Today’s parents are wild about creative camps, classes and innovative programs. You love your kids loving their dance, music, sports, camps and more, and your comments exude enthusiasm and zeal for these terrific spots, where children combine fun and learning.
Winner: Wilderness Awareness Camp
Duvall’s Wilderness Awareness School absolutely rocked this category, with enthusiastic voters proclaiming that its camps offer “real outdoor experiences with outstanding naturalist instructors!” and that there is “nothing else like it out there!” The wilderness school delivers a variety of programs and camps for kids to adults, including overnight camps for ages 11-18. These teen camps focus on survival skills. Kids explore nature and acquire confidence through learned skills and self-reliance. One parent claims, “The people involved with this organization are the most genuine and wise people on the planet.”
Canoe Island French Camp, on its own tiny island in the San Juans, earned your votes for both its traditional overnight camp atmosphere and its focus on French language and culture. One fan describes it as “a unique, inspiring and otherworldly experience on a private island,” and another raves, “The location and the staff are unmatched.” Several readers also mentioned the food — très délicieux!
Camp Fire USA’s Camp Sealth, on Vashon Island, has fostered 91 years’ worth of happy campers, and counting. One voter shared, “My kids adore Camp Sealth,” calling the staff “amazing.” Camp Sealth welcomes all kids ages 6-17 for horseback riding, archery and other traditional camp activities. During all that fun, it also aims to help kids build strong character, values and life skills.
You praise the YMCA’s Camp Colman as a “great and safe environment for kids” and a “huge confidence-builder.” Located in the south Puget Sound area, Camp Colman celebrates its 100th anniversary this year (a few more years of history on it than even Camp Sealth!) What never gets old: kids playing outdoors, growing and thriving at camp.
Winner: Sunshine Music Together
Sunshine Music Together has oodles of fans, and you voted in droves for its mixed-age caregiver and child music classes. One voter raves, “Wonderful teachers, songs, instruments and dance!” Readers are fond of instructor Summer, calling her “fantastic” and “gracious.” And it’s not just parents who appreciate Sunshine Music Together’s classes. Many voters note their kids love the classes and look forward to them each week. Sunshine Music Together offers classes in several Puget Sound‒area locations.
At Redmond’s Studio3Music, you’re crazy for the “amazing teachers,” with one voter proclaiming it the “best music class in town for infants and toddlers.” Studio3Music presents the worldwide Kindermusik curriculum, which uses music as a key avenue to whole brain development. Classes for little ones along with their caregivers, plus kids to age 7, are held on the Eastside, in Seattle and in Edmonds.
What kid doesn’t like banging on pots, pans or anything else lying around? Seattle Drum School channels that universal childhood propensity with individual instruction in drums and other instruments. Satisfied parents like the drum school’s “excellent teachers,” and one reports that her kids “have blossomed musically.” The school has locations in North and South Seattle, and even offers mobile drum lessons.
Luckily for us, there’s no dearth of music programs in our region. Many of you chimed in with your family’s favorite, resulting in a three-way tie for fourth place. Voters like Creative Music Adventures in Wallingford for instrument lessons and music camps, saying it “promotes a love of music.” Seattle Girls’ Choir, for girls ages 6-18, earns your accolades for its “focus on music education and excellence.” Ted Rosenberger’s music classes for babies to age 5 rounds out the tie. One reader lauds the classes as “great exposure to a wide spectrum of music.”
Sports Camp or Program
Winner: Stroum Jewish Community Center Sports Camp
At Stroum Jewish Community Center’s sports camp, kids in kindergarten through grade 6 explore fun games and a variety of sports. You love the counselors, with more than one reader calling them “awesome.” The variety of camps accommodates all kinds of kids, with activities ranging from traditional team sports such as basketball and soccer to skating, bowling and trampoline. Swimming in the J’s popular pool is also a part of every day at camp. With sportsmanship as a special focus of this program, parents appreciate that kids learn life lessons that are relevant both on and off the field. “Fun and skill-building programs, excellent staff,” comments one voter.
