SPECIAL OFFER: - Limited Time Only!
(The ad below will not display on your printed page)

The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Camp

Type of Camp Typical Programs Best Suited For Expert Tips
Camps for Preschoolers
(ages 3 to 5)
Preschool camps -- often an extension of existing programs at nursery or elementary schools -- offer age-appropriate arts and crafts, music, dance, beginning swimming instruction, group games, and ball play; a full-day program should include rest time after lunch. Some day camps offer half-day programs for preschoolers with scaled-down sports equipment and a more relaxed schedule. Toilet-trained children with minimal separation issues; parents often find summer camp to be good preparation for 4- and 5-year-olds who are moving into full-day kindergarten in the fall. Look for the same qualities in a camp program that you would in a preschool: a nurturing, safe environment; developmentally appropriate activities that are not competitive; a varied schedule with enough time to make stress-free transitions between activities. A counselor/camper ratio of 1 to 4 or 5 is recommended.
Day Camp
(ages 5 to 12)
Day camps feature a campus-like layout with one or more pools, ball fields, hiking trails, and indoor or shaded facilities for dining, crafts, and performing arts. Campers are usually transported to and from the camp by bus. A 5- to 7-hour session is divided into 45-minute activity periods of swimming lessons, sports instruction that becomes more complex as children get older, crafts, nature activities, and performing arts. Children who have been in group settings or who seem ready for a program in which they move from activity to activity during the day; older children who want the camp experience without leaving home (some day camps offer a one-week sleepaway option). Visit the camp and observe the interaction between children and counselors. Find a program that offers instruction in the sports your child is interested in learning. To avoid an exhausting commute, aim for a camp less than an hour from home. Experts suggest a counselor/camper ratio of 1 to 6 and 24 hours of training for all counselors in child development and safety.
Sleepaway Camp
(ages 7 and up)
Residential camps are set on expansive campuses with sports facilities, activity buildings, a dining hall, an infirmary, and cabins grouped by age. Campers can choose from a full range of sports, recreational, creative, and social activities. Length of stay can vary from 1 to 8 weeks, but the summer is generally divided into a full session of 6 to 8 weeks and two half-sessions of 3 to 4 weeks; the first half-session tends to fill quickly. Children who have outgrown day camp, can happily spend the night away from home, and express the desire for a sleepaway experience. Order videos and visit camps this summer to prepare for 2005. You might want to narrow your search by consulting a free camp advisory service (see source box below). You and your child should feel comfortable with the camp's size and the amount of structure and choice in the schedule. Look for a counselor/camper ratio of 1 to 8 (or lower for the youngest campers), with 6 days of pre-camp training for counselors.
Specialty Camps
(ages 10 and up)
Advanced study in sports, visual and performing arts, science, computers, writing, and languages is offered at specialty camps held on the campuses of colleges and boarding schools. Workshops and lessons in professional-quality facilities run for 2 or more hours at a time; academic programs may also include homework and special projects. Middle- and high-school students who feel they've outgrown their sleepaway camp or want to seriously pursue an area of special interest; kids who prefer a school setting with dormitories rather than a more rustic camp setting with cabins. Make sure your child understands the demands of the program he selects. (He'll be taught by college-level instructors or coaches and working professionals in the arts.) Some camps are quite academic; individual sports camps are designed to give intensive training to kids who hope to make their school teams or who are passionate about a sport.
Sources: Laurel Barrie of Camp Connection in Merrick, NY (800-834-2267); Jon Libman of Camp Hillard in Scarsdale, NY (914-949-8857); Lisa Mullen of Tips on Trips and Camps in Del Ray Beach, FL (866-222-TIPS); Peg Smith, executive director, American Camping Association in Martinsville, IN (800-428-2267); Joanne Paltrowitz of The Camp Experts in New York, NY (877-55-EXPERTS). Additional research by Amanda Greene and Kerry Vales.