Positive summer camp experiences change kids’ lives. As parents, we all remember our own summer day camp experiences for the fond memories that make us laugh even today. Here’s the great news: Your kids have the chance to build their own lifelong memories at Camp Jaguar, a Chicago summer camp for kids preK-grade seven at The Frances Xavier Warde School.
“I see the impact that camp can have for kids,” says Tom Burke, Director of Auxiliary Programs at The Frances Xavier Warde School in Chicago. “Summer camp changed my life and I definitely see the impact it has on my own kids.”
Burke has a long history of building summer camp programs that kids love and at Camp Jaguar, he’s pouring all of his skills and experiences as a native Australian backpacking across the U.S. in the mid-2000s. He landed at a day camp 25 miles from New York City and loved it so much, he worked there for 12 years before taking a role as camp director in Brooklyn.
“What changed for me was that I went from a 35-acre, fully built camp with all the amenities to an urban concrete and wooden playground,” he says. “But I based everything on that first camp experience and made something really wonderful for the kids.”
Now in charge of Camp Jaguar, Burke brings enthusiasm, excitement and a winning approach to summer camp programming. Campers don’t need to be students of Frances Xavier Warde to attend, and Camp Jaguar, held at Frances Xavier Warde’s Old St. Patrick’s Campus in Chicago’s West Loop, is very accessible to kids across Chicagoland.
Kid-first Chicago summer camp
For kids, it’s mandatory that summer is entirely different from the school year. “It has to be fun,” Burke says. “If it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing, and we want kids to be kids. In the summer, they are allowed a long leash to be a little more rambunctious.”
At Camp Jaguar, there’s plenty of room to be goofy while still learning how to socialize, how to fall and get back up and how to problem solve, he says. “We combine teaching with fun and kids build confidence and friendships.”
During the Camp Jaguar day, kids are organized in “packs” of 10 to 12 campers and two counselors who navigate the day. Younger campers (up to second grade) stay with their packs during the day and engage in a robust schedule of activities in 30-minute blocks. “We’re all about variety,” Burke explains. Kids will cycle through more active blocks, followed by quieter activities, maybe even in air-conditioned environments. “They aren’t just out in the sun all day, but can take some time to regroup and then go out again,” he says.
“But what really makes our program stand out is our specialists. They add an extra dimension to our camp. Counselors have enough on their plate without having to worry about teaching activities also, our specialists bring with them a combination of being extremely knowledgeable in their field as well as an extensive background working with children,” says Burke.
For third graders and older, kids will have opportunities to select their own schedules. “We will have options which change daily, and electives that they can do each morning and afternoon. It might be sports or arts and crafts or cooking, but it’s something they’ll get the chance to do for 10 hours during the week,” Burke says. “We’re never forcing kids to do activities they don’t want to do. We give them some independence because we know campers are happier doing what they want to do and making their own choices.”
Swimming: Every. Single. Day.
A big plus for kids is the opportunity for daily swimming and plenty of supervised playtime in the pool. “Camp Jaguar is one of the few Chicago summer camps to offer swimming daily,” Burke says.
With access to a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces, campers at Camp Jaguar will have plenty of room to roam. “We have an indoor playground, an outdoor playground, a park across the street, a gym and a ton of space inside. We’ll have a game room with brand new games like bumper pool and ping pong,” Burke explains.
It’s a huge thing for campers to have cool counselors who make the day fun and serve as important role models for younger kids, so Burke says plenty of thought goes into each hire at Camp Jaguar.
“We know kids are really quick to figure out when counselors are just there for the paycheck, and we’re hiring counselors who want more than just a summer job, but who recognize the impact they have on kids and who will connect with them and really make a difference to their experience,” he says.
There’s also a Counselor in Training program for eighth and ninth graders, who want to get their first tastes of child care in a camp environment, as well as several other immersive summer programs, including Athletes On The Rise and Jaguar Geniuses for kids who want in-depth coding, robotics, STEAM, math, filmmaking, dance and cheer and musical theater. There’s affordable after-camp care, too.
For the whole summer, or for just a week, Camp Jaguar at Frances Xavier Warde School is a great place for kids to spend their time.
“We know that parents are happy when their kid comes home happy every day,” Burke says. “We are intentional about creating a customer service aspect to Camp Jaguar so parents know that if they have questions, they can always ask our senior staff about what their kids are doing — and our staff will know exactly what campers are doing each day.”
Learn more about Camp Jaguar and other summer programs at The Frances Xavier Warde School at fxw.org/summer-programs.