Among team sports for Northwest kids, soccer is king. Arena Sports’ Lil’ Kickers soccer program introduces children as young as 18 months to the world’s most popular game. Progressive classes start with parent and tot together and advance through age 12. Voters like the variety of locations and class times, plus appreciate that Lil’ Kickers offers, as one parent put it, “great exercise and fun.”
We can’t get enough soccer around here — so say your votes, which came in from all areas for Kidz Love Soccer. This program’s name is its aim: teaching kids soccer skills as well as instilling a lifelong appreciation for sports. One reader calls it “good skills training made fun.” Classes and camps serve kids ages 2 to 12 in multiple Puget Sound‒area locations.
Sounders FC’s summer soccer camps carry the allure of our region’s professional team. Half- and full-day camps run all summer long in so many locations that one is likely to be around the corner from you. One satisfied parent calls the camp “great fun,” and another loves the club behind the camp, calling it a “good organization.” Kids just say, “Let’s play!”
Winner: Creative Dance Center
North Seattle’s Creative Dance Center earned a chorus of your votes as well as emphatic comments such as “THE BEST dance education in Seattle” and “Rooms FULL of happy children, learning with every movement.” But its loyal following understands that the Creative Dance Center’s programs encompass more than just dance. Its signature “BrainDance” was developed by the center’s founder and director to help strengthen neurological pathways. The center offers a program to fit nearly every dance desire — classes for parent and child; ballet; classes for young children, teens and adults; birthday parties; and a creative arts preschool program.
American Dance Institute does ballet, and does it well, judging by your enthusiasm for this studio. But ballet is just the beginning. Hula, hip-hop, jazz, Irish step dancing, flamenco, tap and more fill out the Greenwood institute’s offerings. One commenter praises the instructors as “friendly, skilled and attentive.” You also like the atmosphere, calling it “warm and welcoming.”
All That Dance in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood offers a variety of dance classes, including ballet. The studio’s specialty is providing personalized placement in each class. Multiple readers comment on the studio’s care and efficiency, one calling it “super-organized and well-run.”
Eastsiders chimed in, too, voting Redmond’s Gotta Dance a finalist in this category. The studio offers a multitude of classes every week, plenty to keep your young dancer turning, toe tapping and twirling. “Instructors are terrific and fun,” says one reader. Gotta Dance teaches kids as young as 2 — and one voter likes that little kids’ classes aren’t “too strict.”
Infant or Toddler Class
Winner: Sponge School
In this crowded category, Sponge School soaked up the most votes by parents who desire foreign language exposure for their kids. Voters praise Sponge’s “wonderful interactive language courses and exceptional teachers,” and its success in “introducing foreign language to young children in an engaging and effective environment.” At locations in Seattle, Bellevue and Redmond, Sponge offers Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin and French. Courses cater to kids ages newborn-4 years old and caregivers together, or just kids, ages 3 and older. Sponge’s in-school programs provide foreign language education in local elementary schools as well. The goal, as one reader puts it, is “building global citizens.”
Polly-Glots’ foreign language classes also fulfill your wish for potentially bilingual (or polyglot!) children. Voters appreciate the dual benefits of Polly-Glots’ classes, proclaiming that “language classes are super fun” and that “language makes us smarter!” French, Spanish, Hindi, Mandarin and Japanese are offered at several Seattle locations, in Kirkland and in some area elementary schools.
Many parents seek out music classes, and Sunshine Music Together earns high praise from you. Your comments range from the succinct — “My kids LOVE it!” — to the verbose — “An unparalleled music and movement program that is fun for both children and adults!” Classes meet in Seattle, on the Eastside and at North End locations.
