Ryan Stein was five years old when he first attended summer camp at Princeton University. Twenty years later he continues to devote a portion of his summer to camp on campus — only now he is the director of the camp that his father, Eric, who was formerly in charge of recreational and intramural sports at the university, started with a small group of children of university employees.

Today Princeton University Summer Camp continues to thrive with eight one-week sessions open to both university and non-university children. It is but one option for parents who would like to give their children the opportunity to experience the environment of a college campus years before they even start worrying about SAT scores.

Other universities in the area offer similar opportunities, with choices ranging from computer camps, like the ID Tech Camp at Rider University, to science camps, like Science Adventures at the College of New Jersey, to sports, like the Rider University Early Prospects All Skills Baseball Day Camp or the Kevin Long Soccer Academy at Rider (www.klsacamp.com), to Camp College at Mercer County College, where kids choose from “electives” to create a day-long camp experience. Visit individual college websites for specific offerings and check out the camp listings that begin on page 19.

Stein, a fourth-grade teacher and varsity basketball coach in Virginia, heads the regular day camp on the prestigious, Ivy League Princeton campus for kids aged 6 to 10. Kurt Bergmann, who teaches physical education at Pennsbury High School West in Bucks County, runs the travel camp, which started last year and is open to children aged 10 to 14. This summer’s sessions run from June 25 to August 17.

“Kids love the camp,” says Stein, “and I think it’s because we’re so diverse. We do a lot of sports as opposed to just one sport, and we also have arts and crafts, drama, and field trips to museums. In the travel camp, the kids go all over the place, every day. It’s overall a great program, and we’re right on this beautiful campus.”

The campus location affords many opportunities. Kids attend theatrical performances at Murray-Dodge Hall, and visit the Cotsen Children’s Library at Firestone Library. Children in the day camp are divided into three age groups: 6, 7 to 8, and 9 to 10. About 30 percent of the campers come from families not affiliated with Princeton University, says Stein. Faculty, staff, and students get to register their kids first. Non-university families can sign up starting on Thursday, March 1, at Dillon Gym, Room 3, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

For non-university children, camps costs $300 for one week, $560 for two weeks, $810 for three weeks, $1,055 for four weeks, $1,300 for five weeks, $1,540 for six weeks, $1,770 for seven, and $2,020 for the full eight weeks of regular camp. Travel camp runs from $325 for one week up to $2,000 for five weeks. Pre-camp and post-camp care is also available at an extra charge.

Stein grew up in Lawrenceville and graduated in 2000 from Lawrence High School. His father has switched coasts and is currently associate athletic director for physical education, recreation, and wellness at Stanford University.

“My dad started the camp as a place for me to go to,” Ryan Stein says. “Then continuously, more people wanted to send their kids. I was a camper there and then a counselor. Kurt was a camper and then a counselor, too.”

Both basketball players, Stein and Bergmann graduated from Randolph Macon College in Virginia. Basketball is prominent among the sports they offer at the day camp on the Princeton campus, though Stein stresses that no one sport takes precedence. “We have soccer, baseball, kickball, volleyball, swimming, and basketball,” Stein says. “We have had the tennis coach from Princeton University come and work with the kids. We’ve had a yoga instructor who teaches kiddie yoga. And we have aerobics, which the kids just love.”

Campers also have dance instruction, culminating with a mini-performance each Friday, which is also “field day,” a consistent favorite among campers. “We split the kids into the orange and black teams, and they compete in sports. They really like it, year after year,” Stein says. The children also go on field trips once a week to museums, baseball games, and other attractions.

About 100 children take part in the day camp each week. Participants can attend anywhere from one week to eight; most come for four to six weeks, says Stein. “Kids who come only one or two weeks always want to add on.”

The travel camp that started last year has been a big hit with its 10 to 14-year-old participants. “It’s been awesome,” says Stein. “The kids really liked it. Last year they went to Trenton Thunder baseball games, the beach, parks — a different location every day. We had about 30 kids a week last year and we’re hoping to have about 45 this summer.” Additional venues for day trips last year included tubing the Delaware, Great Adventure, laser tag, Point Pleasant Beach, Belmar, Hurricane Harbor, the Philadelphia Zoo, Adventure Aquarium, Blackbeard’s Cave, Camel Beach Park, and the movies. Similar destinations are planned for this year.

There are 14 counselors for the day camp, most of whom are college students studying education. Travel camp counselors tend to be a bit older. “Most of them are out of school,” says Stein. “Some of them teach at Pennsbury and other places.”

While Princeton’s camp dominates much of Stein’s attention during the summer, he has not limited his camp expertise to this area. “I’m starting some camps in the south, too, at some high schools down here,” he says. “It’s been going well.”

But Princeton’s camp-on-campus has a special allure, he believes. “It’s unique. And it’s a great way to get kids interested in Princeton,” Stein says. “When they’re ready to apply to college, they’ll remember the experience they had here.”

Princeton University Day Camp and Summer Camp, sign-up for non-university families begins Thursday, March 1, Dillon Gym, Room 3, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information call Sharon Henderson at 609-258-3533, E-mail shenders@princeton.edu, or visit www.princeton.edu/~campusre/facilities/daycamp.html.

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