As I was cleaning up the house the other day, I found yet another holiday decoration that I missed. Cursing all the way to the attic, I realized it was about that time again, time to find the perfect summer camp for my kids. Could that be right? It was still cold out and my front light still goes on at 5 p.m. every day. I am not one to prolong a process, but I do believe there are a bevy of summer camp open houses now, and the most popular ones can fill up pretty quickly.
After I packed up what I hoped was the last holiday decoration, I jumped online and started researching my options. My kids were ready for a new summer day camp experience, and since we had recently moved I needed to orient myself to the day camps in my new home area.
I really don’t know anyone whose kids don’t do some sort of summer camp, whether it be their town’s day camp for a few weeks, a local school’s summer program for the whole summer or a sleep away camp. I am not surprised because camp, at least in my world, has always been a part of childhood. It’s rich with traditional and good old fashioned fun and these days can be as specific as your child. I have seen camps from the much loved gymnastics camp to the relative newcomers, technology and gaming camps. And why not? Kids are taking an interest in their activities more than ever, and a happy kid means a happy parent.
The first thing I did was to get a lay of the land. I went online to www.masscamps.com and www.acanewengland.com and did some searching. I had a set of non negotiables (must be an accredited camp, must have all day options for young children, must have swim classes, must have access to indoor space if there is bad weather, etc.), and I had a budget. Other than that I went in with an open mind and a pad of paper. Yes, I made a list. I am a list lady (much to my husband’s chagrin), and it helped me keep track of the camps and my gut feelings about them. After all, a mother’s gut feeling is worth its weight in gold.
Then I hit my town’s listserv, and there are many. These are the parenting groups (among others) in your town, and there can be several. They were the first things I joined when I moved here, and they have proved so useful. From camps to pediatric dentists to piano teachers and more, these groups can have information some would pay good money to know. I started to see trends, and while no decision about camp or anything else for that matter should be made totally on a neighbor or friend’s experience, it can be a good start.
Once my list was down to a handful, I went to local camp fairs and then open houses of my top five to six camps. That was eye opening. All it takes is one bad tour to keep a parent from sending their child to the camp. Too many “Um, I’m not sure” and “I’ll have to ask someone about that”s made me feel that they didn’t care enough to put their best out there for the tours. After all, a good camp counselor can make or break a camp experience. I looked for enthusiasm, knowledge, fun spirit, can do attitude and how they interacted with the kids on the tour. I spoke to the camp director and shared a concern I had. I noted their flexibility and willingness to allow me to come on campus anytime.
Then after I had found my top choices, I spoke to my kids. They had been going to the same day camp for years (which was also their preschool), so this would be a big change. I wanted to see what their summer camp expectations where. The camp we finally chose had a questionnaire for the kids, and I used that to gauge their feelings about a new camp. Some of the questions where, “what do you want to do at camp?”, “what questions do you have for your counselor?” and “what fears (if any) do you have about summer camp?. I thought this was a great way to engage the kids in their own summer plans. They loved it, too.
At the end of the day, summer camp should be about making new friends, trying new things, becoming more independent and, wait for it ... having fun! When I think back at my childhood I remember several things, but what I recall best (OK, aside from the amazing trips to Europe) was camp. I did ballet camp, horseback riding camp and good old town camp and loved it all.
So get your kids involved in camp, tell them about your camp days and bring them with you when you check them out. I know I only have a few precious years of summer day camp until my husband comes riding in on his “overnight camp rocks” horse and I don’t see my kids for weeks, so until then—happy camping!