Choosing a Great Summer Camp
“A great camp experience is when your child comes home each day bubbling over with excitement about what happened and even more excited about what will happen tomorrow,” says Josh Schiering, vice president and executive director of LINX in Wellesley. LINX boasts more than 30 general, specialty and sports day camps. They explore new activities and interests without fear of rejection or bullying; and they learn to rely on each other and work as a team with their counselors serving as role models.
“After all is said and done, the goal of camp is to help kids prepare for their adult lives,” says Arnie Gerson, owner of Camp Bournedale, a boys’ overnight camp in Plymouth. “Whether it’s by gaining independence, social interaction skills and competency in different areas, we want our kids to have as full and as complete lives as possible.”
A Supportive Community
According to Lucy Norvell, American Camp Association (ACA) New England director of public information, “Camps are intentional communities … like having another family. Campers I know talk about how safe it is to try new things at camp – how encouraging and understanding the other campers are.”
Types of camps to consider:
• Traditional camps – offer a wide range of activities, from athletics to crafts to confidence-building skills.
• Specialty camps – meet a child’s particular interest, such as sports, music, drama, cooking or Legos.
• Travel camps – take campers on hikes, bikes, horseback-riding or canoe trips in parks and at other sites, including abroad.
• Preschool camps – day programs for young children.
• Camps for special populations – designed for children with special needs, such as physical, mental or learning challenges, or medical concerns like diabetes or cancer.
What to Consider
Preschoolers – Children are learning what it means to be a part of a group, how to take turns, how to be a friend and how to try new things, says Norvell.
Schiering urges parents to look for:
• a staff of nurturing, patient professionals;
• a modified schedule that has a balance of passive and active programs;
plenty of communication with home; and
• a superior swim program that caters to each child’s comfort and swim level.
“Having the right staff in place makes all the difference in the world for our youngest campers,” says Schiering.
Elementary Schoolers – According to Norvell, children at this age are adding the following skills:
• decision making as an individual and as a group member;
• following through; and
• resolving conflict.
Having a variety of options is key, says Schiering. “Personally I’m a fan of a well-balanced camp experience,” he says. “For example, if I wanted to focus on flag football at camp, the LINX Camps program offers a 50/50 program – half the day is spent training and playing flag football while the rest of my day is spent in a traditional camp program.”
Middle Schoolers – Leadership skills are beginning to emerge and socialization is important. “There’s lots of compromising necessary when planning an overnight trip or when doing a production,” says Norvell, adding that camp provides an environment for “testing and reinventing yourself.”
Campers at this age enjoy specialty camps but “sometimes don’t realize they still want the fun and spirit of a traditional camp,” says Schiering. “Campers thrive in a scheduled environment and need to know what to expect. Socialization with peer groups is important but must also be closely monitored by staff.”
High Schoolers – This age group needs expert staff – typically high school or college coaches or former Division 1 athletes, says Schiering. Many high schoolers are almost ready to work at the camp but need guidance and training, which is where Counselor in Training (CIT) programs come in.
Gerson says at his camp, CITs are at least 16 years old and have been at the camp many years. When they are 17, they become junior counselors; and when they are 18, they may be hired as counselors.
By being away from family, kids develop a greater sense of independence and the capacity for taking care of themselves and making choices, asserts Gerson. In some families, kids go to overnight camp because the parents have gone; but some families won’t even consider it, he notes. “This is unfortunate,” he says, recalling his own days as a camper fondly. “If you’ve lived it, there’s nothing you could ever compare it to!”
“Oftentimes children are ready for overnight camps before parents are ready to send them,” says Norvell. If children can successfully have overnights at friends’ houses, they can go to camp, she believes.
Dealing with homesickness is “part of the growth,” says Gerson. “Transitional situations from one stage of life to the next are not easy. Camp can contribute to making some of the transitions in life a little easier.”
Should Siblings Attend Camp Together?
“The convenience of sending your children to the same camp can be huge,” says Schiering, but because children typically have different interests, a camp with many different programs in one place works well. The kids will “still come home with the same camp traditions, folk tales, rituals and hysterical stories, and sending your children to the same camp can be a very strong bonding experience,” he says.
Novell maintains, “Some families like to have all their children in one camp. … Others like the idea of giving each child a camp of their own. Trust your gut on this one.”
When kids return from camp, they’re often eager to share their learning. Embarce it, says Norvell. And if you pay attention to what your children like about camp this summer, you’ll have a much easier time planning what to do for them the following year!
Mary Alice Cookson is associate editor of Boston Parents Paper.
Search our website for the best summer camps in your area; www.boston.parenthood.com/directory/camp.