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Summer camps for kids are filling up fast!

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image Kids are kept busy playing kickball at the Ruskin Recreation Center. PENNY FLETCHER PHOTO

The most economical bang for your buck may be the county’s park’s system

By Penny Fletcher

SOUTH COUNTY- Students looking forward to summer vacation June 8 have wide options for how they spend their time, although just about everything comes with a price.

The most economical bang for your buck may be the county’s park’s system but spots in those areas are filling up fast after a huge registration Saturday May 5.

For example, for the first time, Gardenville and Ruskin recreation centers are offering both traditional day camps and specialty nature camps this year for children from 5-15, said regional recreation supervisor Dave Ramirez.

Daily and weekly activities in the traditional program will include field trips, arts and crafts, educational programs, indoor and outdoor activities, sports, games and learning about fitness, animals and nature.

South County’s chief specialty camp is the E.G. Simmons Fishing Camp, held at the park, 2401 19th Avenue N.W., Ruskin. It will offer boys and girls from 9 to 15 canoeing, camping, fishing and swimming and end the season with a deep sea fishing trip. 

The real good news is that even after hundreds attended the registration held at All Children’s Life Center in Tampa May 5, there are still many spaces open for kids in South County.

Gardenville Recreation Center in Gibsonton has 110 spaces still open. Ruskin has 127; Brandon has 35 spaces left for the first session and many for later sessions, while the nature camps at E.G., Simmons Park still had 40 spaces left as of May 7, said Robin Robbins, who is in charge of the registration count.  

Another special opportunity will be held at the Bakas Equestrian Center, 11510 Whisper Lake Trail in Tampa. Children 5 to 17 can learn to ride and care for horses and enjoy other activities such as swimming as well.

These programs cost from $76 a week for traditional park’s day camps to $250 a week at the Bakas center, but there are income-based discounts available.

To find out more about these county programs, download registration forms for slots still open or check on costs, visit http://www.hillsboroughcounty.org/summercamps.

Other special opportunities are open to those willing to drive to Brandon or Tampa, including a robotics camp that was held last year at the South Shore campus of Hillsborough Community College. According to Brian England, lifelong learning coordinator for HCC’s outreach programs, this year that camp will be held at several locations (not South Shore) including Brandon. More can be found out about these by calling England at (813) 259-6528 or emailing him at bengland@hccfl.edu.

Kids College at HCC is a summer program for girls and boys between the ages of 7 and 12, England said. “Its goal is to develop and expand students’ interests, stimulate creativity and provide life skills for success in a unique learning opportunity while having fun.”

The HCC camps will be held Monday through Friday, excluding Wednesday, July Fourth, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. between June 11 and July 30.

Meanwhile, if cultural studies intrigue you, there are special photography programs at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, 400 N. Ashley Drive. Information about these programs is available by calling (813) 221-2222 or emailing info@fmopa.org.

“The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts offers children and youth an opportunity to explore life through the lens of a camera,” said spokeswoman Joyce Zezola. “The museum’s children’s outreach program, Literacy through Photography, is dedicated to the value that children’s education through photography is important and can influence them in a positive way. We feel it is necessary that every child has access to creative outlets and also believe that these creative outlets can enhance their character, develop their academic and sensory skills and offer them a greater potential to succeed.”

The museum has some programs that are sponsored so that costs do not keep low-income children from attending.

The Florida Aquarium also has a summer camp for kids interested in marine life.

Check out AquaCamps for grades Pre-K-8 and a special SCUBA Camp for children ages 12-15. AquaTots, 3- and 4-year-olds, have two aquarium summer camp sessions per week with a parent or guardian, and AquaKids have three half-day sessions of aquarium summer camp on their own. Both age groups play games, make crafts, study animals and visit Explore a Shore, the aquarium’s outdoor water fun zone.

Children who have completed grades K-3 may participate in full-day week-long programs that include science explorations, aquarium tours, arts and crafts, a live animal encounter, splash time at Explore a Shore and a field trip.

For those children who have completed grades 4-8, camps are full-day week-long travel camps focusing on marine science adventures. Travel groups are split into two age groups; fourth and fifth graders and sixth to eighth graders. Some of the summer activities include kayaking, sailing, fishing, snorkeling, cave diving and more.

Each AquaCamp is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and has free morning care before, beginning at 7:30 and after care until 5:30 p.m. For information about these camps, call (813) 273-4015 or visit  http://www.flaquarium.org/education-camps/camps/aquacamps.aspx.

Some other ideas for out-of- school children include:

A Tampa Bay Performing Arts program at Ruth Eckerd Hall. (727) 712-2706.

Explore Acting with the American Stage. (727) 823-1600, Ext. 201.

Performing arts classes at the David Straz arts center (813) 222-1002.

Summer weight loss and fitness camps designed for kids. (866) 364-0808.

Weekly skating camps at both the Tampa Bay Skating Academy and the Clearwater Ice Arena call (727) 723-7785. Or just skate at Ellenton Ice & Sports Arena (941) 723-3663.

Boys and girls ages 6-18 can develop hockey skills and learn power skating at the Tampa Bay Lightning Summer Hockey Camp, starting July 9 at the Brandon Ice Forum for 5 days starting at 8:30 a.m.   To find out more or to register, visit http://lightning.nhl.com/club/page.htm?id=77476.

Many private businesses, including the Apollo Beach Racquet and Fitness Club, all three local martial arts studios and several dance schools are also offering summer camps that focus on very specific interests and/or training. In South County, there’s certainly no shortage of things to do.

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