NEW YORK CITY — Olivia Levin didn't go to summer camp to improve her backstroke or learn to build a campfire — she went to study fashion design.
Olivia, 15, who lives in Hell's Kitchen, learned to sew and design clothes — and toured magazine offices and fabric showrooms — last summer as part of Passport NYC's three-week fashion design sleep-away camp at 92Y.
"Going to this camp was probably the best experience and the most fun I've had any summer since ever," said Olivia, who now hopes to pursue a career as a fashion magazine editor.
Passport NYC, which also offers programs in film, culinary arts, the music industry and musical theater, is one of many summer camps in the metropolitan area that branch out beyond traditional hikes in the woods and canoeing trips to teach a range of unusual skills.
Young New Yorkers can try their hand at everything from building a robot to weaving textiles. They can even form a rock band, study engineering or board a space simulator, all thanks to highly specialized summer programs.
Before attending Passport NYC, Olivia said she had previously tried a more traditional overnight camp and hated it. But the excitement of studying fashion design last summer helped her get over her initial homesickness.
Soon, Olivia was learning about sketching and styling and was having too much fun to think about anything else.
"I really want to do the foreign-exchange program at my school, and if I didn't go to this camp, I probably would have never thought about going," she said. "I know that I can make friends and I'm not going to be alone."
Here's a look at some of the city's top summer camps teaching unique skills:
303 Third Ave., Gowanus
This camp offers three programs — robot vehicles, robot forts and cities, and introduction to robot programming — for children entering first through seventh grades. Session dates and registration depend on the camper's age. Visit the Foundry's website for age-specific information and prices.
Blue School, 241 Water St., Financial District; Cathedral High School, 350 E. 56th St., Midtown
With two sessions in Manhattan, this weeklong day camp for 8- to 18-year-old girls boasts instrument instruction, songwriting workshops, band practice, shows by visiting musicians and a final "showcase concert." A separate Rock Camp Jumpstart is available for girls from 4 to 7 years old. Prices and registration information are available online.
Berkeley Carroll School, 701 Carroll St., Park Slope; The Brooklyn Free School, 372 Clinton Ave., Clinton Hill; The International School of Brooklyn, 477 Court St., Carroll Gardens; Marymount School for Girls, 2 E. 82nd St., Upper East Side
With three locations in Brooklyn and one in Manhattan, this camp for girls in third through sixth grades emphasizes "creative explorations in design, writing, science and engineering." A junior program is available for first- and second-graders. Dates, classes and costs are site-specific, so visit Curious Jane's website for more information.
Locations have not been announced for 2013, but the program will take place near the Textile Arts Center's outposts at 26 W. 8th St., West Village, and 505 Carroll St., Park Slope
Weeklong classes in weaving and surface design are available in both Manhattan and Brooklyn. As part of the program, campers go on a textile or art-related field trip every Wednesday. At the end of the session, family and friends can check out kids' projects. The $475 sessions are open to children from 5 to 11 years old.
575 Degraw St., Gowanus
This specialized gym offers children from 5 to 12 years old weeklong programs involving climbing activities as well as arts and crafts. The cost is $539 per week per child, according to the website. Brooklyn Boulders offers sibling discounts. Registration is available online.
220 Henry St., Lower East Side
Children go to space at this camp. Activities include piloting flight simulators and programming robots from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. The weeklong sessions cost $450. Dates will be posted online in March.
Holy Trinity Church, 20 Cumming St., Inwood
Summer programming at this popular academy includes yoga, capoeira, cooking and herb-gardening. Half the camp is comprised of Scribble Art Workshop activities, including crafting and music classes. Many of the activities take place outside. More information will soon be available on Bread and Yoga's website.
92Y, 1395 Lexington Ave., Upper East Side
With specialized programs such as fashion, culinary arts, music production, musical theater and film, campers get both formal instruction as well as hands-on experience in key New York City industries. With culinary arts, for example, campers not only take cooking classes but learn farm-to-table principles by working at the city's Greenmarkets and touring top eateries. Passport NYC is a residential camp for ninth to 12th-graders. Two three-week sessions are offered each summer.
With reporting by Leslie Albrecht.