Gearing Up for Summer Camps

March 13, 2015

Tips for choosing the right overnight camp for your kids

From whitewater rafting to performing arts and cooking, today's sleep-away camps appeal to a wide range of interests while still providing the long-term benefits summer camp is known for. And yet, you may wonder how to find an overnight camp that offers the right blend of environment and activities for your child and gives you peace of mind at the same time.

Benefits of overnight camp. In addition to learning new skills, children learn how to collaborate and live in community while at camp, gaining self-confidence and independence through problem-solving and teamwork.

"...All those things are life skills and life assets that every parent wants for their child," says Jill Tipograph, a camp consultant and author of Your Everything Summer Guide & Planner.

Popular camp activities. According to the American Camp Association, 75 percent of camp directors reported adding new activities and programs to accommodate trends in popular culture. The top three activities camps are integrating into their more traditional fare include performing arts, adventure and more recently, the culinary arts.

"Culinary is the hottest and newest in terms of camps investing in building kitchens and bringing in specialists to teach the kids. The other part that goes along with culinary is the whole, farmed table — taking things from the gardens and cooking them," Tipograph says.

kids sunset campTraditional vs. specialty. Specialty camps are designed for kids interested in pursuing a specific interest. Traditional camps, on the other hand, offer a combination of programming.

"I feel that if children start their camping career on a purely specialty track, (parents) are really missing what camp can do for their child. The advantage traditional camps offer is they are all about the child holistically," Tipograph says. "At any good camp, campers...get excited about an idea, and they pursue it from beginning to end without an adult telling them they had to do it in the first place. That's why people value time at camp. Children can learn and grow and become themselves away from home and school and all the usual surroundings."

roasting marshmallowsConsiderations for a successful sleep-away experience:

• Maturity. Most kids are ready by ages 9 or 10, but consider your child's physical and emotional maturity first.
• Plan ahead. If possible, start researching camps a year ahead of time. Check out websites, talk to friends and family for recommendations and visit prospective camps. Many overnight camps offer family weekends in the fall.
• Length of camp. How long do you want your child away at camp? Camps offer both short and long-term sessions.
• Size of camp. Decide whether your child would do better in a large setting or a smaller gathering.
• Gender. Choose from a single-sex or a co-ed camp. Not sure which? Consider whether a younger sibling may eventually join your older child at camp.
• Location. Determine the types of activities you want your child to experience. Because of their geographical location, some camps offer better outdoor or adventure activities than others and may be more likely to have access to experienced adventure specialists.
• Meet the director. A meeting with the director is imperative in order to get a sense of their personality, trustworthiness and compatibility. "You need to see how they're interacting with your child," Tipograph says. "They set the tone and the philosophy for the camp and it trickles down. How they relate to you and your child is the same way they train their staff to do the same."

Freelance journalist Christa Melnyk Hines and her husband are the parents of two boys. Christa's latest book is "Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World."

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