When I was a kid, summer camp was in our backyard, interspersed with field trips to the beach and an occasional movie. I don’t recall feeling deprived, but back then everything was different. Both parents didn’t have to hold down full-time jobs and the neighborhood seemed a safer place where kids could go off by themselves for the day. Times have certainly changed.
My own kids went to camp every year since they were maybe 10. And there are two things I noticed as a result. First, I owe big kudos to my parents for putting up with us all summer. Not having the kids around became a little vacation for us parents as well and I’m sorry my folks never experienced that benefit. Second, as the first day of camp neared, the kids went into what we called “camp mode.” Suddenly, they got along with each other and almost everyone else, nothing seemed to matter; life was good.
Of course, this was a time before video games, cell phones, the internet, and cable TV. All of this technology seems to have a seductive hold on kids today that makes the camp experience a lot more important than it used to be. Not only does it provide an opportunity for kids to interact face-to-face, it’s also a no-parent zone where the inde-pendence and self-reliance every kid will need can grow. Day camps are a good place to start, and kids as young as 3 or 4 can benefit from the socialization and exposure to new skills and experiences a day camp can provide. Overnight camps are more suited to kids at least 7 or 8-years old as a rule.
It’s hard to talk about camp in the afternoon when you’ve been out shoveling snow all morning but that’s the nature of beast. Summer camps, both day camps and overnights fill up fast. If you’re looking at day camps, it’s a bit easier. By their very nature they need to be geographically close to where you are, but in most cases you will still have several choices. While there are now many camps that offer a specialized focus, e.g. music, art, theatre, horseback riding, etc., most young kids will probably have a better experience at a general day camp.
Whether you are looking at day camps or the overnight variety, there are several im-portant metrics you should consider in your decision, according to the website Parenting ( www.parenting.com/article/summer-camp-kids ). A camp that has been around for a while is probably a better choice than a brand new one, all other things being equal. A philosophy and focus that is integrated into its programs and an emphasis on insuring an inclusive community should be evident. A well-trained, vetted, and adequate staff for the number of campers is a must. And certainly a good communications plan between camp and parents should be in place. An element of choice of activities for the camper will help foster that spirit of independence. In all cases there should be someone who is willing to talk with you about your concerns.
There are more than 8,000 summer camps in the US. Finding the right one can be a daunting task. Look at the listings at the American Camp Association (ACA), and the National Camp Association (NCA) for openers. Check out local religious and social or-ganizations. Ask your neighbors and parents of your kid’s friends what their experiences have been, keeping in mind that carpooling to a local day camp is a big plus and going to an overnight camp is easier if you already have a friend. Camp is a learning experience for kids and for parents. For both, it is learning to let go, even just a little, but it won’t take long for the whole family to get into “camp mode” for the summer.