While Hop to Signaroo’s name is fun and cute, this class addresses parents’ serious desire to communicate with their babies. Hop to Signaroo teaches American Sign Language to hearing families in many Seattle-area locations, including hospitals and private homes. The class “allows communication between adults and babies prior to their speaking,” says one reader.
Swimming Lessons or Camp
Winner: Stroum Jewish Community Center
We were inundated with votes for Stroum Jewish Community Center’s swimming lessons. The J — as it is called on Mercer Island — offers aquatics programs for babies to adults. Parents praising the J’s swim programs cite the relaxed atmosphere and supportive environment among the best features. “My kid swims like Michael Phelps now!” crows one parent. The biggest raves came in for the instructors: Readers call them “exceptional,” “wonderful,” “caring,” “skilled” and “patient.”
Many of you appreciate Waterbabies’ particular approach — helping parents teach their young children skills and safety around water. At facilities in Bellevue, Sammamish and Everett, parents appreciate the “small class sizes, warm water” and “great teachers.” One pleased parent reports that Waterbabies “taught our daughter to love and not be afraid of water.”
Though hidden beneath a Chinese restaurant near Lake Union, Safe N Sound Swimming is no secret. With one-on-one lessons and classes happening at both the Westlake and Bothell locations plus day camps all summer long, Safe N Sound has taught pools full of kids to swim like fish. Summing up many comments, one voter states simply, “Great facility and classes.”
We’ve heard the word on the street, and your votes confirm it: The Mountlake Terrace Pool is well worth the trip, even if you don’t live anywhere near it. “Fun, fun, fun!” raves one commenter. With lessons, family swims, warm water, the Lazy River, party rentals, access for special needs and much more, it’s no wonder the MLT pool draws legions of fans from near and far.
Winner: Jae Hun Kim Taekwon-do Institute
What do Singapore, Korea, China, Boston, New England and Seattle have in common? The Jae Hun Kim Taekwon-do Institute. ParentMap voters chose the Seattle location, one of 15 worldwide, as the best martial arts school for 2012. Taekwondo teaches children respect, for themselves and others, self-discipline and body awareness. J.H. Kim trained with General Choi, Hong Hi — the acknowledged founder of modern-day taekwondo — and Grandmaster Jung Tae Park, president of the Global Tae Kwon Do Federation. Mr. Kim received the rank of Grand Master from the Kukkiwon world taekwondo headquarters in South Korea. Parents rave about Grandmaster Kim’s program. “The teachers understand that taekwondo isn't just about learning the moves, it's about learning the attitude and sense of family that comes from the martial art. They are also patient and encouraging.” “Excellent instructors and welcoming community” give kids a chance to take pride in their accomplishments and have fun while doing it. Said more than one voter “my son loves it.”
Alpha Martial Arts, with locations in Bryant and Capitol Hill, provides martial arts classes for kids, adults and teens and emphasizes fitness, self-defense and character development. The children’s programs focus on karate, but the school also teaches Ed Parker’s American Kenpo Karate, Muay Thai kickboxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu grappling, Krav Maga, and provides safety presentations and workshops as a community service.
At the Enso Center for International Arts in Redmond the “instructors are wonderful with the kids and create a healthy and positive environment in which to learn.” Parents love the “supportive, enthusiastic, fun instructors.” The center specializes in two Korean martial arts, hapkido and taekwondo, Chinese tai chi and chi kung and also offers self-defense classes.
Karate West, with locations in Sammamish and Mercer Island, emphasizes the development of life skills at the heart of the curriculum. Their Personal Achievement Program teaches children to strive to reach their full potential. They “are amazing” and “teach more than just karate moves, inspiring self-confidence and motivation in the kids.” Parents love the lessons in “respect and discipline.”
Lee’s Martial Arts in Renton and Maple Valley teaches taekwondo with respect for the traditions while incorporating new and innovative ways to reach the kids and excite them about learning their art. “Our son found more discipline and self-esteem through their structured and caring regimen.” “Awesome staff empower the kids and the kids love being there!”
