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How to pick a summer camp for a good first time away from home

Maximize your child's first time away from home: How to pick a summer camp and avoid the stress for parents and kids.

By Guest Blogger / April 20, 2012

Knowing how to pick a summer camp can help eliminate parent and kid stress as well as make for a good first time away from home. Songadeewin of Keewaydin campers were ready for a canoe outing in this 2003 photo from the Salisbury, Vt. camp.

Courtesy of Songadeewin of Keewaydin.

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My family and I all adored summer camp, which has provided each of us with many of our warmest childhood memories. Camp is a unique and special place, often quite unlike any other in one’s life. Camp can be a place to try new things, experience nature in an unmediated and unhurried way, meet people one wouldn’t ordinarily be exposed to, experience personal growth and, above all, have a lot of pure, all-out fun.

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Guest blogger

Susan Sachs Lipman is the author of "Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World," which grew out of her award-winning blog, Slow Family Online. She is the social media director for the Children & Nature Network. Susan and her family enjoy gardening, hiking, soap crafting and food canning.

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There are many wonderful summer camps and, although we’re inching toward summer, many still have openings. It’s not too late to choose a great one. So, how do you choose?

Involve Kids in the Decision

Unless they’re very young, most children will have an opinion about the type of camp experience that appeals to them. Try to have some brochures, DVDs or web sites you can look at together. These might come from a local camp fair, or be downloaded from the Internet. Sometimes the simplest things capture children’s imaginations, such as the local park and recreation program that offers an Aloha Week with water play. At the same time, exposing them to a new experience, at the right age, can be very beneficial.

Older children usually know when they’re ready for a “sleepaway” camp, as opposed to a day camp. Day camp experience can help prepare kids for sleepover camp, particularly as a lot of day camps offer overnight outings of increasing length and distance as children get older.

Evaluate Your Family’s Needs

Are both parents working all summer? Consider a camp program or programs that cover the entire season, and/or long days – some camps offer after-care; inquire about additional costs. If you have some flexibility and your child wants to try a couple different types of specialty camps, then perhaps two or more shorter camps will fill the bill. On the other hand, some camps recommend registering for a longer program, so as to have adequate time to adjust and really get comfortable. Discuss the family’s needs and desires.

Camp costs will also factor into your decision. These vary widely. Some camps offer “campership” (scholarship) opportunities..

In addition, many day camps offer bus or van transportation, which could cut down on driving time for the parents. (And the great news is that children usually regard the camp bus as part of the fun. Take it from someone who has been banned from singing 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.) Transportation also often carries an extra cost.

Discuss the Camp’s Activities

What does your child envision doing? Whether it’s theater or ceramics, water sports or group games, you’ll want to make sure that activity is offered. Although it’s great to try new things, it can be comforting when some favorite activities are part of the particular camp.

Something else to consider is whether the camp is a general camp with lots of activities, or a specialty camp. Both kinds of camps offer tremendous opportunities. First-time campers may enjoy a traditional camp as a way to get their feet wet and begin the camp experience. Also, a traditional camp offers unique experiences children may not have in any other area of their lives.

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