Camp 101

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.

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