What Camp Directors Wish Parents Knew About Summer Camp

If you're considering sending your child to camp this summer, there are things camp directors wish you, as parents, knew about summer camp. New York metro area summer camp directors and owners tell all and share what you need to know about summer camp, from choosing the right camp for your child to how involved you should be while your child is at camp in the summer.

For parents, summer can present a logistical nightmare: How will your child spend all those days from June through August?

Camp, of course, is the perfect solution—and it’s more than just a destination.

Attending camp builds character. At camp, your child will learn new skills, try new things, build confidence, and most importantly, have uninhibited fun in a safe environment, says Bob Budah, one of the owners of Park Shore Country Day Camp and School in Dix Hills.

But which one? And what do you need to know to make your child’s experience during those weeks at camp stellar?

Six camp directors and owners—from day camps across the five boroughs and the surrounding area of New York City—share their must-know tips for parents.

Know the camp’s reputation and accreditation.

Checking into the camp’s reputation should be high on your summer camp to-do list, Budah says. Do your usual due diligence: Ask fellow parents about their impression of the camp, and check online reviews.

Budah also strongly urges parents to confirm the camp is accredited by the American Camping Association and inspected by the health department. The ACA sets standards for everything from the age appropriateness of activities to first-aid equipment standards.

“Many entities call themselves camps and they’re not inspected,” Budah says. “A parent needs protection and has to know their child is going to a reputable camp that’s ACA-accredited.”

Factor in the camp’s location—and how far it is from home.

Does this sound like a minor detail? Not so, says Jack Grosbard, owner of Mill Basin Day Camp in Brooklyn.

“If a camper travels long ways back and forth, it can really ruin the experience,” Grosbard says. The commute can be debilitating: “It waters down the excitement both coming and going,” he notes. So, keep proximity in mind during the selection process.

Think about the camp’s size, too, says Joseph O’Sullivan, camp director at Magic Day Camp in Queens. “Many camps are so big that kids can get lost, and if you’re the type of child who doesn’t make friends easily, this can be lonely,” he says. Check the camp’s website and promotional material for the staff-to-child ratio, as well as the camp’s overall size.

Keep your kid’s needs (and hobbies!) in mind.

“The first thing I really hope parents do prior to choosing a camp is understand their children and know their likes and dislikes,” Grosbard says. Just because you love crafting, doesn’t necessarily mean your child does. Same goes for other camp focuses, from the sporty to the academic.

For kids, Grosbard says, summertime is a break from school—that doesn’t just mean a respite from testing, homework, and the classroom, but an opportunity to do what they enjoy.

And while it’s nice to go into the first day of camp knowing someone, don’t make the mistake of automatically opting for your child’s best friend’s camp.

“You want to pick the best camp for your individual child and that might not be the camp that their friends go to,” says Roberta Katz, co-owner and director of Deer Mountain Day Camp in Pomona.

Opt for a place where your child will flourish, she says.

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Trust the camp director.

If something comes up, by all means, get in touch. But one perk of sending your kid to camp, says Matt Davanzo, camp director at Squire Day Camp in Hartsdale, is feeling secure knowing your child is well taken care of by an experienced, capable staff.

“What I like to impart to my parents is: We’ve got this. We’ll take care of it,” Davanzo says. “People live very busy, hectic lives and my goal is to be a non-factor,” allowing parents to have one less nagging item on their to-do list.

Feel free to pick up the phone.

Ultimately, you should feel confident in the camp you select. But if something comes up, camp directors urge you to get in touch now (and not hold it in until the close of the camp season).

“Call me with anything,” Katz says. “In order to make camp the best possible experience for each child here, we need to have very open communication with each of our families,” she says. Often, just a few adjustments can ease potential issues, from transportation challenges to difficulty making friends.

O’Sullivan agrees. At his camp, parents get cellphone numbers for every staff member their kids will encounter, from the director to the bus counselor. That way, there’s no need to navigate the office or make multiple calls in order for parents to speak to their child, or their child’s counselor.

Bottom line: “The more comfortable parents feel, the more comfortable their child will be at camp,” Katz says.

Focus on the last day of camp—not the first.

The first day of camp can be nerve-wracking—for you, and for your child. To quell those concerns, Katz urges parents to focus on how your child will feel at the end of the experience—after weeks of activities, friend-making, and growth.

“The first day is the first day, and then you go on,” Katz notes. “I think it’s important to focus more on what it’s going to be like the last day.”

And worry less about your kid fitting in or making friends right away too, she recommends.

“I try to make parents feel comfortable with the idea of helping kids flourish as individuals,” she says. “Campers should be able to be who they are when they’re here,” Katz adds—no need to fit into a box. “Everyone is different, and we want to celebrate those differences.”

Familiarize yourself with the camp’s procedures.

Every camp will have a set of rules and procedures. Parents, consider getting to know these guidelines your homework. That way, your child won’t end up missing swim classes because of a missing bathing suit—or choking down a despised lunch off the week’s menu.

“Pay attention to correspondence,” Grosbard says. That way, if there’s a dance show with everyone wearing white T-shirts, your kid won’t be the lone performer in a red tank top. (Sounds like a small thing, but for children, these moments can really be embarrassing and diminish the experience.) And, Grosbard adds: be on time (not too early; not too late) for pick-up and drop-off.

Even more than keeping up with logistics, it’s nice—as with the school year—to have a sense of what your kid does during the day, says David Stapleton, camp director of Future Stars Summer Camps in Old Westbury. That way, you can lend support and see how the program builds from week to week, he says. Tip: Depending on your camp, social media can be a way to keep up with your kid’s daytime adventures.

Talk to your child about his or her day.

Parents should talk to their kids about their camp experience every day, Grosbard says.

He suggests asking questions like: What did you do? Did you like it? What was exciting? What would you like to do more or less of? What new skills did you learn?

And, when your child shares, be excited in response! Don’t make the conversation a quick stopover before TV time; be genuinely engaged, Grosbard urges. This will help keep your child’s memories of camp alive.