Discover an enriching opportunity for your child

The "tween" years can be challenging for many reasons, including what do with this age group during summer break. Eleven- to 15-year-olds often are too old to participate in many niche programs and they're too young to get paid jobs at local businesses. With a bit of research and creativity, however, summer time can be an enriching time for tweens. 

Camping out

Camps are wonderful options for children and youth of all ages. CSU and UNC host dozens of camps for kids with all types of interests, from sports to music to STEM topics. Horse camps are another favorite and NoCo has many from which to choose. Many summer camp options are listed in Rocky Mountain Publishing's Camp Guide.

The City of Loveland's Chilson Recreation Center has several one-week (Monday-Thursday), full-day camps planned for middle school students. Each week's camp will feature a different theme. On Fridays, campers will have the option to take a day trip and participate in a special activity like horseback riding in Estes Park or touring Denver by trolley and then going to a movie. For more information, call 970-962-2487.

The Loveland Youth Gardeners program offers youth an opportunity to develop their green thumbs. Kids through age 12 can participate in Green Adventures Camps. Since there's a discount for siblings, this might be a great option if you have younger children, too. Visit www.lovelandyouthgardeners.org to learn more.

Eleven-year-olds just make the cut to enroll in one of the many summer camps offered by the Gardens on Spring Creek in Fort Collins. They'll have fun harvesting and cooking fresh produce, learning about microscopic bugs and using technology to build systems for growing plants in space.

"Summer Camp at the Gardens on Spring Creek is a great way to explore and discover nature," says Ashley Young, education coordinator for the Gardens. "Each camp offers exciting lessons aimed at helping students stay active and engaged in learning over the summer break."

Scholarships are available to help offset Gardens camps enrollment fees. Obtain more information at www.fcgov.com/gardens.

The Fort Collins Museum of Discovery (FCMOD) offers three camps for tweens: Zombie Outbreak; Digital Dome 101: 360° Storytelling; and Digital Dome 201: Immersive Virtual Reality. All of these camps are week-long, half-day camps that provide an interdisciplinary and inquiry-based approach to explore relevant topics for this age group. "We are especially excited about the addition of our Digital Dome 201 camp this year which will give students the opportunity to go hands-on with cutting edge cameras and other tools to create and present immersive, live-action 360 video projects," says Beth Unger, the FCMOD school and summer programs coordinator. Get all the details at www.fcmod.org.

The Loveland Museum Gallery invites students entering grades 2-9 to participate in Lone Tree Summer School mini camps. The program simulates the typical school day and activities from the 19th century. Learn more at www.lovelandmuseumgallery.org.

Greeley students can check out the Poudre Learning Center, www.poudrelearningcenter.org for programs and classes. 

Volunteering adventures

Another worthwhile way for tweens to spend the summer is by giving of their time and talents. If your child has a special interest, inquire at a related organization to learn if they allow young teens to volunteer. For example, 14-year-old Kya of Fort Collins loves cats and wants to volunteer at the Fort Collins Cat Rescue this summer (www.fccrsnc.org); the facility allows youth 14+ to help at the shelter. Youth with an interest in the medical field can begin volunteering at UCHealth's Poudre Valley Hospital or Medical Center of the Rockies when they're 15, but there's about a year-long waiting list, so interested teens should apply when they're 14. (Banner Health facilities require teens to be 16 to volunteer.)

If your child is a water baby, many swimming pools allow youth under 16 to volunteer as junior life guards after they complete training. Linda Fellion says, "When my daughter was that age, she volunteered as a Water Safety Aid through the City of Fort Collins. Then when she turned 16, the city offered her a job as a lifeguard."

Greeley's Centennial Village Museum (www.greeleygov.org) has a robust junior volunteer program that allows youth ages 12-16 to volunteer with a parent or another adult throughout the museum’s season. 

The museum is an eight-acre, living history experience, so tweens and parents can volunteer in areas they enjoy. Kimberly Overholt of the City of Greeley Museums says, "Last summer we had a parent and her two children volunteer. One child enjoyed learning and demonstrating blacksmithing. His younger sister enjoyed taking care of the animals and showing visitors traditional laundry techniques. (I honestly think she just loved playing in the water on hot summer days)! Their mom was super helpful with our baby animals."

The Fort Collins Museum of Discovery has volunteer opportunities for tweens, too (www.fcmod.org). "Every year, we rely on a strong corps of enthusiastic teen volunteers to assist our museum educators in facilitating our summer programs for kids ages 6-11," Unger says. "We are currently recruiting and accepting applications from teens ages 14+ who are able to commit to volunteering for at least three weeks throughout the summer. We provide training and support for the teens through this program to ensure that they have a high-quality volunteer experience that they can put on their resume." For more information, call 970-416-2769.

Day tripping

Sometimes tweens just need constructive things to do for a day or so. NoCo's local libraries have an extensive offering of day programs for kids of all ages.

The Global Village Museum of Arts and Cultures in downtown Fort Collins offers a “tween” summer special where groups of six or more youth ages 13-17 and/or their parents can tour the museum for only $3 per person. Through June 17, tweens can experience the Land of the Pharaohs in the main gallery exhibit, Egypt: Gift of the Nile. Activities include a “cartouche machine” where youth can receive a printout of their name in hieroglyphics for $1. Tweens also can touch authentic papyrus and try on genuine Egyptian costumes, jewelry and colorful beaded headwear. Learn more at www.globalvillagemuseum.org.

DIY ideas

In addition to structured programs planned by civic and cultural groups and nonprofit organizations, tweens can always resort to do-it-yourself, homegrown fun.

FoCo mom Allison Higdon says when her son was a tween, he made flyers advertising his desire to pet sit, mow lawns or weed gardens. Her daughter made flyers, too, but focused more on childcare and babysitting.

Christy Vance says she's asking her tween daughter to plan and prepare family dinners a couple times a week, as well as help care for her baby niece. 

Vance is spot on by expecting her daughter to contribute more to the family. According to the Center for Parenting Education, research indicates that children who have a set of chores have higher self-esteem, are more responsible, and are better able to deal with frustration and delay gratification, all of which contribute to greater success in school. Additionally, doing chores gives kids the opportunity to give back to their parents and begin to see themselves as important contributors to the family. 

Whether tweens go to camp, volunteer or help out more around their neighborhood or home, at the end of the day, they should have some down time, with space to lie in the grass and watch the clouds go by.