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Character: The Heart of ESF Summer Camps

ESF builds upon family values and continues to shape the “Character Muscles” of their campers.

What do your kids want out of summer camp?


Michael Rouse, the co-founder and executive director of ESF Camps, and his staff know — because they’re always looking for something new and interesting for today’s kids and teens.  


“We’re really trying to create programs that are cutting-edge for children — the best on the planet,” Rouse said. “We do that with every single program we offer, in every single age group.”


Every year, there’s a new program, or a slightly different take on a tried-and-true idea. That’s how ESF has come to offer everything from day camp for 4-year-olds to business camps for teens (with technology, science, and the arts in between).


Mindful of the trust parents put in the camps, ESF has made a huge commitment to safety. The all-adult staff is trained every year on the latest skills and information. Have a child with a food allergy? They’re welcome at ESF: allergists often recommend the camps, which are welcoming and accommodating.


Even the car line is down to a science.


“We’ve been doing this for 35 years, and we try to raise the bar every year,” Rouse said.


That’s also true of the effort at the very heart of the ESF philosophy: building character. Rouse found his niche in sports — tennis and hockey — at a young age, and has long emphasized the value of teaching even the youngest kids about teamwork, accountability, leadership and respect.


From the Gamer Awards at the Phillies Baseball Academy to the Spirit Stick at Day Camp, kids learn that hard work, kindness, and tenacity pay off.


ESF is working with Jim Loehr, a world–renowned high performance psychologist, to further that goal. After working with top-level athletes in a variety of sports, Loehr believes that character is the most important factor in what makes an elite athlete great. Now, he’s helping ESF add to an already robust curriculum for youth of all ages in each of ESF’s program offerings.


“It’s building muscles of character — that’s the key,” Rouse said.

The bedrock of ESF’s Camps are the 8 ESF Virtues of Character:

GRATITUDE: We start each morning with a smile and by “going big.”


RESPECT: We have no rules, only three agreements: respect yourself, respect others, and respect the environment.

TRUSTWORTHINESS: We develop leaders and entrust them with unique responsibilities at camp.

EFFORT: We celebrate the amazing talents, accomplishments, and efforts of our campers.


KINDNESS: We encourage campers to perform random acts of kindness and compassion.


POSITIVITY: We practice positive language and actively encourage a mindset of “positive focus.”


RESILIENCY: We provide campers with the tools to become stronger with each endeavor.


We celebrate team and build community at camp with an emphasis on empathy.

No matter which camp you choose, your child is headed for his or her best summer ever. Here’s a taste of what ESF offers.

Mini Camp (Preschool) and Day Camp (Rising Pre-K– 3rd Grade)


These traditional camps are perfect for the youngest campers, starting at age 3 and running through third grade. It’s summer camp the way you remember it: swimming, arts & crafts, sports, science, camp performances, and action-packed, non-stop fun.


This camp is the foundation for your child’s future at ESF Camps. It’s here that kids begin to practice the 8 ESF Virtues, including the value of kindness, teamwork and community — and the joy that comes with it.


“At age 4, they begin to be the leader of their Tribe,” Rouse said. “In addition to having the time of their lives, they are discovering new passions and learning life skills that they will bring to the classroom in the next school year.”

Multi-Sport Camp (Rising 1st – 9th Grade)


It’s so common these days for kids to focus in on a sport at an early age, but research shows that can lead to overuse injuries and burnout. Children who play more than one sport stay healthier, physically and mentally.


ESF’s Multi-Sport camps give kids the chance to learn and play 10 sports weekly, and two to three each day. That means they can try a new sport — and, maybe, discover they love it. From baseball and basketball to lacrosse and soccer, multi-sport camp provides rising first through ninth graders with top-notch instruction and skill development. Campers are grouped by rising grade levels into divisions called Conferences. They discover their inner athlete through game play, instructional clinics, tournaments, and more.


The coaches use sports to keep building character, including fostering trustworthiness, effort, accountability, leadership, and teamwork.

Senior Camp (Rising 4st – 10th Grade)


This camp, for rising fourth through 10th graders, is all about what ESF calls “True Life Adventures.” Senior Camp broadens the horizons of the older camper. It’s what kids this age are looking for — and need as they become more and more independent. From comic book design to digital photography and building a carnival from the ground up, these campers continue to learn teamwork, positivity and grit, and to embrace the community around them.


