A community arts center can be a great place to spend those hot summer days. It can be incredibly costly, especially for a popular camp or one that has lots of student activities. So parents struggle to afford camp or daycare. Others don’t need those services during the year find themselves locked out, and it is hard to get their kids in anywhere—they remain on a wait list, praying for spots to open up.

But it doesn’t always have to be that way. I know that the community arts center here, and many others throughout the country, offer day camps for children on a variety of topics all summer long. Much of our summer staff are teachers from various schools in the community or are professionals in their field. We still do a background check on anyone we hire, of course. We try to offer a variety of cultural arts activities so that we can service the broadest spectrum of students while still keeping our costs reasonable.

One of my favorite camps that we offer is the art camp. We take a few different age groups and run several different classes simultaneously so that we can use materials appropriate to the skill level. For example, we might use modeling clay for the younger kids, and the older students would actually make pottery that we would kiln-dry. We provide many different tools and mediums to give the students a wide-ranging experience. At the end of the camp, each student picks a piece from their portfolio for an art show. We sell the pieces as a fundraiser. Most of the time, it’s family members who end up buying the pieces, and we display the ones that don’t sell at the center throughout the year.

Another camp that we run is the drama camp. The first week is auditions and anyone who wants a part has to try out. The rest of the students can take their pick from set design and prop crew, costumes (which includes hair and makeup), lighting or sound. We try to base our pick for the show based on how many students sign up for the class, and we ask in advance if they are planning to try out for a role to decide what to perform. The camp culminates in a two-day performance of their production. By the time the show hits the stage, the staff is usually just standing in the wings, watching and applauding. It is always a great experience seeing all their hard work come to life. And for kids who want to work in theater, this is a great way for them to get experience doing a variety of jobs. It also helps them see all that getting a performance off the ground and onto the stage entails.

We have also had instrument camps, depending on demand and what teachers we can find. We’ve done guitar, piano, drums, and a few others. They are a little harder to offer, both in terms of finding a teacher that is available on a regular summer schedule within our budget and also for enough students to make the classes worthwhile. If we do have more than five students—which, if we offer the classes, we usually do—we hold a recital at the end of the camp for the students so their friends and family can hear what they’ve been working on. Everyone deserves a moment in the spotlight, especially when they spend so much time practicing.

So if you and your kids are looking for something to do this summer, check out your local community arts center. You never know what you’ll find!