Finding the perfect fit for your kids
The idea of summer camp, thanks in part to movies like Meatballs and Camp
Rock, conjures up images of campfires, color war and new friendships. Camp is that – and so much more. As many a grateful parent will tell you, camp is one of the best gifts that they have given their child. It is a chance to make new friends, learn new skills, as well as gain independence and confidence.
In recent years, camps have expanded their programs and offerings to appeal to children who may want to spend part of their summer pursuing a particular passion or skill, as well as to those who may want a different experience beyond campfires and color war.
Donna Weintraub, an independent camp consultant with Camp Specialists, is passionate about the benefits of traditional sleepaway camp for children. “It helps children foster independence and develop a sense of themselves. At camp, kids learn about things that are important to them and learn about their own character,” she says. “They get to reinvent themselves. They do not have to assume the role that they take in their family dynamic. There is no preconceived notion of them; they start from scratch. They can try new activities in a safe space, be mentored by older kids, socialize and develop lifelong friendships.”
Laurie Kaiden is the Maine Camp Experience “Campcierge.” The Maine Camp Experience is a community of more than 30 premier overnight camps in Maine for kids ages 7-17. In addition to the usual benefits of camp such as the chance “to unplug from technology, make new friends, have fun, learn new skills, and gain confidence and independence,” Kaiden adds that “Maine camps offer incredible natural beauty, strong traditions and values and top-notch activities, instruction and out-of-camp trips.”
Some camps specialize in certain areas, which can offer an advantage, as Weintraub explains, “Kids can hone their skills in an activity of their choice, while continuing their social skills development. They can develop close friendships with kids with the same or different interests, depending upon the bunk arrangements.”
Specialty camps can incorporate one or more interests. For example,
Camp Zeke is a Jewish camp specializing in healthy living, fitness, athletics, organic foods and culinary arts. According to the American Camping Association (ACA), religiously affiliated camps now represent over one-fifth of all ACA accredited camps.
“We know that Jewish camp is a transformative experience, and the impact is immediate and long lasting,” Robin Rochlin, the managing director for the endowment foundation of Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, says. “Campers return home connected to the Jewish community and with friendships that will last them a lifetime. Through the Jewish Camp Initiative, we have a camp concierge on staff who can help guide families to choose the Jewish camp that best suits their needs. Additionally, we award a grant to any eligible campers who are attending Jewish overnight camp for the first time.”
The YMCA, whose tagline is “For Youth Development, For Healthy Living, for Social Responsibility” offers a wide variety of day and overnight, traditional and specialty camps. According to their website, ‘There are over 1,850 day camps across the country” and “315 resident camps for youth and teens, and many specialty camp programs that meet the diverse needs of children and teens, such as youth with disabilities and illnesses.”
For those who do not want to leave home, there is day camp. “Day camp is great chance for kids to be socialized and try new activities,” Weintraub says. “They are still supervised and they are around kids of all ages. They can see and model behavior of older kids. They are fully engaged and not bored during the day.”
Finally, for those children who do not want camp, there are academic programs and teen tours available. Exploration Summer Programs, which runs programs at Yale, Wellesley and Wheaton College, even has a series of Focus programs, with titles like Explo Vet, Explo Start-Up, Explo Chef, Explo Sports Management and Explo Foreign Affairs.
Whether it is no technology for a few weeks, best friends for life, excelling at sports, or newfound confidence and independence, there are many, many reasons to sing the praises of camp and summer programs. At right is a sampling of some of the different types of programs, along with some resources to help you find the perfect camp for your child.