Two Cranes Aikido teaches the Japanese martial art that emphasizes cooperation over competition and integrates the meditation of movement. Two Cranes is “a really healthy dojo that respects the individuality of the kids.” The goal of the program is to “offer children and teens a safe and inspiring learning environment to develop calm minds, alert bodies and enlivened spirits.”
Winner: Seattle Children’s Theatre
Children can experience all aspects of the theatre arts through the Seattle Children’s Theatre’s school-year and summer classes. From backstage to center stage, children work with professional artists in this participatory theatre education environment. Students learn self-confidence through acting classes and seminars like Physical Comedy, Improv, Acting for the Camera and doing a Play in a Day and behind-the-scenes techniques like Stage Makeup and the more intensive Backstage classes for older kids — training them to work on the student crew for the summer season shows. “Great classes and instructors” are “creative, imaginative,” making for “top-notch drama instruction.” SCT also has interpreted performances and programs for the deaf, as well as specialty workshops like Dramashops.
SecondStory Repertory offers excellent instruction from working theater professionals. “The classes and camps are amazing! Each child is given a part, learns how a show is produced from start to finish and performs in front of a live audience. They come away with new friends, a new skill, and confidence; also begging to be a part of the summer production the following year.”
Studio East provides camps and classes on the Eastside, including after-school programs, workshops and homeschool classes. Parents love Studio East for their “great instructors and wonderful scripts that include everyone.”
The Village Theatre in Issaquah and Everett offer “awesome, affordable classes for children and teens.” They have various programs to choose from: KIDSTAGE teaches skills for life as well as the theatre; the Village Theatre Institute is a new program requiring an audition or invitation; the Arts Adventures Preschool; and a partnership with the YMCA for wraparound care before and after camp.
Youth Theatre Northwest on Mercer Island “gives every kid a chance to feel confident on stage” and “they create a community for both kids and parents.”“ Very professional children's productions. Caring fun and talented teachers.”
Art and Creative Classes or Camp
Winner: Roaring Mouse Creative Arts Studio
If you think of art for kids as stringing noodle necklaces, finger painting and digging through buckets of crayons, think again. Roaring Mouse Creative Arts Studio in Ravenna brings creative exploration and play together to allow students to “follow their ideas into other forms of expression, and to experiment with combining ideas in new ways.” Their classes go way beyond the basics — kids make puppets then put on a show for parents, build motors and cars, launch rockets, create dioramas, and make costumes to show off at their own fashion show. The studio offers evening and weekend classes, camps and workshops, after-school programs and preschool classes. “The teachers are very experienced and obviously love their jobs. They always amaze me with their creative ideas. The parents are also all amazing people. My children have blossomed in this school,” enthuses one voter.
If it can be painted, Patty Makatura can create a one-of-a-kind work of art on any surface — she specializes in murals for children and custom furniture for your home. She also teaches art to children and ParentMap voters love her. She encourages your “child's inner creativity and self-expression through art,” and “guides with a gentle and kind awareness of the individuality of each child.”
A nonprofit with a small budget, Northwest Arts Center in Duvall gets big love from readers. They “really love the arts and teaching — it shows through every student!” They “are dedicated to enriching each child’s life and helping them find their creative spirit. It feels very much like family — they care about the whole child not just the artist.”
Tacoma’s Open Arts Studio gets high marks for variety, offering a wide range of art and music programs for kids and adults — drawing, painting, watercolors, clay and pottery, sculpture, sewing, photography, beading, piano, guitar, violin, viola, drums, flute, clarinet, cello, tuba, trombone, trumpet, and saxophone.
Thrive Art School, located in the Ravenna and Madison Valley neighborhoods, has a “great concept, good teachers,” providing a “great experience for the kids to grow in art.” Their curriculum is aligned with Washington State Learning Standards and the Elements of Art and includes academic information in subject areas such as math, science, social studies and geography.
