By Jenny Wolkowitz
Parents often come to me too late in the season to find the perfect summer experience for their child. In many cases, the only session in which their child can participate – nestled between baseball season, family vacation and start of school – is already filled.
The camp experience is an opportunity not replicated elsewhere, so it should not be missed. With camp and teen programs that fit the needs of any child, parents should explore the wide range of options.
The way to avoid a mismatch is to plan that summer early. Done fruitfully, the process of finding the right camp can take an entire year’s worth of research. However, the reward is great.
Do the Research (January – May 2016)
With more than 11,000 camps in the United States, it is important to list questions as a guide. Doing so narrows possibilities to a manageable few.
- What do my child and I want in a camp?
- Single gender or co-ed?
- Religious or non-denominational?
- Sports-oriented, nature-oriented or mixture of both?
- In driving distance or are we willing to fly?
- Lakes or mountains (or will just a river suffice)?
- How many weeks?
- Is the camp competitive or more nurturing?
- Is the child required to do every activity (including swim in a lake), or is there more freedom to choose?
To do this research, it is helpful to talk to parents of other children who attend camp. Watching camp DVDs with their children provides parents not only with a feel for the camp, but a response by their future campers. As usual, the Internet abounds with options and ideas.
Camp fairs, held locally, bring information to the doorstep.
Overnight camps, day camps, specialty camps and teen travel programs will be represented locally this weekend. The St. Louis Summer Opportunities Fair will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30, at John Burroughs School, 755 S. Price Road, Ladue.
Camp directors are available for one-on-one conversations as well. Do not be afraid to call them or set up a time to do so.
A camp adviser is another option people may not understand. This is a free service. A professional adviser knows camps and you know your child. Together, you could make a perfect match.
Camp Visits (Summer 2016)
Based on your research, narrow camp options and choose a few to visit. All camps should gladly receive guests who schedule an appointment.
If considering camps in Missouri, a stop to see a camp can coincide with a day or overnight trip to that area. If the camp focus is targeted in the Upper Midwest, a family vacation can put you near your stand-outs. Most camps are located in beautiful areas near state parks or resort areas, so these visits can be fun for the whole family.
Another possibility is to take advantage of a family weekend for a vacation at a camp being considered. These visits help a child acclimate to the camp’s environment so deciding to leave home is a lot less scary. In addition, parents’ first-hand observations of facilities, activities and dining hall routine help determine if this would be the right place for your child.
Early Bird Discounts (Fall 2016)
Once a camp which suits your child is determined, there is the advantage of earl- bird discounts. They usually hold a camp’s cost at the previous year’s tuition or take a few hundred dollars off the significant cost of residential camping. Plus, when neighbors stress out about what their child will do in the upcoming summer, you sit pretty with your child already enrolled.
The work, decisions and plan are behind both parents and children. With a perfect match to a camp, this should be the best summer of your child’s life.
Jenny Wolkowitz is St. Louis adviser for Tips on Trips and Camps. She is married and mother of three daughters, all of them campers, with two currently studying abroad. In her earlier years, she was a day camper, overnight camper, counselor, teen tour participant and teen tour leader. She studied abroad in college and has traveled extensively throughout the world. For a free consultation, call 314-432-8642 or e-mail her at jenny@TipsonTripsandCamps.com.