketball camps.

"It's very affordable," said Linda Carlo, a spokeswoman for the city of Tampa Parks and Recreation Department. "And we offer a lot of versatility to meet whatever your child's interests are."

Similarly, the Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation and Conservation department operates programs in Brandon, Northdale and elsewhere for the unusually low price of $50 per child for the summer

But getting into the county's summer camps takes a little luck. The spaces not already reserved for kids who attend the county's after-school program will be awarded by lottery later this month. For the lucky ones who get in, a summer of arts and crafts programs, swimming lessons and field trips to theme parks and sporting events awaits.

For moderately priced fun, visit your nearest YMCA, which offers camps from about $115 to $175 a week, depending on the program and the type of membership.

Skewing a bit pricier are dozens of specialty camps.

The Museum of Science and Industry, for example, offers three weeklong residential academies for teenagers, costing just over $1,000 for the week. These offer high-intensity curriculum taught through field trips, outdoor activities and special events. The teens sleep in dorms and are taught by professional instructors. Choose from MOSI Game Academy, a video game design program; MOSI Movie Academy, where kids experience professional filmmaking; and MOSI Design Academy, which introduces students to the designer and robotic experts who build ultimate roller-coasters.

For many more options, consult our camp report on Page 14. Please note that this is not intended as a comprehensive guide, just a sampling of places where your child can pass the summer.

Staff writers Jessica Brady and Helen Anne Travis contributed to this report. Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at nguyen@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5312.