Nothing says summer camp like weenie roasts, s’mores and financial literacy programs. Huh? Fueled in part by lingering unemployment fears and investment insecurity from the Great Recession, some parents believe summer vacation time for their children could be better spent learning how to surmount the financial challenges of life rather than discovering how to mount a horse.

Thus, a small but growing number of summer campers are getting exposure to financial literacy programs around the country. In our hyper-competitive society, some parents aren’t content to send their kids to camp just to swim, make Popsicle stick crafts and play softball. The teaching of computer skills at summer camps, for example, has been an ongoing trend. Now, there’s greater interest in teaching kids the basics of finance.

“The camp environment is a great learning environment,” says Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association. “Physical activity promotes the mental
activity and vice versa.”

About 75 camps around the country aimed at 9- to 15-year-olds have some type of financial literacy program, according to the ACA.

One of the leaders in this movement is the International Ivy Summer Enrichment Program (, which uses a kid-friendly stock-trading course developed by the New York Stock Exchange. The course joins other programs at International Ivy aimed at stimulating the mind—from robotics and video game creation to creative writing and the performing arts.

The finance program is led by Jeff Lee, who formerly managed Nikko Asset Management’s $30 billion-plus alternative investments portfolio. He has also held senior positions at ACAM Advisor, UBS, Morgan Stanley and Lehman Brothers.

Lee is the husband of International Ivy owner and program manager Lily Wong. Wong says Lee infused the competitive spirit of Wall Street into the program’s weeklong, three-hour-a-day program last year as the kids tried to outperform each other with an initial stake of $100,000 in play money.

The program was a hit, and Wong is expanding it from its initial trial run site last summer to International Ivy’s six other sites throughout New Jersey in 2014. She admits many of the kids are in the financial literacy sessions because of their parents’ and their grandparents’ interest rather than their own.

Wong recalls one grandfather who sent a grandson to International Ivy in hopes he’d acquire granddad’s enthusiasm for the stock market.

Another outfit doing something similar is the Young Americans Center for Financial Education in Denver ( The organization’s for-profit arm runs the only FDIC-insured bank designed specifically for young people ages 21 and under, while its nonprofit division has operated summer financial education sessions for nearly two decades. As part of Young Americans’ weeklong financial education program, the campers run a lifelike town where they have jobs and household budgets while running small businesses complete with pro forma income statements.

David Ettinger, 29, says his two summer sessions with Young Americans helped open the door for a career that has led to a position in institutional equity sales at Morgan Stanley in San Francisco.

“I remember it vividly,” he says. “That is where I first learned everything from writing a check to putting a deposit in a savings account. It was even where I first learned what a stock was.”