Summer Camp - America's Safe Haven
by Jeffrey Solomon, Executive Director
National Camp Association
In these uncertain times for our city and our nation, families everywhere are taking stock of their priorities and plans. In this new world - post September 11- certain
activities and concerns that previously seemed so important are now taking a backseat to time spent with family and the mental health and well being of all of our children.
One constant that families can still rely on in troubled times is the American institution of summer camp. Since the early 1900's summer camp has provided a safe, fun, learning experience for youngsters of all ages. Interestingly, doctors and mental health professionals have long advocated overnight camp for children who have suffered traumatic loss, such as the death of a parent or a divorce. Though a parent's first instinct in this type of situation might be to keep a child close to home for the summer, the professionals feel that these children need a break from their home life for a time, in a structured environment where they are free to simply be children and experience fun. Often these children are dealing with feelings of guilt or overwhelming responsibility at home. In some instances they may also be dealing with certain stigma, surrounding the circumstances of their loss, at school or in the neighborhood. The camp experience can be very freeing for these children and can instill in them a self-confidence that helps them cope with circumstances upon their return home.
This recommendation can now be broadened and expanded today to include not only children directly affected by the events of Sept. 11 but those indirectly affected as well. The stress and sadness that adults have felt in response to recent events is also experienced by children, albeit as part of their own unique world view. We all could use a reprieve from the television, the computers and city life - camp gives children a chance to connect with other children and nature through fun and learning, in a caring and safe community. This helps to restore sense of normalcy to their lives.
Realizing that sleepaway camps are located out of the city in very rural areas, many families are considering sleepaway camps for their children. Concerns over air travel has families seeking camps within a bus or a car ride of home, typically within a few hours drive.
Alternatively, for those whose ideal program is further away, parents are choosing to vacation in the same state as the camp or to accompany their children on the plane trips to the program. Camps are quite accustomed to coordinating travel arrangements with families who cannot travel with the children, due to the increased number of children from overseas who have been attending camp in the US over the past few years. This summer they can be expected to offer even more expanded services in this regard.
Overseas programs for older children are usually a popular option but this year more families are taking advantage of the travel, enrichment and community service programs located in the US and Canada.
Summer camp began in the northeastern United States and while there are excellent programs to choose from throughout the country, the Northeast remains the mecca for the traditional general camps as well as specialty programs of all kinds - arts, sports, riding, etc. This is good news for New Yorkers trying to find the best options for their children. The only bad news is that many families will want to get into these programs close to home and may find that they close out especially early this year. By early spring, many camps will be filled.
For parents who never went to summer camp themselves or have never considered in for their children, the advantages of camp may not be immediately clear. Camp offers children a chance to try new activities, gain proficiencies and skills beyond what school can offer, build lifelong friendships and develop a sense of independence. This all takes place in peaceful, rustic settings far from city life.
Regardless of the age of your child, it is important that the ultimate selection of a camp accommodate all or some of the needs, interests, goals, and expectations of both parent and child. The parent must make an effort to understand what the child wants and why. A good way to begin is to sit down as a family and respond to the following questions:
What do you and your child want to gain from the camp experience ? Learn new skills, develop more self confidence, improving proficiency in certain areas, become more independent?
What are other expectations of the camp experience?
What are the special interests that your child wants to explore?
Are there any physical, intellectual, or social limitations that should be considered?
What kind of emphasis will your child profit from the most? For example: Is a lot of structure desirable, is social interaction with members of the opposite sex important, or does your child need a place where he or she is encouraged to develop at their own pace?
With the above information in mind, it is appropriate to look at some of the specific characteristics that should be considered in determining what you and your child want. These characteristics include type of camp, cost, size, and location as well as program activities and offerings.
As you might imagine, camps have all kinds of program offerings. Some camps may emphasize one activity while others will offer a wide array of programs. Camps in which a camper would devote a majority of his or her time to one activity are often referred to as Specialty Camps. In these camps, staff and facilities are geared to provide an intensive experience in a single area such as tennis, horseback riding, gymnastics, sailing or wilderness. Naturally, these camps have other facilities and activities that provide campers with additional experiences. A more traditional camp program tends to be broader in terms of what it offers.
Most general camps will provide programs in some team sports such as baseball and soccer, individual sports like tennis, and waterfront activities such as swimming and sailing, as well as some outdoor life options in hiking and canoeing. Many of these camps also provide campers with the opportunity to get extra instruction in any of the areas that are offered. In making a decision about camp, it is vital that you and your child look into the total camp program and that you examine the quality of the staff and facilities available to support that program. Questions to consider include:
Will the program encourage the child to try new things or things he or she is not skilled in?
What is the philosophy regarding competition and the level of competitiveness?
Which activities are required?
Is instruction given in each activity?
How structured is the program? Are there electives (choices the child can make)?
Is your child willing to make a commitment to spending a major portion of the day in one activity or sport?
