Some camps teach children how to run a business or behave in professional company. At others, they can try their hand at career options ranging from archaeology to filmmaking or even see if they've got what it takes to be president of the United States.
In the distant Washington suburb of Clarksburg, a dozen pre-teens sat on dew-damp grass under a sweltering sun and scratched with trowels at squares of dirt, dumping them into plastic buckets before carrying their haul off to be sifted.
It was just like being a real archaeologist, down to the frustratingly rare eureka moments when the sieve reveals a shard of pottery, a sliver of glass, a tooth or bone amid the red-brown dirt.
At Camp CEO, held at Millikin University in Illinois, teens as young as 14 last month drafted and presented business plans, met with local entrepreneurs and learned how to behave at official functions.
Now in its third year, the camp aims to teach youngsters "what it's like to be in the driver's seat," said Connie Beck, director of the Millikin Regional Entrepreneurship Network and one of Camp CEO's founders.
"What we want to teach them is how to identify opportunity, wherever that opportunity might be, and once they've identified that, then how to determine that it's an idea that might be valuable to go forward with," Beck told AFP, saying the tough economic times gave added importance to the initiative.
At Croydon Creek Nature Center in Rockville, Maryland, a dozen pre-teenagers tried their hand at making nature videos at a camp that began last year "to show kids some of the options in nature-type careers," said Melinda Norton, assistant supervisor at the center.
"This is something I might do when I grow up," said Joseph Heyman, 10, as he filmed nine-year-old Hannah Hwang holding a snake, the subject of their group's documentary.
The local Rockville 11 television station will air the children's handiwork later this month.
"The kids do everything: they research their topic, write the script and film it," said station manager Bridget Broullire.
At the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, children can try their hand at being "President for a Week," years before they can even vote for the next White House resident.
The week's schedule includes building political movements, creating campaign materials and enhancing public speaking skills. The camp sells out every year.
It's all a far cry from swinging off a rope into a lake or playing stickball in between hikes -- which is what some of the kids at these peek-into-the-adult-world camps would really like to be doing.
When Andrew, 11, was asked as he sifted his pile of dirt at the old Zeigler plantation if he wanted to be an archaeologist one day, he replied bluntly: "No. I'm here because my parents sent me."
He asked that his last name be withheld.
"Sometimes, it's the parents who are more interested in the camp than the kids," said Heather Bouslog, who founded the archaeology camp 11 years ago.
"They say, 'Boy, I wish they'd had a camp like this when I was a kid,' and live vicariously through their own children" by sending them to archaeology or movie-making or money-management camp, said Bouslog.
But the new breed of summer camps also scores notable successes.
Bouslog named several former counselors -- teens who work at summer camps -- who are either studying or working in archaeology.
Katie Furrie, who this year finished high school, set up an online business after attending Camp CEO two years ago, when she was all of 16.
"The camp helped me to take a step into the real business world and sell my product to a lot of people instead of just people around where we live," said Furrie, who plans to use the money she makes from selling Miss L' Toe Christmas stockings to help pay for university.
And then there's 11-year-old Nicole Dembo, who decided to chart a new career path after archaeology camp.
"Before, I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher," she said.
"Because of this camp, I want to be an archaeologist," Dembo said as she held up a sliver of glass too thin to be from a modern-day soda bottle that she had plucked from the brown dirt.