The idea of summer camp can be daunting for both parents and kids, especially if a child has never been. How do you even know if your child is ready to go to camp?
Alicia Berlin, director of Camps Airy and Louise near Thurmont, Maryland, said that children may be ready for camp sooner than parents realize.
“Kids aren’t always going to express an interest in camp, because they themselves don’t know if they’re ready,” Berlin said. She encourages parents to tour the camp with their child the summer before so that they can talk to other campers, families and staff.
It’s also important to have conversations with the child throughout the process. Steve Cusick, assistant director of the Summer at Friends day camp in Baltimore, encourages parents to take a moment to talk through the information about camp with their child.
“They should go through details like lunch, activities, pickup and communicating with their counselor,” he said.
Parents should realize that they set the tone for camp.
“Parents really influence a child’s success at camp,” Berlin said. “That’s why it’s important to start talking about it in the offseason and to stay positive.”
She warns against any kind of negative talk, because it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“Parents shouldn’t be voicing their personal worries to the child, because then the child feels responsible for the parent,” she said.
How do parents choose a camp? What kinds of camps are out there?
For an overnight camp, Berlin encourages kids to have a successful sleepover first. If they’re comfortable with that, it’s a good sign to start camp.
“A child really doesn’t know what they can do until they go away and have to figure things out for themselves,” she said. By living with 12 to 14 other children, they learn how to problem solve and communicate. “They become more independent because they’re responsible for cleaning the bunk, doing chores, choosing activities and making friends.”
What’s more, she added, the experience helps kids form strong bonds and gives them an opportunity to re-create themselves and be who they want to be.
As for day camps, campers can choose from day programs filled with classic camp activities, such as games or arts and crafts, or camps that focus on specific interests, such as arts or technology.
For example, at STEM-based training camps, campers spend their days exploring technologies and participating in engineering projects that include experience in circuitry, programming and flying drones, coding and robotics.
For children who have a passion for sports, Ramah Sports Academy is an example of what’s out there. Located at Fairfield University in Connecticut, the overnight camp focuses on high-level sports instruction and fostering a love of Judaism.
“We offer three two-week sessions,” said director Rabbi Dave Levy. “Campers pick a sport before they attend, and they focus on that sport twice a day, every day.”
Open to grades fourth to 11th, campers work with experienced coaches in their specific sport for five hours each day.
Jewish education and spiritual development are woven into daily activities, and campers have the option to switch things up and spend some additional time exploring another sport. Levy said parents should be sure their kids are excited about the activities and are willing keep up with the routine before sending them.
“Trying one of the two-week sessions helps a child get their feet wet and get a sense of whether this is something they enjoy.” JN