Last winter, as my daughter turned 3, my friends and I all started to talk about what everyone was doing for their child over the summer. Being that I work with hundreds of summer camps as part of my profession, I’ve been dreaming of my daughter going to camp since she was born. After years of promoting the value of the summer camp experience, I now had to do my own research and start thinking about which program was going to work for our family. Was I ready to put her on a bus and send her to camp out of the city? Would a local neighborhood camp work best for my schedule?
Whether you’re deciding between a city camp or one in the suburbs, it’s important to do your research. Take the time to think about what you would like your child to gain from the camp experience. Visit camp websites, go to camp fairs and spring festivals and talk to a few friends about the camps their child goes to. Keep in mind that each child is different and a camp that may work for one child might not be the right fit for yours. You also want to make sure you speak with the camp director and leadership team. You want to feel a connection with the director and feel that you are forming a partnership with him or her.
Josh Male, owner and director of Gate Hill Day Camp in Rockland County, NY feels there are many benefits to sending your child to camp outside of the city.
“Camp in the suburbs gives city children the chance to be outside in nature. There are also more opportunities for activities such as expanded arts programs, outdoor adventure, nature, fishing, biking and sports played on large outdoor fields. Swimming is often a top priority for parents and campers swim multiple times a day in outdoor pools, which you can’t find at city camps. Parents should also consider the growth opportunities children can gain such as independence by getting on the bus. All these benefits come with the hurdle of getting on the bus, which can be difficult for parents.”
Parents should keep in mind that camps in the suburbs have tremendous experience dealing with the coordination of bus schedules and excellent communication systems for letting parents know about where the bus is along the way and giving any traffic updates along the way. This past July, when a crane fell on the Tappan Zee Bridge mid-day, blocking all lanes of traffic, Gate Hill Camp leadership realized this would be a major traffic problem for buses going home to NYC and Westchester and they sprang into action.
“We gathered our management team for a meeting, debriefed and waited for more information on what was going on with the bridge. First we used our email and texting systems to communicate our contingency plan to our camp families that would be affected. We decided to get our NYC children on the buses earlier so they wouldn’t sit in traffic. For our Westchester families, we wanted to wait for better information before sending campers home only to sit in traffic. While keeping parents up-to-date, we gave campers dinner, an evening pool party, a movie in the dining hall and an ice cream party. Since we sent our staff out to each of the bridges for real time traffic reports, we had good information to make the decision to send campers home at 7:15 PM. The end result was a great night at camp for the campers, parents happy their kids weren’t sitting on the bus for hours, and all campers home safely.”
Camps also do a lot to get first time campers acquainted with taking the bus such as meeting the bus counselor before the first day of camp and having campers get on and off the bus at camp orientation right before camp begins. But sometimes, a camp closer to home may be a better fit for some families.
“Choosing a camp nearby is an easy commute and in your neighborhood. When I speak with parents, I let them know we offer a lot of what you would expect out of the city but close by,” says Katie Duffy, camps director of Asphalt Green on the Upper East Side and Battery Park City. “Throughout the year, we offer sports classes, swim classes, martial arts and mini camps during school vacations so many children are already acclimated to the facility before they start camp. Families join our community during the year as well as for summer camp.”
Although Asphalt Green is a year round facility, Duffy reminds parents the camp experience is different than the other activities children may take there. “Camp is different because the experience is more intense in a way. We offer a traditional camp experience indoors and outdoors and expose children to a great variety of activities. We are also fortunate to have large spaces at each location which sets us apart from other Manhattan camps. We have five acres uptown and 52,000 square feet downtown plus the ball fields outside of our doors. You can’t find space like that in NYC.”
How should parents decide whether a camp in the suburbs or city is right for them?
“I suggest that parents tour a few camps to help them make a decision. Take the trip to the camp to see how long the bus ride will be and see the types of activities that your child will have when they leave the city like swimming, outdoor adventure and sports played on large fields. After seeing the camps, make a pros and cons list. This will help to decide what is most important to you for your child,” says Male.
Duffy agrees that touring will help you choose the right camp for your child. “Taking a tour of your options and meeting the management team will give you a good feel for the program and if it’s right for your child. Consider what is best for your family’s schedule and what you are ultimately looking for in a camp experience.”
After researching a few programs and a taking a couple of tours, I decided to send my daughter to camp in the suburbs. A few of my mom friends did the same while a number of them decided a neighborhood camp would be the work best. In the end, each child had a meaningful camp experience.
Bottom line: We live in the greatest city with so many quality summer camp options close by. If you do your research and consider your family’s needs, you’ll make the right choice for your child this summer.