My daughter Amelia had a horrible experience the first time she went to summer camp. It wasn’t the camp’s fault. It was mine. I was rushed (as usual) with figuring out a plan and signed her up for a day camp that was popular with some other kids in her school without really thinking about what Amelia would truly enjoy. It was a general sports camp, and while Amelia does like sports, the groups were very large and there was a lot of outdoor time in the hot sweltering summer heat. In hindsight, I should have realized that Amelia does better in smaller groups with a mix of activities to break a long day outside. She also started the camp mid-summer, while most of the kids started at the beginning of summer and had already created their close circle of friends—a hard thing to break into when you’re eight years old. Needless to say, she lasted a week before she refused to go back and I had to eat all the money that I paid up front. I learned my lesson the hard way.
The following summer both Amelia and I were scared to commit to a camp. Thankfully, I met Wendy Marks, who’s an advisor from The Camp Experts & Teen Summers, and supermom to Cooper, 6, and Zoe, 9. (Zoe is the cutie pie shown above in all her camp glory.) Wendy listened to our nightmare story and came up with a list of camps that were more aligned with Amelia’s needs: smaller groups, more arts/crafts/theater and a week-by-week schedule so that starting in the middle of the summer wouldn’t be a social stress. We decided on Applause and Amelia had the best time ever. I was so relieved to see her have fun, be engaged and make new friends—with both the students and the teachers. She’s now looking forward to going back this summer.
It’s so important to find the right type of camp for your kids, even when you’re rushing to figure it all out at the last minute, which is often what happens to the over-booked mom. So I asked Wendy to give some pointers on how to find the perfect summer camp for your child.
PI: What’s the best way to start researching summer camps?
Wendy: Of course I’m going to say, call The Camp Experts! We’ll give you a personalized, free consultation to find out what you’re looking for, hear about your child’s interests and needs are, and what parameters you have in terms of price, distance from home, dates, etc. Then we’ll recommend programs that would be a good fit, and have those programs send info to your home. Camp Experts travel every summer to visit all different types of camps while they are in session. We tour the campuses, observe the activities, and get to know the owners and directors. Fill out an inquiry form on www.campexperts.com or call 212.452.2267, then an advisor in your area will email or call you back within 48 hours. We work with summer camps all over the country.
PI: What is the best age for a child to start sleep away camp?
Wendy: That totally depends on your child, and dynamics within your family. There are some children who are ready and enthusiastic for sleep away camp at age 6 or 7. And then there are children who still may not be ready at age 11. Often the younger siblings will head off to sleep away camp at a younger age than his/her older siblings because they want to get in on all the fun too. So, there really is no “right age” to go. Signs that your child is probably ready for sleep away camp include:
• Your child enjoys sleepovers at friend’s or neighbor’s houses.
• Your child can brush teeth and take a shower/wash hair independently (or with just a little help).
• Your child has attended some type of day camp and enjoyed the experience.
• Your child is asking to try a sleep away camp, or seems interested when the topic comes up.
• Your child has had a successful overnight field trip with school/club/church or temple group.
PI: Do families have to visit the camp before they decide to enroll?
Wendy: Many families take their children to see a camp they’re interested in. Visiting the summer BEFORE you plan to send your camper is ideal. This way you get to see the camp in action, meet the directors and other staff, and see if you could picture your child thriving there. However, it is perfectly acceptable to enroll without having visited the camp. Many parents feel confident because they’ve researched the camp, they have friends or family members at the camp, they’ve had a director come and meet the family or they’ve had phone conversations with directors and feel comfortable.
PI: What are some good questions to ask while visiting a camp or speaking to a director on the phone?
Wendy: Is there a philosophy you believe in here? Tell us about it and why it makes your camp unique. What is your camper to counselor ratio? What do you do here to make new campers comfortable?
So if you’re still trying to find the perfect summer camp for your child, I highly suggest you take Wendy’s advice instead of rushing into the easiest option available, like I did. Now that Amelia is in love with her summer camp, she looks forward to going and it makes everyone in the family happy—and I’m not wasting my hard-earned money.
Another important summer kids topic: sun protection. Please take a few minutes to make sure that you’re adequately protecting your child from the skin-damaging effects of sun exposure: How To Apply Sunscreen To Your Kids