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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.

"If the kids are on the fence, I tell parents to bring them out here and listen to a concert," Wagner said. "If that's not our best-selling plan, I don't know what is."

Contact: 510-527-7500; www.cazadero.org

— Diane Peterson

There's a lot to learn about history and literature at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen.

The 1,400-acre park includes the restored cottage where the famous author wrote and died, the ruins of his ill-fated Wolf House project and the House of Happy Walls Museum.

And this summer, aspiring young performers from ages 8 to 18 can learn to do a song-and-dance number there, too.

Transcendence Theatre Company, the park's resident outdoor performance troupe, initiated its "Broadway Kids Camp" at the park last summer, and will return with a session running July 15 to 20.

Last summer the company of experienced performers from New York and Los Angeles, most of them with Broadway or national tour credits, premiered its "Broadway Under the Stars" outdoor concert series at park.

"There also was one week of camp with kids, and then they actually performed in our family show last year," said Stephan Stubbins, the company's executive director and one of the performers.

Last summer's camp drew 24 students, Stubbins said.

"We teach them the number that's going to be in the show, so they learn the music for that," he explained. "There's also one-on-one attention with each kid to work on the solo song each one will be doing at the pre-show picnic."

The company makes use of the historic setting, encouraging campers to learn about Jack London and introducing them to some of the park's attractions.

"We got a lot of positive response from the parents and the kids," Stubbins said.

Contact: (877) 424-1414, www.transcendencetheatre.org.

— Dan Taylor

Tiffany DeMartin has been to a few summer camps in her day. But the Santa Rosa sixth-grader says the Sonoma County Humane Society's Animal Adventure is "the best camp ever."

"I love that camp. It's so much fun," the 12-year-old said. "The nice thing about it is that it isn't just one of those camps where you have the same agenda every single day. Every day, we're doing something different or going somewhere different."

What kid doesn't love animals? That's what makes animal shelter camps a hot ticket among the many day camp options to pick from.

The program was developed by the Humane Society's Education Coordinator Beth Karzes, a former schoolteacher who applied her expertise to putting together a curriculum that includes hands-on experiences with animals, outside speakers, field trips to cool places with animal connections and a chance to explore the workings of the Humane Society, from cleaning cages to visiting the vet hospital. Older kids can observe a spay/neuter operation.

"The goal is really to expose kids to a high standard of how they can care for companion animals, spending a week behind the scenes at the Humane Society working with various departments," Karzes said.

Campers also get to spend time at the society's Forget Me Not Farm, a 2?-acre farm animal sanctuary on the Humane Society property in Santa Rosa. The farm is a therapeutic refuge for abused and at-risk children. But during their week of camp, regular campers can also explore the farm and interact with chickens, donkeys, ponies, miniature horses, sheep, goats, llamas, alpacas and even a rare Gunaco, related to the llama.

Hands-on experiences range from holding guinea pigs and rabbits and feeding them leafy greens, to going through a real dog training class.

Representatives from wildlife and reptile rescue organizations come by and share interesting tidbits.

The Society offers a camp for second- through seventh-graders and a Teen Career Camp for kids in eighth through 12th grades.

Weeklong camps get under way in late May, continue through mid August and cost $285 a week. For more information, visit sonomahumane.org or call 577-1902.

— Meg McConahey

The Wright brothers would be happy to know that flying the friendly skies of Sonoma is an option for campers this summer.

The Pacific Coast Air Museum in Santa Rosa is offering a unique educational experience for students — eighth grade through 12th grade — with the finale a graduation flight around Sonoma County.

"Obviously, the classroom is informative and educational and an integral part of the camp," said Allan Morgan, museum president. "But it's the activities of flying the simulator, visiting the control tower and taking a graduation flight around Sonoma County with one of our FAA licensed pilots that becomes the exciting experience."

The camp also includes sitting at the controls of a Huey Helicopter and touring the museum's artifacts. The first session is June 10 to 14th and the second, June 17 to 21st, with tuition for both sessions $145. Campers meet at the Air Museum from 9 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday. For more detailed information, visit www.pacificcoastairmuseum.org.

Morgan, who initiated the camp about five years ago, said he believes kids, as well as people of all ages, find aviation both fascinating and a little mysterious.

"Studying the physics of flight gives people a better understanding of what makes an air craft fly and how a pilot navigates from point to point," Morgan said. "The facts and principles help people identify the misunderstandings and 'myths' regarding flight."

— Peg Melnik

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