School’s out for the summer, and parents of children on Marco Island have two local programs where they can send their young ones to keep them occupied, engaged and supervised.
Both the Greater Marco Family YMCA and the City of Marco Island Parks & Recreation Department offer summer camp programs, with a variety of specialty camps, recreational and educational offerings, going way beyond merely warehousing the offspring during the day while parents are working.
The city’s main program is called Camp Mackle, but this summer, with Mackle Park facilities undergoing a major renovation and expansion, activities are based in temporary quarters at the Family Church on Winterberry Drive. Geared to children entering grades one through five, the program can accommodate a maximum of 60 campers, and was nearing capacity its first week.
Each week, said City of Marco Island Recreation Manager Lola Dial, the children will engage in activities around a weekly theme, with Bed Time Stories, focusing on reading and also writing original stories, and “Bugs Life,” studying insects and learning which can hurt you. During “Career Week,” medical professionals, police and firefighters will visit and share what they do for a living.
Additional weeks include activities such as badminton and kickball, kick the can and running obstacle courses, family picnics and barbecuing. The 11th and final week, the theme is Name Your Talent, and kids will put on a talent show on the last day of camp. Each week will include field trips and guest speakers.
The city also has a variety of additional specialty camps focusing intently on an individual skill or discipline, with a number of them geared to older children. Most of these run for one week, and operate at various locations. Examples include fishing, junior chef, and paddle-boarding camps.
Sailing is a big emphasis, with multiple week programs offering beginner, intermediate and advanced sailing classes, giving youths the chance to captain their own boat, and sail the Marco River.
“We love our camp kids and they know it. We are family when they are away from home,” said Dial. With five camp counselors, some majoring in psychology and education, “two of our counselors are third-year veterans, which speaks volumes for their desire to work with us each year.”
The Greater Marco Family YMCA’s on-island camp is headquartered in their new Youth Development Building, adjacent to the swimming pool on the Y campus. Like the city, the Y’s “base camp” serves rising first through fifth graders. The Marco Y also hosts camp activities at multiple sites off-island, including Parkside and Manatee elementary schools.
Keeping the children’s brains active over the summer is important, said Stephanie Pepper, youth development manager for the YMCA. “You have to do math over the summer to keep your brain working, and bridge the achievement gap.” This is true for literacy as well, she said, saying children can lose two grade levels of reading if they don’t keep it up over the summer. The children participate in math and reading activities each week, led by Collier County Public School teachers.
“Most of the time, the kids don’t even realize what they’re doing is learning,” said Pepper. “We make it fun.”
The Y also takes advantage of their pool, offering free swimming lessons every week with the price of the camp. Also free will be breakfast and lunch, provided through the Meals of Hope program, said Pepper.
“It’s a savings for a family, both in dollars and in the morning, getting the munchkins out the door.”
Campers at the Y will not stay at the Y, but participate in field trips to destinations such as the Imaginarium in Fort Myers, Everglades Wonder Gardens in Bonita Springs, and Artis-Naples, as well as the Bamboozle skating rink.
The YMCA will offer specialty camps, with older children as well as the elementary grade kids able to participate, depending on the individual program. These include football camp and a theater camp run by longtime island thespian Gina Sisbarro during the last week of June.
In the theater camp, said Sisbarro, “everyone who registers gets cast.” They will be putting on a play she described as “basically a spoof on a reality show.” Along with rehearsing the show, she said, the children will do theater exercises that teach the craft of acting.
For more information on the city’s Camp Mackle and its specialty camps, go online to cityofmarcoisland.com, or call the Parks and Recreation Dept. at 642-0575.
To learn more about the YMCA camps, call 239-394-9622 or visit their new web address, marcoymca.org.