Campers work through team challenges, but keep things light with dance parties and daily swimming. Senior camp has leadership and service opportunities, but still lets kids play gaga, try an American Ninja Warrior course, and cheer their friends through camp competitions.

Specialty Major Camps (Rising K-9th Grade)

These specialty camps let kids pick a “major” and then drill down into a subject, and the range is enormous.


Science camps include exclusive partnerships with the Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia Zoo. Technology camps feature NEW and enhanced curriculum and program offerings uniquely designed through a new partnership with BSD (Build Something Different). Programs give campers a chance to dig into statistics through the science of baseball’s Sabermetrics, 3D game design, coding, and robotics and engineering.


Got a kid who’s into food? The Vetri Junior and Master Chef Academies are run through a unique partnership with renowned chef Marc Vetri and Vetri Community Partnership. Each unique camp gives young foodies the chance to cook some of the dishes they love, and explore new tastes, too.


ESF’s Junior Business Academy, which has an exclusive partnership with the Jack Welch Management Institute, gives campers the opportunity to create their own business in just one week! For rising fifth through eighth graders, business camp helps build the entrepreneurial spirit, and further cements the values of respect, resilience, and trustworthiness by providing campers with a tool belt to be successful.

Tennis Camp (Rising 1st– 10th Grade)

This is how ESF got its start, way back in 1982, and it’s still a cornerstone today. Budding players — whether they’re beginners or experts — get high-quality instruction, practice, and match play. Kids can swim daily if they want, and play “Grand Slam” tournaments weekly!

Professional Sports Camps (1st – 9th Grade)

Give your baseball and soccer-loving  children something only ESF can offer: The opportunity to play with the pros at the official camps of the Philadelphia Phillies and Philadelphia Union.


Phillies Baseball Academy campers get top-notch instruction on technique, as well as team and individual tactics, plus an official Phillies uniform and a behind-the-scenes tour of Citizen Bank Park! This camp is an unforgettable experience for any boy or girl who loves the game.


At Philadelphia Union Soccer Schools, the beautiful game is the focus. Campers get an official uniform, unparalleled coaching and instruction, plus a trip to Talen Energy Stadium. Your children may have been to soccer camps before, but this one will blow them away.


Ready to register, or want to know more? Visit ESF’s website and use our amazing program finder to discover the perfect fit for your child, or call us at 800-529-CAMP (2267). 

Check out our Open Houses coming soon! RSVP online. Walk-ins also welcome!

April 14: William Allen Middle School in Moorestown, New Jersey: RSVP Now!

April 15: The Haverford School in Haverford, PA: RSVP Now!

April 21: Montgomery School in Chester Springs, PA: RSVP Now!

April 22: The Episcopal Academy in Newtown Square, PA: RSVP Now!

Watch our website for additional Open House and Tour Dates!


ESF Camps runs programs on the Main Line at The Haverford School (Haverford), Montgomery School (Chester Springs), The Episcopal Academy (Newtown Square), and at Chestnut Hill College and Norwood-Fontbonne Academy (Chestnut Hill). ESF also has locations in southern New Jersey at William Allen Middle School/Moorestown High School (Moorestown) and The Lawrenceville School (Lawrenceville).



Photographs courtesy of ESF Summer Camps. 


This article appears in the 2018 Philadelphia Family  and Main Line Parent Neighbors Issues. Want your own copy? Join as a Supporting Member or subscribe today!

Education. Sports. Fun. The widest variety of award-winning day, sports and specialty camps. All designed to explore each camper's passions and potential. Rich in experiential learning and character building curriculum.

  • Sarah Bond February 8, 2018

    My kids have spent most of their summers at ESF at The Haverford School for the last three summers and they love it! The swimming program helped both of them build solid skills and confidence in the water and I know they love the camaraderie of their tribes and the cheers in Day Camp. The energy and efficiency of their car line experience has consistently amazed me and the events throughout the summer allowed me to see how ESF has such a great team of enthusiastic counselors who are dedicated to helping my kids grow and thrive. I highly recommend ESF Summer Camps and Programs to all of my friends and neighbors.

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