MOSCOW — In a small town outside the capital, 15-year-old boys live in barracks with soldiers. They march in formation, memorize army regulations and sing songs in unison.
“After our camp, young men aren’t afraid of hazing,” says Vladimir Prixodko, the camp director, referring to a persistent problem in the Russian army that has scared off potential new recruits.
Prixodko's camp costs $500 per session, and includes kids from the U.S. and Holland — the children of emigrants who have settled in Russia. Last year the camp was full: 200 young men attended over four separate sessions. This year, the organizers are planning to expand even more.
This is not your classic "Kumbaya" and bonfires type of summer camp. But who wants that kind of thing anymore anyway? Why should children spend the summer having fun when they could be off learning valuable working skills? Summer soldiering is one option for Russian parents. But there are plenty of others to choose from as well.
In 2007, Yekaterina Golubeva, a journalist from St. Petersburg, bought a house in a tiny, rundown village called Gostilovo. Wanting to improve her new hometown, Golubeva thought of a project for the local park, the only thing left of a regal home that had once been in the village center. She signed a 49-year lease for the park for $40 per year, and did a crowd-funding campaign to buy a tiller. Since 2012, families have come with children to volunteer to clean up the park.
“I think that kids today don’t get enough meaningful labor,” Golubeva says.
Aleksei Stolyarov, the owner of a tourism company, has a similar program in the village he’s lived in for the past 10 years. Entire families have signed up to come to Stolyarov’s village, beginning in May, to build a playground, repair the roads and plant trees.
Song and dance
Andrei Bogdanov, who runs an acting school for children and teens, bringing together aspiring filmmakers at the seaside in Bulgaria, got inspiration for his summer camp from an Italian film festival (CinemadaMare — "Cinema of the Sea").
Bogdanov didn’t organize it all on his own — he offered the camp to tour agencies. Last year just 15 kids participated, but this year enrollment is up to 30. The camp includes master-classes on professions related to the movie business, and the kids will be required to create their own film as a final project. “I wanted to make a camp that would have been interesting to me as a 12- or 15-year-old,” Bogdanov explains.
Irbis, a dance and theater school for children and teens, will offer a summer camp for kids to put on shows from Kipling and Chekov. “Parents were begging us to open a summer camp,” says the school’s co-owner, Zakhar Tsura. “They wanted their kids to be studying something that they loved over the summer."
Meanwhile, the large central Russian city of Novosibirsk is becoming not only the nation's hub for sciences, but also for the modeling business, with nine agencies in the city for aspiring models.
Last year, Dmitrii Kolesnikov, who works in the industry, started a summer camp for child models. At first there were just 20 kids, who studied how to walk on the catwalk, how to act and choreography, and finished the camp with a portfolio. This year Siberian Top Model is planning to accept 40 to 60 child models. A photo session on yacht and meetings with top models are also on the agenda. Anyone can attend: there are no restrictions based on looks.
The possibilities for children to attend a specialized summer camp are almost endless: There are camps for girls to learn how to sew and cook, and camps for geeks to work on robotics projects.
The only type of summer camp that seems to be hard to find is the old-fashioned variety, where kids just swim, hike and hang out with friends. When there are grown-up marketable skills to be acquired, summer fun has become a serious waste of time.