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It's summer, ?let's learn something!; Science, music, mud and bugs: Kids of all ages ?can expand their horizons while school's out

Over the summer, children don't want to spend their time learning – that's what the rest of the year is for. Kids want to spend summer having fun: Playing with friends, being outdoors, and exploring their interests, whims and budding hobbies.

Fortunately for parents, fun and education do not have to be mutually exclusive from now until September.

Many youth programs offered throughout Western New York combine summer fun with instruction in arts and sciences. Whether your child is an aspiring musician, artist, veterinarian or physicist – or is maybe just looking for a camp that offers more than swimming or volleyball – there's a program that will put his or her mind to work, without making it feel like work:

Buffalo Museum of Science/Tifft Nature Preserve: You don't need an expensive laboratory, an advanced degree or any fancy equipment to practice science. Kids can do it easily with the materials that can be found in their own homes.

That's the concept behind the summer camp at the Buffalo Museum of Science (1020 Humboldt Parkway). The museum offers 12 different five-day programs, illuminating the scientific concepts found in art (Science Is Art, July 9-13, ages 5-6), cooking (Watcha Got Cookin', July 9-13, ages 7-8), magic tricks (Magical Science, Aug. 13-17, ages 5-6) and other ordinary activities. Amy Biber, the museum's marketing director, said that the goal is to show children "that science is all around us."

Each camp theme takes a concept in physics, chemistry, astronomy or engineering, and makes it accessible to young experimenters. The science is real, but it's exemplified through activities that will be manageable and enjoyable for children: making bubbles, creating paper skyscrapers, using magnetism to complete mazes, baking pretzels. It's fun and simple, but campers still "have to be creative and use their minds to try to get something to work," Biber said.

The Tifft Nature Preserve, which is operated by the Museum of Science, holds its own summer programming, making use of its 264 acres of forests, grasslands, wetlands, lakes and trails. Tifft has eight programs still available, with some focusing on the animals around the nature preserve (Mini-Beasts Discovery Camp, July 3-6, ages 5-8; Field Entomology Discovery Camp, July 16-18, ages 9-14), and others offering campers crash courses in seamanship (Adventures Afloat and Abroad, July 23-27, ages 9-14 with limited space remaining) and wilderness survival skills (Nature Rangers Discovery Camp, Aug. 6-10, ages 7-12).

The idea is to let children freely explore the outdoors with guidance from counselors along the way, so that campers can learn about nature while interacting with it. "We try not to do stuff just to do stuff," said Caryn Corriere, a facilitator of learning science for Tifft and the Museum of Science who also serves as a camp counselor. "If we do a butterfly activity, we'll also talk about the life cycle of the butterflies. If we go fishing, we teach them safe and unsafe ways to fish. The trick is just to not say that they're learning stuff. They're having fun, and at the end of the day, they've learned something."

The Buffalo Museum of Science's camp runs weekly from July 9 through Aug. 27, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with extended care available from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. for a fee. It accepts children 5-12; themes are divided by age groups. Enrollment for each camp is $200 (museum members get a 10 percent discount).

Tifft Nature Preserve's camp runs weekly from July 3 through Aug. 23. The camp accepts children 3-12, with themes divided by age groups. Prices, times and extended-care options vary for each week.

To see the full schedule for both camps, visit www.sciencebuff.org.

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The Buffalo Zoo: The summer camp at the Buffalo Zoo (300 Parkside Ave.) gives kids exactly what they want from the wild kingdom: lots of time to see, and even interact with, the animals. The zoo offers two sessions of three new programs. Water Water Everywhere (July 9-13, Aug. 6-10) immerses campers in the habitats of water-dwelling animals; Creepy Crawly Scaly Slimy (July 16-20, Aug. 13-17) introduces campers to some of the most intimidating members of the animal kingdom; and Animal IQ (July 23-27, Aug. 20-24) examines the problem-solving capabilities of animals and how they are similar to human thought processes.

