Summer Smarts: These Camps Keep Kids Thinking

This is not your daddy’s summer camp.

Day camps in Loudoun are inviting kids to spend their months out of the classroom navigating a virtual pixilated world, fashioning a town out from boxes and rocks, or even learning to cast a spell on a friend.

Loudoun Country Day School, a private school just south of Leesburg, offers more than 60 camps this summer, and several of them are designed to tap into kids’ creative side. Now through mid-August, the school will put on unusual camps, including coding, robotics, Minecraft/Mindcraft, Dino Discovery, “Roxaboxen” and Hogwarts’ Wild Wizardry.

“When you think of summer camps, you think of outdoor adventure-type camps, but not all kids are into that stuff. So there’s this group of kids who are missing out,” camp counselor Cameron Kelahan said. “We’ve tried to really hone in on what those kids like.”

Kelahan, 19, helped get the school’s Minecraft/Mindcraft camp off the ground last summer, and he’s seen a big surge in interest this year. Don’t know what Minecraft is? Ask any middle schooler—it’s all the rage. In short, it’s a videogame that allows users to create and explore a world made up of cubes, or pixels.

At the Minecraft camp, participants can interact with each other, both virtually and in person, about the pixelated world they’re creating. Kelahan said it’s an opportunity to get young gamers out of their basement and with other kids who share similar interests.

Logan McNabb, 11, said he loves Minecraft, but usually plays it at home by himself. “I wanted to come here to play with friends,” he said. But he added a warning, “One minute you and your friend can be allies in Minecraft and the next you can’t trust them. Because they might kill you.”

Logan McNabb, 11, shows off a sword he created in the Minecraft/Mindcraft camp offered by Loudoun Country Day School. (Danielle Nadler/Loudoun Now)
Logan McNabb, 11, shows off a sword he created in the Minecraft/Mindcraft camp offered by Loudoun Country Day School. (Danielle Nadler/Loudoun Now)

On the opposite end of the spectrum is a camp that avoids any technology. Based on the book “Roxaboxen,” the camp challenges kids to create a town out of boxes, rocks, bottle caps and other found things. The participants become residents in their makeshift community; they create their own bartering system, and they can vote on their roles and what to build.

“We help cut the boxes with a box cutter, but otherwise it’s all child driven,” said Reneé Kelahan, librarian at the school who runs the “Roxaboxen” camp and several others. “I love it because it shows kids they don’t need to rely on technology to have fun.”

Kelahan also runs one of the program’s most popular camps, Hogwarts’ Wild Wizardry, which has two sessions in late July and early August. The camp gives third- through sixth-graders an opportunity to experience a week in Harry Potter’s shoes. They get their own wand, read through a magic potion book, cook magical snacks and try their hand at the quidditch, the sport featured in the book series.

Kelahan said the book-inspired camps are her favorite, and have always been her children’s favorite. “I hope it inspires a love of books and creativity,” she said. “We want to show them that their imagination is the most powerful form of excitement.”

Randy Hollister, headmaster at Loudoun Country Day School, said the school tries to offer a camp for everyone. It does have the more widely offered camps, focused on sports and outdoor adventures. But he’s found the most popular camps are those that provide out-of-the-box experiences, a result of the camp counselors’ hard work and creativity, Hollister said.

“These are full on, robust, high-octane experiences,” he said. “It’s so far beyond the typical, ‘come out and we’ll do a lot of playing and then you’ll go home.’”

He wants to see students experiencing a week of unforgettable fun and learning. “When I think about the audience we serve in this area, these are the kinds of high-end, really creative and productive experiences folks are looking for.”

Loudoun Country Day School’s camps are open to all school-age children, not just students of the private school. Space is still available in six of the camps, including chess, drama and fencing. Cost ranges from $100 to $400. See more details at

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