Time to search the Web for summer camps

Although T.S. Eliot described April as the cruelest month, he obviously had never been to New England in February.

As temperatures plunge below zero and school-age children grow increasingly loud and restless indoors, besieged parents are seeking some measure of relief. A few might dream of pushing their little darlings out the door. But a better idea would be to start hunting for a kid camp!

No kidding, February is the month to start thinking about summer camp. And these days, camps come in more flavors than Baskin-Robbins ice cream.

But how do parents find the right camp for their kids?

Once again, it's the Internet to the rescue. Years ago, finding the proper camp for your kids meant hours of phone calls and brochure collecting. These days, parents need only visit a website like Kids Camps.com, and search its online database.

KidsCamps.com, run by NicheDirectories LLC in Boca Raton, Fla., offers enough choices to keep the biggest families happy. Camps are broken down into overnight or traditional day camps. They are also listed by category, including academics, adventure, arts, religion, sports, special interests, and camps for children with special needs.

All of the categories are further broken down into various interests. My favorite camp was discovered by clicking the "etiquette and protocol" link – a camp for boys in Texas called "From Alarming to Charming."

The KidsCamps search tool helps narrow the search further, allowing parents to specify a camp's state, area code, religious affiliation, gender, session length, and camper age range. While some search results provide in-depth information about a camp as well as a link to find its website, others have only a phone number.

The KidsCamps website contains information on 10,000 camps and receives an average of 500,000 unique visitors a month, according to a company spokeswoman. NicheDirectories has several other camp-related sites, such as KidsCampsEspanol.com, Camp Jobs.com, ScreenStaff.com, and GrownupCamps.com, to name a few. It also offers ForeverCamp.com, a social networking site that allows former campers to stay in touch with each other.

Camp directors can list their camp on KidsCamps for free, but the site offers its marketing services for a fee.

KidsCamps is easy to navigate, and it serves as a reminder that website operators don't need a lot of "bells and whistles" if you understand your audience and what it wants.

"Our main goal is just to connect camps with campers, pure and simple." says Nancy Lapook Diamond, president and founder of NicheDirectories.com, in a telephone interview. "For instance, you don't even have to know how to spell camp names – some of them can be really hard. You can just use our search tools to help you narrow it down."

The site, now in its 12th year of operation and with a staff of 10 people, has turned a profit for years, using a "Yellow Pages" concept, Ms. LaPook Diamond says. Give camps free listings, but then offer them three different packages that will increase their "footprint" on the site. NicheDirectories will also build and maintain websites for camps.

Other websites offer similar ways to find a camp, but are more specialized in their approach. Sportskids.com zeroes in on athletic venues. Broadreach ( www.broadreach.info) focuses on teenagers looking for international adventures. CampChannel.com offers a variety of choices similar to KidsCamps, as well as a special breakdown of camps in Canada.

You'll also find lots of sites for individuals camps with a quick search on Google, Dogpile, or any decent search engine.

As for me, I think I'm going to send my kids to one of those etiquette camps. Maybe that will help make these long New England winters a bit more livable.

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