PLEASE NOTE: The city’s biggest Camp Fairs are coming up on Saturday, March 28, and Sunday, March 29, in Manhattan. For families with children ages 3 to teen, the Camp Fairs are free, child-friendly, and feature both Day Camps (in and around the city) and Sleepaway Camps (all over the Northeast). CLICK HERE for details and to register.
Today’s parents have many different summer camp options to choose from, each with unique programming and philosophies. When researching a camp, parents should take time to think about the type of program and environment that will be the best fit for their child. With so many camps to choose from, what are the best ways for parents to research a camp and find out what a camp is really about?
Talk to the Camp Director
One of the best ways for families to learn about a camp is to get to know the camp director. Speaking with the camp director and asking some key questions is a good way for families to find out about a camp’s philosophy and whether it matches their own. Get to know the camp director through phone calls, correspondence, and in person. Often, the camp director is willing to come to your home for a home visit. You can also go to a camp fair and have the chance to speak with many camp directors about their programs.
“When you’re looking for a camp, the single most important factor is the relationship and trust that you have in the camp directors,” says Drew Bitterman, director of Camp Watitoh, a co-ed sleepaway camp in the Berkshires. “As a parent, you are looking for directors who are going to continue to raise your child with the same values and philosophy that you instill at home. By connecting with the camp director, you are going to get a feeling for who is taking care of your child, and it’s that feeling that will ultimately guide you to choosing the right camp.”
Tour the Camp
A good way for parents and children to get a feel for a day or overnight camp is to tour the camp. Scheduling a camp tour over the summer gives the future camper a chance to see camp in action. A tour also gives you a chance to ask the camp director questions while you are in the camp environment.
“Because camp is a unique learning environment, I suggest asking what skills and life lessons a camp hopes to impart, and in what ways do they do so,” says Ken Schainman, owner and director of Mohawk Day Camp in White Plains, NY. “Ask if the camp has a mission or specific values. If so, ask about how the staff is trained to carry out this mission and promote these values.” If it’s not possible to tour the camp during the summer, schedule a tour in the off-season so you can see the facilities and still get a feel for the camp environment. Camp tours give children the feeling that they are part of the process of choosing the camp, and the more involved a child feels in the decision making, the more successful the camp experience will be.
There are many sleepaway camps that offer Rookie Days or Rookie Weekends, which are designed to give future campers a chance to experience the camp in session by joining in on activities before going to camp. While children enjoy the camp activities, parents are taken on a tour of the facilities. Rookie days are wonderful ways for children and their parents to get a feel for what the camp is like, and to determine if the camp is the right fit.
Look at Websites, Videos, and Brochures
Once a parent previews a website and feels the camp could be a good fit for their child, parents and campers should take time to look over a camp’s website, social media, brochure, and video together. These will give families a sense of what a particular camp is like. Most camp websites have photo slideshows, videos, virtual tours, and maps which will give parents and children a glimpse of the camp and the camp program. Many camps also include a sample daily schedule so families can see what a typical day is like. Camps will also send you a DVD upon request, so you and your child can view the camp and see campers and counselors engaged in camp activities.
Camp Fairs are free events that bring dozens of camps straight to parents, allowing parents to have one-on-one conversations with many camp directors to find out about their camp programs. “It’s really important to get a ‘feel’ for a camp before deciding on the best fit for your child,” says Sam Borek, owner and director of Woodmont Day Camp in New City, NY. “Camp fairs are a great way to meet the directors and learn about the philosophy and program. I then recommend visiting the camps to get a better appreciation for the soul of the camp.”
To register for New York Family’s free Camp Fairs, visit newyorkfamilycamps.com.
Camp Open Houses
Many camps host spring open houses and fall festivals, giving families another way to see the camps and get to know the staff. “Open houses are great ways to meet other families who are considering attending or have attended in the past,” Borek says. “The experience of that day will give you great insight in to what’s important to the camp.” These open houses and fall festivals are also great ways to involve your child in the process of choosing a camp, and they are good events for families who aren’t able to tour the camp over the summer when camp is in session.
If you are interested in a particular camp, ask the camp director for references. Speaking with parents whose children go there, preferably parents who have children the same age as yours, will allow you to ask about their own child’s experience. You can also ask about their feelings on the camp staff, facilities, food, activities, and parent communication, as well as any other questions you may have.