Choosing a camp: myths and facts
We are constantly barraged with information about camps - from magazines and e-mails, to headline news and parents talking on the sidelines at Little League. Sometimes it's hard to separate fact from fiction. To help guide you, here is a list of myths vs. facts about camps.
Myth: Overnight camp is only for the rich.
Fact: The truth is that there is a camp out there to fit every budget. And if you plan ahead, you can take advantage of early enrollment discounts and financial aid. By applying early, it is possible to get a 20- 50 percent discount off of camp tuition, based on need. Private camps tend to be more expensive, so contact camps run by your local county government or agencies like the Campfire Boys and Girls, the Jewish Federation, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, the Jewish Community Center, and the Salvation Army. Lastly, inquire about shorter sessions and discounts for multiple children from one family.
Myth: Only I know what is best for my child.
Fact:: It is tempting for us to re-create our own camp experiences for our children. While the saying "Mother knows best" is true in most circumstances, some input from your child is the best approach when choosing a camp. Involving kids in camp research may produce unexpected results. Maybe you think an all boys camp is the best place for your son, but he may want the opportunity to make friends with girls in a relaxed setting. You may think your daughter wants to be at a camp that specializes in art and drama because that is what she enjoys, but maybe she wants to improve her tennis game this summer. Ask your child: Do you want to build on your existing strengths and interests this summer or try something new? Be open to the unexpected!
Myth: If I send my child to camp with a friend, it will make her more comfortable.
Fact:: What outwardly seems to provide a safety net has its pitfalls. A friend can sometimes act as a barrier to your child making new friends. All too often, one of the campers has a difficult time. The other child then feels responsible for the friend, which can be extremely burdensome. In addition, your child may choose his activities based upon his friends' interests, rather than his own. It's important to weigh the comfort of going with a friend with the possible drawbacks. If going with a friend is the only way your child will try camp, it might be worth it. Just prepare your child with possible scenarios and provide him with problem-solving strategies.
Myth: A specialty camp - rather than a traditional camp - is the best place for my child.
Fact:: Specialty sports camps focus on teaching technical skills, not necessarily life skills. A child goes to this type of program to work on the skills for one sport (or for the art form, etc.), rather than to be part of a community found in a traditional camp. Parents should not make the mistake of thinking a specialty camp will necessarily provide counselors to take care of a homesick child. The coaches and instructors are there to teach skills, not to help your child to make a friend. Therefore, I usually recommend younger kids attend these programs with a friend.
Myth: A one-week session is the best way to ease into an overnight camp experience.
Fact:: Sometimes it's the parent who sets up a child for an overnight camping failure by offering things like, "I will pick you up if you are unhappy," or, "Let's just try this camp for one week to see how it goes." Kids need a chance to feel homesick and get through it with the help of counselors and individual coping mechanisms to feel successful about a camp experience. One week barely gives a child a chance to find his or her way around a camp, much less feel the tinge of missing Mom and Dad (or the family dog). A two- to four-week introductory session allows the child to be immersed in the daily routine of a new and safe place, build friendships that will carry over until the next summer, and feel the success of doing something totally on their own. Do the research right and feel comfortable with letting go!
Myth: My son plays sports all year long, so I want to give him a break from the routine.
Fact:: While it's a nice break for some kids to fish and hike at camp, others just want to play ball. I advise parents to look for a camp that can provide the sports that the child likes, plus some new challenges that the parents might want for their child. Summer sports are far different from sports during the school year. There also is less of an emphasis on winning. A child who can't make the select baseball or soccer team at home may shine in a camp environment. There are no "helicopter parents" hovering over their kids or yelling on the sidelines. One camp director told me that at the beginning of each session, the campers focus much more heavily on sports because this is how they are comfortable socializing. But by the middle to end of the session, kids are much more comfortable taking risks - both athletically and socially. Whether it's up to bat or on a boat, these camps hire counselors who serve as role models to teach qualities like good sportsmanship, teamwork and learning to lose gracefully.
Myth: My friend is the best source for camp suggestions.
Fact: While your friend may speak to her own child's experience, camp advisors visit literally hundreds of camps each summer. Camp advisory services have years of experience addressing families' questions and concerns. Advisors ask families the questions necessary to make sure the "fit" is right between the program and the child and provide families with list of questions to ask directors. These services are free, helping families to gather information, compare programs, and obtain references and feedback from past participants. The breadth of information an advisory service can provide is invaluable.
When the time comes to choose a camp, there are a thousand questions to ask. But it's important to ask the right questions and get the facts so you can get the right fit for your child. Once you have done this, the investment will provide you and your child with a lifetime of rewards.
Tips on Trips and Camps is one of the oldest and largest camp advisory services. Established in 1971, Tips has advisors in 16 cities, relationships with over 600 sleep-away camps and programs, and provides advice and guidance to thousands of families every year. The service is provided by phone, e-mail and its website, which makes it available to anyone, anywhere. For more information and advice, to request brochures and DVDs, or to speak to a knowledgeable consultant, visit www.TipsonTripsandCamps.com.