Nowadays, kids don’t just go to school. When the school bell rings, they are shuttled to afterschool programs, tutoring centers, clubs, sports, dance and music classes, and more. And when school lets out for the summer, they go to day and sleepaway camps. Benjamin Berk has worked in all of these, as a Little League coach, a tutor, summer camp and afterschool counselor, and babysitter. With the time he has spent in these roles, he is here to offer the caregiver’s perspective to parents with questions about these programs.
New York City affords parents a myriad of options for summer camps for their children. There are tennis and soccer camps for the athletically inclined, piano and band camps for the next generation of virtuosos, and even space camp for star gazers. Kids can be on their own for a month at sleepaway camps, or get to tell mom and dad what they did every night after day camps.
To make the camp experience as enjoyable as possible for their children, here are some things that counselors wish parents knew as they sign their kids up for camp, bring them in for orientation, and then drop them off for their first day.
DO make sure your child has all the proper tools. A near-universal tenet of summer camps is that kids learn to socialize and bond with their peers. Science camp isn’t just making things boil and bubble; it’s about meeting other kids who have memorized the entire Periodic Table! For kids to take advantage of these opportunities, they must have the tools to participate. The camp will always tell you if you need to pack something specific. Sleepaway camps will almost always send out a list of recommended and/or mandatory items for you to pack for your children. This can range from practical (sneakers for hiking or sunscreen for my fellow redheads) to camp-specific (if your child is going to an advanced violin camp, it might be wise to pack his violin). Follow that list or else your child might end up missing out on some awesome parts of camp.
DO NOT send your children to camp with banned items. Jimmy loves Twix bars and Katie is proud of her Pokémon cards, but if the camp asks kids not to bring these things, do not pack them! There is a reason we set out certain rules, and they are always about keeping all of the children safe, reducing needless arguments and creating the best camp experience. If they say no candy, they mean it; your son having chocolate makes other kids want chocolate and fights break out. This is especially true for cell phones – it is understood that you want to keep in touch, but if they have a phone, kids will spent the day texting and playing games instead of participating in camp. Be a model for your children on how to follow the rules, and they will benefit greatly.
DO communicate with staff. You would be surprised how many small issues can be avoided simply by the camp or parent keeping the other informed about the child. Camps do their best to communicate with parents and they expect you to do the same. This isn’t just about the obvious things, like allergies. I’ve had a camper that was deathly afraid of most movies; even Disney and Pixar films. Her mom let us know, and whenever we watched a movie that wasn’t on the mom’s preapproved list, we made sure that the camper had an alternative activity and we easily avoided tears and tantrums. The best way you can ensure your son or daughter has the best experience is to give the staff the information they need to create that experience.
DO NOT draw out goodbyes and get blubbery. Separation anxiety is a large obstacle for younger children to overcome, and it’s made doubly difficult if mom and dad refuse to let go! You would never send your child to a camp that you felt was unsafe or unfit; let us prove how right you are. This is especially true for sleepaway camps, which can often be the first time that children spend the night away from family. There might be tears when you say goodbye – but the most important thing is making sure your child is okay. If you start sobbing, they won’t want to leave. Make sure they know you love them (as if there was any doubt) then pass them into our hands. Trust us to take care of your children, and you’ll get to watch them blossom.
DO be prepared for your child to be apprehensive at first. Especially for younger kids, camp can be a bit scary because it’s new. Just like a new school, job or home, you need to get through that initial state of nerves to enjoy it. So if you get a letter home after one week begging you to pick them up, please refrain. If your child were legitimately unhappy, the camp would contact you and work on a plan. Let us help him settle in and you’ll find him begging to come back next year.
DO NOT promise that they won’t have to do anything they don’t want to. Summer camp is all about trying new things. No camp will force a child to do something they are truly against, but staff want to help children break out of their comfort zones. Maybe that means touching a scaly snake, riding a zip line down a mountain, or even just floating on their backs in the pool. Whatever it is, your child will be better off having done it. Even if they don’t like it, it will be a great story to share at school in the fall.
Summer camp is often a trove of treasured memories for teens and adults. By following these tips, you can help the next generation of campers create amazing memories of their own.
For more information on picking a great summer camp, check out our 2016 Ultimate Guide to Summer Camp.
Have a question for Ben? Ask the Counselor by emailing [email protected]!