A multi-faceted art enterprise run by graphic designer Kelly Affleck, Tomato-Tomato Creative Space (a 2011 Golden Teddy Award darling) offers Creative Kids classes that help “kids take art projects to the next level.” Parents praise “Ms. Kelly” for being “the most creative and patient individual.”
Winner: Seattle Gymnastics Academy
From that first tumble down a slide to the United States Junior Olympics, Seattle Gymnastics Academy has a place for your little tumbler. Their recreational class curriculum covers over 300 progressive skills, each level building on the last. SGA also offers three programs for students interested in competing on a team. In addition to the teams and classes offered at four Seattle locations, SGA offers special events like birthday parties, and staffs a preschool at the Lake City location. Many of you commented on the quality of the staff: “Excellent teachers, amazing equipment, and fun atmosphere.”
Gymnastics East USA in Issaquah and Bellevue offer Tiny Tot Fitness, GymFITnastics, Trampoline and Tumbling, Middle and High School programs and competitive teams. It’s a “wonderful environment!” readers tell us, and “my kids have learned a lot through it.”
The Little Gym impresses because they present “gymnastics not just as a set of physical skills but really as a medium for social, emotional, and cognitive development — kids are learning how to get along, how to solve problems, executive-function skills and on and on, and the coaches understand this; it's built into the program.”
My Gym Children’s Fitness Center is a national franchise with locations in Kent and Bellevue. They tout the benefits of “intensive physiological, psychological and sociological research, along with decades of hands-on experience by hundreds of My Gym child and fitness experts. ” You tout the benefits of “great staff, good structure” and “the upbeat vibe with two teachers per class!”
Nature or Environmental Camp
Winner: Wilderness Awareness School
Wilderness Awareness School is a national not-for-profit environmental education organization based in Duvall, Washington. Camp locations in Seattle, Kirkland and Bothell offer Youth Programs for kids ages 4–18. Their goal is to “foster young people's understanding and appreciation of nature, community and self.” ParentMap voters think they are doing it right. “They know kids, get them excited and interested,” with “caring, creative and passionate instructors. Whole child learning and an all-around excellent program. Not a one-size-fits-all camp. Kids learn to respect their environment and appreciate their part in the world.”
If you are looking for “summer fun with a French accent” (and really, who isn’t?), check out Canoe Island French Camp, where “kids get a whole island to themselves to learn about nature and learn French. ” Kids can look forward to sunset campfires on the beach, a daytrip to Friday Harbor, and one-or two-night sailing and kayaking outings.
Oxbow Farm’s Farm & Forest Camp, a partnership with Wilderness Awareness School, is also a reader favorite. Talk about adventure! Kids ages 4–12 spend a unique week both learning woodsy skills from Wilderness Awareness School (see above) and participating in plenty of new-fashioned organic farm fun. They sow seeds and harvest; dig roots and pick fruits; make their own sun tea and fresh fruit popsicles; play in a living playground; and participate in storytelling, songs, crafts, and play that help connect the dots between farm and forest.
Itty Bitty Camps introduce the young ones and their families and caregivers to the habitats of Discovery Park. They use songs, art projects, stories and games to explore what lives at the ponds, beach, meadow, wetland and forest. “Amazing introduction to nature in our backyard.”
Seattle Tilth Garden Camps also please nature-loving ParentMappers. “So great to explore a natural, organic garden and ecosystem with kids while learning to grow and eat healthy food for our community!” The camp offered one family all they could ask for: “A beautiful time in the garden with ukulele music, making journals, gardening, learning plants, drinking tea.”
The Tacoma Nature Center Summer Camps are “extremely child-friendly,” with a “developmentally appropriate introduction to our natural world,” “thriving teen volunteer program” and a “great staff.” With a strong focus on education at all of their camps, the Tacoma Nature Center hopes that every child walks away having had a positive experience with nature and possessing more knowledge about the natural world.
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Illustrations by Alli Arnold