Consider these questions as you compare the different programs that you learn about. It is also helpful to try to pin down some of the program preferences you and your child have. Common camp activities include:
Baseball, Basketball, Field Hockey, Football, Lacrosse, Soccer, Softball, Volleyball, Roller Hockey, Ice Hockey.
Archery, Fencing, Fishing, Golf, Gymnastics, Martial Arts, Wrestling, Track&Field, Biking, Minibikes, Go-karts, Weight Training, Riding, Riflery, Tennis, Figure Skating, Aerobics.
Canoeing, Kayaking, Diving, Sailing, Scuba, Snorkeling, Swimming, Waterskiing, Jet-skiing, Windsurfing
Rope Courses, Backpacking, Camp Crafts, Rafting, Rock Climbing, Outdoor Cooking, Overnights, Hiking
Basketry, Drawing, Jewelry, Leatherwork, Metalwork, Crafts, Painting, Cooking, Writing, Photography, Sculpture, Weaving, Stained Glass, Woodwork, Film/Video, Sewing, Journalism, Ceramics
Acting, Directing, Magic, Puppetry, Script Writing, Costuming, Lighting, Makeup, Set Construction, Broadcasting, Ballet, Rock Music, Jazz, Choreography, Folk Dance, Modern Dance, Instrumental, Voice, Circus Arts
Geology, Gardening, Biology, Marine Biology, Farming, Nature, Astronomy, Rocketry, Ecology, Computing, Archaeology, Physics, Radio, Aviation
Foreign Language, Remedial Tutoring, Academic Enrichment, English as a Second Language (ESL), SAT Prep
Teen Tours, Community Service, Biking, Wilderness
If there are special needs to be taken into consideration these can be accommodated as well. Examples of special needs a child might have are:
Weight Loss, Kosher, Vegetarian or other Special Diet, Learning Disability, Attention Deficit Disorder, Non-English Speaking, Physically Disability
After having thought about it and focused in on what your wishes and wants would be you will want to find programs that would provide those to your child. There are many ways to find out about different camp options available. Word-of-mouth is probably the most popular way. The important thing to keep in mind there is that what is right for one family and one child may not be right for another. Camp fairs are good sources of information as well, although the selection can be limited, since not all camps need or choose to attend these. Another popular way to get information is to use an independent referral service which researches and visits camps and makes customized referrals for families based on their individual needs.
The best way to proceed with your comparison and to narrow your choices is to take a careful look at some of the promising camps you have identified. Review the brochures and videos with your child. Then you can choose the ones you're most interested in and arrange to speak or meet with the camp directors or representatives. Whether a child is an experienced camper or a first timer parents should do their best to learn as much as possible about any new program they are considering. Here are the types of questions one might think about asking the director of any program being considered for this upcoming summer:
What is the director's age and background? How long has the director run this camp?
What are the camp's goals and philosophy?
What kind of camper is most likely to have a good experience at this camp?
What facilities does the camp have and how convenient are they for campers and parents to get to?
What is the communications policy of the camp while in session? Are phone calls permitted? E-mails to and from home?
What is the schedule like? Is it a structured program or one that emphasizes a lot of free choice?
What is the camper-counselor ratio and what are the characteristics of most of the staff?
What kind of staff training is provided?
What percentage of campers return each year?
What is the total cost of the camp including extras?
What are the sleeping arrangements and what toilet and shower facilities exist?
What is the swimming instruction program like?
How does the camp insure the safety and security of its campers?
What is the food like and who prepares it?
What is the policy about food packages, letters home, TV, trips to town, and to forth?
What medical facilities are available and what medical staff is on campus?
Is there a refund policy if the camper leaves early?
Will the director supply references?
What happens when the weather is bad?
How does the camp program meet individual needs and differences?
What kind of insurance coverage is there?
A parent should never feel self conscious about asking a lot of questions. A good camp will have paid a lot of attention to these parental concerns and should be eager to respond to them.
Be careful not to focus on one area and therefore omit others. For example: a camp's facilities might be very impressive but they won't mean a great deal if the atmosphere is not friendly, or if the staff and program are inadequate.
Involve your child in the selection process. Review your child's preferences and let your child ask questions too. This will make them more comfortable with the idea of going away if it is their first time.
Additionally, ask for references of families who have had their child attend the camp. Speaking with these families can give you valuable insight about the camp and the families that send their children there.
After going through this process your family should be comfortable with the program you have chosen and your child can look forward to their camp stay throughout the next few months.
In an ever-changing world it can be hard to find those stalwart people, places and things that one can count on. History has shown that in wartime as well as peace time, recessions as well as boom years, and in every kind of time, kids will be kids and, fortunately, camp will be camp. Summer camp remains America's safe haven.
Jeffrey Solomon is Executive Director of National Camp Association, an organization that has been helping families find overnight programs throughout the US and worldwide for over 20 years.
©2002 - 2013 National Camp Association
For permission and information about reprinting articles, please e-mail your request.