For many of us, some of our fondest childhood memories are of summer camp — canoes on the lake, the archery range and scenic nature hikes, preferably without poison oak.
A quick Web search suggests that the concept of summer camps in America dates back to the 1860s. One scholar traces the origins of the summer camp tradition to an overnight campout in 1861 in Connecticut, led by a private-school headmaster and his wife.
As summer camps proliferated, they also specialized, so that now, kids can sign up to do anything from rock climbing to juggling. For working parents, day camps offer a convenient alternative way to keep the kids busy and still have them home at night.
This summer's crop of camps in Northern California demonstrates just how varied and ambitious the formats have become. For example:
The Cazadero Performing Arts Camp not only offers musical instruction but prepares kids to put on a public concert.
At Transcendence Theatre Company's Broadway Kids Camp at Jack London State Historic Park, young performers learn a song and appear in the troupe's family show.
Kids can train a dog, hug a bunny, feed a cat or pet a reptile at the Sonoma Humane Society's Adventure and Education Camp.
Aviation Summer School at Santa Rosa's Pacific Coast Air Museum offers a classroom introduction to the principles of flight.
Originally a hunting resort, Cazadero evolved into a logging town over time and still boasts a working lumber mill and woodsheds for storage.
But few people know about another kind of woodshed here: the proverbial kind, visited by aspiring musicians as they practice their way to perfection.
For the past 56 years, the Cazadero Performing Arts Camp has welcomed young musicians to rehearse, play and sleep amid some 33 acres of redwoods straddling Austin Creek.
"The common language is music," said David Wagner, the camp's executive director. "They're completely cut off from cell phones, texting and video games, so they're completely unplugged."
The camp draws instructors from universities across the country and the world, while campers come from all over the Bay Area and Southern California.
"There's a good corps of kids that return every summer," Wagner said. "I tell the parents, if you can get your kids to camp, you're not going to be able to get them home."
The camp offers instruction in jazz band, orchestra, concert band, piano and guitar, and the only requirement is one year of experience with an instrument.
The camp started in 1957 when Berkeley High School Band Director Bob Lutt asked to bring 50 or 60 kids out to the site, which was owned by the city of Berkeley. Two years later, the camp had grown to nearly 600 kids.
Along with a full day of practice and rehearsal, campers age 10 to 18 can choose electives in music or sports.
"You can pick up a new instrument or do some composing," Wagner said. "We also have basketball, football, soccer, volleyball, ping-pong and swimming."
The camp offers four sessions over the course of seven weeks, from June 17 to Aug. 3. Each session is geared to a different age, grade and skill level.
At the end of each week, the campers put on a concert and the public is invited.