Camp Invention is backed by the National Inventors Hall of Fame and partners with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. (Camp Invention) Camp Invention is backed by the National Inventors Hall of Fame and partners with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. (Camp Invention)

Academic camps get a bad rap. Think your child will be taking timed tests while others sing campfire songs and zipline? Balderdash! Kids get a leg up on school while designing video games, digging for fossils or learning to be spies at these summer camps. They’re so much fun, kids will forget they’re learning.

Active Learning Services camps, 281-257-0078
Ages: 5 to 15 for chess; 7 to 16 for video games; 8 to 16 for animation
Length: One afternoon to weeklong day camp
Locations: National Cathedral School (3609 Woodley Road NW); St. Andrew’s Episcopal School (8804 Postoak Road, Potomac, Md.); St. Stephens & St. Agnes School (1000 St. Stephens Road Alexandria)
The vibe: Classroom instruction in a relaxed atmosphere
What it’s like: The camp’s three options ­— chess, computer animation or video-game creation — all encourage play while teaching kids new skills. The chess games are friendly, low-stress and come with classroom instruction from veteran players. Computer-animation camp teaches kids to program and tell stories, while the video game series takes them from start to finish through the game-development process. Campers can even take their creation home to play.

Camp Invention, 800-968-4332
Campers: Students entering grades 1 to 6
Length: Weeklong day camp
Location: 15 elementary schools in Maryland and Virginia
The vibe: Small-group activities focused on innovation and problem solving
What it’s like: Kids might head to a strange planet or a faraway island ­— at least in their imaginations — where they must solve a problem or build a gadget. It’s all designed to teach science, technology, engineering and math skills. Around lunchtime, they hit the gym. The day ends with group exercises that instill determination against obstacles.

Family Dinosaur Camp, 202-547-3326
Campers: All ages welcome; adults must accompany their children
Length: Weeklong day camps run from April through August
Location: Meet on-site around the D.C. area
The vibe: Interactive field trips designed to bring paleontology to life
What it’s like: During field trips to the National Zoo, museums and known fossil sites, kids and parents learn how we know what we know about dinosaurs. The hands-on instruction includes interaction with a paleontologist plus a hunt for real dinosaur fossils. If you find one, it’s yours to take home. “Our objective is to use activities to teach the kids how we learn about science,” says paleontologist and camp organizer Peter Kranz.

iD Tech, 888-709-8324
Campers: Ages 7 to 18; campers older than 10 have the option to stay overnight in the dorms for the week
Length: One or two weeks between June and August
Location: American and Georgetown Universities
The vibe: A programming camp for tech-minded kids and teens
What it’s like: Kids learn about Web- and mobile- application design, filmmaking, digital photography, robotics and video-game design in this interactive camp designed to foster an interest in technology and give kids a competitive edge in school. Classes are taught by “hip, tech-savvy instructors,” says iD Tech’s Ryan Barone.

Language Stars, 866-557-8277
Campers: Ages 3 to 10; Toddlers between 1 and 2 years old with accompanying adult
Length: From one day to nine weeks
Location: Language Stars centers in Alexandria, Bethesda, Fairfax, Falls Church, Gaithersburg, Md., McLean, Va., and Reston, Va.
The vibe: Immersion is the name of the game at these camps, designed to accelerate your child’s understanding of Spanish, French, Mandarin, Italian, German or Arabic. Classes are led by native speakers who teach kids about the culture as well.

Mad Science Washington, 301-593-4777
Campers: Kids entering grades 1 to 6
Length: Weeklong day camps
Location: 24 schools, churches and community centers in the area
The vibe: Classroom teaching mixed with hands-on tasks and experiments
What it’s like: With seven different options, campers can choose what they spend their week learning: In the Eureka camp, they’ll put together electric circuits and build catapults, while Science in Motion participants dissect owl pellets and make sidewalk chalk. Other activities include rocket launches, fingerprint analysis and lessons on molecules that are taught with marshmallows.

MathTree, 877-628-4987
Campers: Ages 5 to 15
Length: Two-week day camps from June to August
Location: 20 locations around the Beltway
The vibe: Supportive space to improve kids’ math skills
What it’s like: Small group exercises are designed to break down math concepts and make them less daunting to children. Kids not only learn how to do math problems that give them a leg up on curriculum for their next school year, but they have the chance to understand why crunching numbers is valuable and useful in the real world.

National Building Museum, 202-272-2448
Campers: Kids entering grades 3 to 5
Length: Two-week sessions in July and August
Location: National Building Museum (401 F Street NW)
The vibe: Interactive activities that explain design and architecture
What it’s like: Kids get an introduction to city planning and building design using Legos, terra cotta and food as their materials. Professional city planners and designers visit to help campers make the connection between their camp projects and the architecture of Washington, D.C.

Spy Camp, 202-654-0933
Campers: Secret agents age 10 to 13
Length: Weeklong sessions run from July 28 to Aug. 1 and Aug. 4 to 8
Location: International Spy Museum, (800 F Street, NW)
The vibe: Fun atmosphere focused on teamwork
What it’s like: Silliness is welcome at this light-hearted introduction to spying and sleuthing. Kids learn to work together while developing disguises, breaking codes, talking to real-life spies and stepping outside for “training missions.” Just don’t get upset if your child comes home having mastered the art of evasion.