The camp "is different from just a regular visit to the zoo," said Liz Thompson, the zoo's on-site specialist. Guided tours around the zoo are supplemented with classroom-based activities. Campers get to touch real and replica skulls and furs from various animals. They work together to make "enrichment items" – decorative food gifts that they later offer to the animals under the supervision of counselors. And every day, the zoo's docents (volunteer educators) bring in two live animals for presentations in which campers learn about the animals and, if they want, touch them.

Considering this year's Creepy Crawly Scaly Slimy theme – which features snakes, tarantulas and other much-feared species – that idea might seem terrifying to some. But Thompson says that there's nothing to fear.

"We never try to force the animals on anybody," she said. "A lot of kids get over some of their fears and misconceptions while they're here at camp. It's neat – sometimes you'll have a kid at the beginning of the week who doesn't want to touch anything, and then at the end of the week they're right up there in line to touch the snake."

Camp runs Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Extended care is available from 7:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. for a fee. The camp accepts children 5-12, and campers are divided into three age groups. For zoo members, single child enrollment is $150 for one week and $142 per week for multiple weeks; multiple-child enrollment is $142 per child for one week and $135 per child per week for multiple weeks. For nonmembers, single child enrollment is $165 for one week and $157 per week for multiple weeks; multiple-child enrollment is $157 for one week and $150 per child per week for a single week. Visit www.buffalozoo.org for more information.

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Artpark: For the artistically inclined, Artpark (450 S. Fourth St., Lewiston) has five programs available that give campers outlets for music performance and studio arts.

Young musicians can master the guitar, keyboards or, as of this year, fiddle, at one of three music camps: Rock Camp (July 16-21, ages 10-14), Advanced Rock Camp (July 23-28, ages 15-18) and Celtic Music Camp (Aug. 13-18, ages 12-17). The two rock camps are designed for players at different levels of proficiency, but they have the same purpose: to teach campers the many different ways to rock. Campers learn songs from every "era" of rock history – from the Beatles to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica – and are encouraged to improvise and practice their own original music in small groups.

Campers can learn an entirely different musical tradition at Celtic Music Camp, which is new this summer. Here, the guitars and basses are replaced with more exotic instruments: banjos, fiddles, folk harps, flutes, violins and mandolins. (Artpark provides instruments for all three camps.) The education doesn't stop with the music: Campers will be further immersed in Celtic culture with a bagpipe demonstration, and visits from an Irish storyteller and Irish and Scottish dancers.

The camps culminate in a concert in which campers can perform the week's material for friends and family. Randy Andropolis, the director of the music camps, points out that, practically speaking, Artpark is a good way "to get them out of the house and stop the noise."

Art Camp (July 9-13, July 16-20 and July 30-Aug. 3, ages 9-14) and Advanced Art Camp (Aug. 6-10, ages 15-17) offer a week filled with interdisciplinary creativity. Both camps include sessions in pottery, glass blowing, drawing, painting, interior design and ceramics, each taught by local artists who specialize in those fields. The difference between the two camps is the expectations. Tanis Winslow, the director of the art camps, said that the younger camp is about "making things for the joy of making things." The advanced camp, meanwhile, is "geared at students who are interested in art as a profession or for college." Older campers complete the week with a portfolio of 12 to 15 finished pieces. "When they apply for something in the arts," Winslow said, "they'll have things to show."

All camps run Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Enrollment for each Artpark camp is $250 (Lewiston residents get a 10 percent discount). For more information, visit www.artpark.net.

Still looking for the right program? Consider these other educational summer camps throughout Western New York:

Squeaky Wheel (712 Main St.) gets children ages 8-16 acquainted with animation, magazine production and filmmaking in four programs offered July 16 through Aug. 13. Visit www.squeaky.org/camps.

Buffalo Arts Studio (2495 Main St., Suite 500) has a class in comic illustration for students 8-12 starting June 27, and classes in watercolor and oil painting for students 16 and older in July and August. Visit www.buffaloartsstudio.org.

The Kenan Center (433 Locust St., Lockport) offers a free, three-day visual arts program for children 10-12, from July 9-13 and 16-20. Visit kenancenter.org.

email: jsilverstein@buffnews.com