Full STEAM ahead for Tampa Bay area summer camps

While politicians and educators across the country are increasingly promoting the integration of “STEAM” – science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics – into school curriculums, many parents are ahead of the game and view summer as an opportunity to expand children’s horizons in the arts and sciences as well.  

“I look for enrichment,” says Megan Edmonds, a mother of three boys in Hillsborough County, who says camps are an important part of summer. “Things they are not getting in the regular school year that I can supplement in the summer – fine arts, performing arts and hands-on science.”  

She is not alone in this trend. According to the American Camp Association (ACA), summer camp is a $2.8 billion dollar industry and demand is growing. A national survey of camps found “12 percent of camp directors … have added new STEM programs at their camp,’’ says ACA Spokesman Tom Holland. “Arts and crafts has remained one of the top five programs offered by summer camps.”

While parents cite “fun” as a main objective, there are other benefits. A new RAND and Wallace Foundation study underway in five U.S. urban school districts shows a near-term impact of 17-21 percent of average increase in math learning during the subsequent school year for children attending their STEAM summer camp for at least 22 days.

Gigi Antoni, President and CEO of Dallas-based Big Thought, one of the groups involved in the study, says that children’s learning “ignites” in this setting, “their imaginations spark when they practice math during a cooking class, reading during theater class, or experiment with science by building a robot.”
Here is a look at some of the top arts- and science- summer programs, often intertwined, in the Tampa Bay region of Florida. 

Performing arts

A perk of camp experience is that the commitment is short – enough to get a taste of something new that can be explored later in more depth.   

Competition and time are stiff in trying out for plays during the school year, particularly if your child has no experience. There are some excellent summer camps that open the doors to kids of all levels of theater background. While most do require auditions, typically the policy is that children registered for the camps are cast in a show, resulting in incredibly impressive productions after just 2-3 weeks of camp. 

The major performing arts centers offer a slew of performance-related camps and, predictably, have some blockbuster productions available that allow kids to perform on prestigious stages. This summer, the Patel Conservatory is doing Aladdin, Jr. and Shrek: The Musical at the TECO Theatre at the Straz Center in Tampa, and The Wizard of Oz through Ruth Eckerd Hall at the historical Capitol Theatre in Downtown Clearwater.    

However, quality is abundant at smaller organizations as well. 

Seussical, Jr. the whimsical musical mash-up of Dr. Seuss books, has loads of fun characters and is taking stage at Camp IDS at Corbett Prep in Tampa. The musical, Into the Woods, will be available to high school camper-performers there.

Mary Jo’s Performing Arts Academy in Tampa is putting on Broadway musical, Once on this Island, Jr., a fun adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid with a Caribbean flair, promising a highly musical show and “a lot of creative movement.” Also worth noting is Mary Jo’s very popular, very hip “not-your-sister’s-dance-camp” for boys, fully immersing campers in rhythm and tumble, and a side of performance that is sometimes intimidating for boys.

Behind the scenes

The other side of performing arts is the creativity behind the scenes, well-worth exploring. 

Tampa Theatre offers Live Action Filmmaking and Stop-motion Animation camp allowing campers to write, act, shoot, produce and edit their own short films or produce animated films with clay, toys, paper and other materials.  The Largo Cultural Center, in addition to productions of Honk, Jr. and Fiddler on the Roof, offers a technical theater production camp. 

For the first time this summer, USF’s Tampa Bay Area Writing Project, in its 12th year of youth writing camps, is teaming up with Carrollwood Players, to host a “Page to Stage” summer camp. Co-director Pat Daniel Jones says they are welcoming not only young writers who’d like to see their work on stage, but also performers who’d like to see how to write their own material. In addition to stage production of the works, campers will be exposed to thespian expertise, theater history, set design, blocking, costuming, lighting and sound.


Who can deny the appeal of “getting messy”?  Curator of Education at the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg says that’s all part of “releasing the inner artist, a form of self-expression,” a goal for their summer camps. The Morean’s themed art camps change week-to-week, using virtually all media, and separately, a chance to work with clay, both handbuilding and wheelthrowing. And as a testament to their relationship with the Chihuly Collection, they offer glass camps for teenagers 12-16, in which they learn the delicate skill of glass art – from beads to fusion and glass blowing.

The City of Tampa has a robust offering of quality summer camps, made even more attractive because they are also some of the most affordable. Parents rave about the arts camps, in particular, at the North Hubert and Taylor Art Studios. Edmonds, the mother of three, has sent her kids to City of Tampa arts camps for years, calling them a “hidden gem.” She says the camps introduced her children to a broad variety of media and art history, and that her boys “take a lot of pride in what they create. And that is key.”  

Tampa Museum of Arts summer camps are also a huge draw, and are filling up quickly. Museum Educator Joie Johnson, notes another summer possibility with them is for reliable teens ages 16 or older, who love art and working with kids as volunteer counselors. 

A less messy option in the hands-on category is just across the Curtis Hixon Park plaza. The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts is offering new full day photography camps with exposure to a spectrum of photography techniques and effects taught by professional photographers. 

Local cultural centers such as the Dunedin Fine Arts and the Carrollwood Cultural Center offer summer camps with a myriad of arts, media and drama/theater opportunities..  


Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry is an obvious choice for science-related summer programs, and it doesn’t disappoint with dozens of options, including overnight camps. Yet, the MOSI is a huge proponent of the “A” for arts in STEAM, which figures prominently in their promotional materials. Spokeswoman Megan Haskins says that the intersection of technology and art – such as in game design and video creation, even in engineering, gets kids especially excited. She also notes the MOSI is committed to bringing summer camp to all kids regardless of family income and last year provided 400 kids with scholarships. This year the goal is 600 scholarships.

Tampa Hackerspace Founder Bill Shaw runs “Fun with Bots” summer camps from South Tampa to New Port Richey. Kids explore CAD design, robotics, 3D printing and other technology, depending on their age. Shaw says younger kids learn to program graphically, while the older kids can actually write code. But most importantly, he says, it’s a lot of fun. “Kids don’t want to go [home]!”

Looking for something more academic? USF ID Tech Camp, offers intensive experiences from drag-and-drop programming with Scratch (a project of the MIT Media Lab) for 7-year-olds to overnight advanced Minecraft 3D game design for kids up to age 12, and then even much more advanced for the teens. These camps are quite pricey, but promise a “taste of college” and intense experience with a low teacher-student ratio – maximum 8 students per instructor. 

Virtually all of the area’s private schools – Academy at the Lakes, Corbett Prep, Carrollwood Day School, Berkeley, etc. - offer a mix of STEAM programs, mostly headed by school-year teachers.  

In other words, there are plenty of options, parents, and it’s not just the summer heat making STEAM rise. 

Read more articles by Kendra Langlie.

Kendra Langlie is a freelance writer and communications consultant for regional and global businesses. Though she has always been passionate about arts and culture, she spent many years in the tech and B2B corporate worlds both in the U.S. and abroad. With a degree in Economics and International Relations from The American University in Washington, DC, she considers politics her favorite sport and follows it avidly with as much humor as she can muster. Based in the Carrollwood neighborhood of Tampa, Kendra is a mother and wife, a news junkie, and lover of all things creative.