Spark Summer Camp and After School Program is quickly asserting themselves as a premier summer camp in Delaware.
The camp, formerly a massive karate studio, allows hundreds of energetic children to play their favorite field day games, explore their creative minds, and even learn STEM.
Patrick Preece, a karate master who was already running a summer karate camp, realized that “half the population has no interest in karate,” and he wanted to expand into a camp that offered something for all types of children.
“I really just asked myself what an ideal camp would look like for my daughter, and then I went from there,” he said.
So, in 2021, Preece brought his studio to life, transforming it into Spark Summer Camp.
Now, in its second year of operation, Spark already has nearly 300 children enrolled in its three locations: two in Dover and one in Middletown.
The camp is broken into three enrichment categories: instruction, creative and cognitive, and each category has an indoor and outdoor component.
“My favorite part is when the coaches have us do stuff on the karate mats,” said fifth-grader Cecelia Ryan. “It’s always something new and fun, and I’ve really learned gymnastics, karate, and kickboxing.”
Making each day unique for the campers is something Preece envisioned when he started the camp last year.
Teams of campers — each with their own counselor — rotate through 45 minute activities.
Preece still kept his passion for karate as the heart of the camp, which is evident through activities like bully-defense, kickboxing and martial arts.
But to keep children interested, there are a slew of other activities, like arts and crafts that fall into the “creative” enrichment area, and simple machine building during the “cognitive” portion.
“We build cool things like catapults using popsicle sticks and plastic spoons to shoot mini marshmallows,” said Preece, “so they’re going to learn about propulsion and leverage.”
Spark creates thorough lesson plans during the offseason and develops educational videos and discussions to keep the children learning before they head back to school.
“Say Jimmy doesn’t like kickboxing,” Preece said. “He only has to do it for 45 minutes and then — BAM! — onto the next activity, which might be completely different.”
He said the constant rotations result in campers putting 100% of their effort, energy and focus into the task at hand.
This one-size-fits-all approach has helped Spark rapidly grow, and they plan to open another location in Milford next year.
Spark also partners with outside organizations to bring in experts to give the campers the best possible learning experience.
“We have a black belt from Kaizen Karate Academy who will teach the karate lessons and we bring in a dancer from En Pointe Dance Studio to teach the dance lessons and then we get a gym teacher that teaches them gymnastics,” Preece said.
Spark hours and cost
The camp is open 11 hours a day and parents have flexibility as to when they can drop off and pick up their kids so as to accommodate their work schedules.
Preece said no other day camp in the state is open for that long, and coupled with the wide variety of programs Spark offers, he said he has to charge a premium.
It’s $233 a week, but can be discounted to $197 a week if a camper commits for the whole summer. Spark offers after-school programs as well during the academic year.
“Our local YMCA is $310 a week for non-members and our Boys & Girls Club is like $95 a week, but then they have a thousand kids and they can’t really service them at a high level,” Preece said.
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But you can’t put a price tag on the experiences the campers have and the friendships they develop.
Beverley Madrid, a first-grader, said her favorite thing to do at Spark is the cat-and-mouse obstacle course, where the “mouse” camper gets a head start and the “cat” camper chases after them to try to complete the course first.
Madrid said she’s made 1,000 friends at the camp.
Another first-grader, Emerson Smith, said she made 2,000 friends at the camp.
Then fellow first-grader Aiden James one-upped her: he made 3,000 friends at Spark.
The trend went on for about 45 seconds until Emerson silenced her competition by declaring “Well, I’ve made infinity friends this summer!”
To learn more about Spark, or to register for camp or after-school services, click here.
Jarek Rutz can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at (215) 450-9982. Follow him on Twitter @jarekrutz and on LinkedIn.
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
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