Camp Kensington offers children fun and learning, raises money for MAP and the education foundationtion

After a successful foray into summer camp territory last year, Katie Topping is doing the only sensible thing: offering the camp again this summer and tripling the amount she hopes to donate to two West Linn-Wilsonville school nonprofits.

Topping, a West Linn parent and a teacher in the David Douglas School District, designed Camp Kensington as a way to keep kids learning during the long school break. But please, don’t tell the kids that. If they suspect that they are actually learning, they might be too upset to enjoy the entertaining camp activities Topping and her staff will present in five weekly sessions through Aug. 8.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Ella Brodsky shows the contraption she made to help her egg hopefully survive a high drop at Camp Kensington last summer. This week, campers are exploring “phenomenal physics” at Camp Kensington, experimenting with egg drops, balloon car races, magnetism and paper airplanes. The following weeks bring sessions on “amazing animals,” “outrageous Olympics,” “super space” and the “wild world.” Campers attending the various sessions can expect to explore ecosystems, examine water life using microscopes, navigate obstacle courses, create universes in a jar and experience tornadoes, volcanoes and more.

There’s even a zoo fashion show, a scavenger hunt and something called astronaut mustache day. In other words, Camp Kensington campers will find plenty of options to keep themselves entertained.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Solupiena Shimosaki creates a nature collage during Camp Kensingtons first year.They’re not the only ones who will benefit, though.

Topping’s goal in creating the camp was twofold. She wanted to offer local families a fun way to counter the phenomenon known as “summer learning loss,” whereby students can lose ground in reading, writing and math skills while they’re away from school. She also wanted to give back to WL-WV schools, by donating the profits from the camp to Music and Art Partners (MAP) and the West Linn-Wilsonville Education Foundation.

Last year, she donated $500 each to those groups. This year, with a year’s experience and some of the camp’s start-up expenses behind her, she is hoping to donate $1,500 to each.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Camp Kensington founder and director Katie Topping has enlisted the help of her son James, a 2014 graduate of West Linn High School.Her son, James Topping, is on board for the camp’s second year. A 2014 graduate of West Linn High School, he plans to enjoy a “gap year” exploring Australia and Europe before attending business school at University of Southern California in the fall of 2015.

“Last year we had a few 12-year-olds that really stepped up and showed their leadership. This year, we wanted to make it an official thing,” he said.

He took the lead in creating the junior counselor program, creating an application, interviewing candidates and training them.

“They were all so happy to be a part of it,” he said.

Another change from last year is the camp’s focus on science.

“I noticed last year that we had a lot of art activities,” James said. by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Mathew Teem and Evan Carillo work together to make a volcano at Camp Kensington in the summer of 2013. “What the kids were most invested in and excited about was science. ... Hearing kids talk about atoms to each other — that was the moment I realized science should be the focus.”

No matter what activities they are enjoying, Camp Kensington campers will appreciate the Toppings’ flexible approach to each day. A generous ratio of one counselor to five campers enables staff to create the perfect experience for every child. That means that if a camper doesn’t seem to enjoy a particular activity, the staff can accommodate that and offer alternatives.

The camp meets at the West Linn Lutheran Church, 20390 Willamette Drive, and has the full run of the basement, including a theater area with ultraviolet lights. Campers enjoy dancing and playing there, Topping said, because their white clothing glows in the dark.

The varied terrain of Mary S. Young Park, in the church’s backyard, offers even more variety. This year, Topping arranged use of the church’s passenger van, so that all the campers, even the youngest, can enjoy access to the park.

“It will totally change the way we use that park,” she said. Scavenger hunts, sports, picnics and nature walks will play a big role in each camp session.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Solupiena Shimosaki and Cami Hatch show off the Eiffel Tower they made at Camp Kensington. Topping is committed to continuing the camp for another four years or so. After that, she hopes that someone else will take over from her.

“Ideally, I can hand it off to someone,” she said.

“For very little cost to us, it’s a great opportunity to give back,” Topping said. “When you run a business, it’s important to have that philosophy. Why not start with that? Why not have that from the very beginning instead of something you do later?”

Camp runs Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with extended hours starting at 8 a.m. and until 4:30 p.m. Each week costs $175; a half-day option is available from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for $90 per week. Children ages 5 to 12 are invited. Learn more or register online at or call 503-764-7701.

By Kate Hoots
Education reporter
503-636-1281, ext. 112
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