Summer camp. Today I saw an advertisement for a local camp in my area though it isn’t even April. Parents send their children to summer camp for many reasons. Dancer, poet, and philosopher Raymond Duncan joked, “A lot of parents pack up their troubles and send them to summer camp.” But more seriously, camp can be a way to hone and master skills; to explore unchartered activities, places, and interests (or to learn what one doesn’t want to do); to make new friends; to stave off boredom; to introduce children to potential careers; to connect with nature; and to help others. Anna Czarnik-Neimeyer, in a guest blog for the American Camp Association’s website, writes that camps offer a break from the ordinary, and that they can be a “practice field for virtues”.
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin might agree, as he included the competition of summer camp (along with the challenge of flight, the opportunity to fly, and the inspiration and the discipline at West Point) as to what helped him “develop a dedication and inspired him to get ahead.” While actor Carlos Pena, Jr. talks about summer camp with fondness because “I was 13 and at summer camp when I had my first kiss.”
Camps are also special places to form lifelong friendships (and future business partnerships). Howard Shore, who started the TV show “Saturday Night Live” with Lorne Michaels, said, “’Saturday Night Live’ was actually started with a show that Lorne Michaels and I did at a summer camp called Timberlane in Ontario when we were 14 and 15. We would do an improvisational show with music, comedy, and acting.”
PLACES TO FIND A SUMMER CAMP
According to the American Camp Association, a 109-year old non-profit organization that accredits camps, more than 7,000 residential camps and 5,000 day camps exist in the U.S., and each year these camps serve more than 11 million adults and children.
With all of those camps to choose from, how can parents and their potential campers possibly cull the list? One place to start is on the American Camp Association website at find.acacamps.org. The landing page for this site asks the question: Do you want a Day, an Overnight, or a Family Camp? With four choices that follow the question (where you can select day, overnight, show both day and overnight camps, and family camps). Once you’ve made that selection and clicked the search button, the next screen asks you to narrow choices down based on the following options: camper age/gender; location; disabilities and special populations; activities; session dates/duration; cost; affiliation, religion, or culture; waterfront. Then you click “apply the choices I’ve made” and “I’m ready! Show matching camps” and all of the available options appear on the screen in front of you. The chart provided also tells you how many of your options are accredited and how many are not, leaving the choice to the parents of how important accreditation is (or isn’t) to them.
A second place to look for camps is through your favorite search engine. The more search parameters you include, the more accurate the results will be. On a quick Google search for day camps in the area of Pennsylvania where I grew up, I was supplied with over five million results, not all of which were relevant. But some of the camps that showed up on the Google search did not show up on the ACA search. For example, the ACA search for a co-ed camp in Pennsylvania for a 12-year-old girl returned 22 camps with only three located within driving distance of Pittsburgh. Google pulled up five types of camp at just the local YMCAs, plus hundreds of other that fit my search criteria.
A third place to search for camps is at KidsCamps.com whose motto is Because every child deserves a summer at camp. This website has a summer camp directory that is searchable by the broad categories of sports, academic, adventure, arts, teen, special interest, religious, special needs, more. A search for day camps for 11 to 15 year olds in Pennsylvania pulled up thirty-two pages of camps from all over the state. The camps included everything from an all-girls STEM camp to a fine and performing arts camp that lasts from two to eight weeks, a digital media academy to camps for every kind of sport…in addition to the traditional camps where kids learning canoeing, horseback riding, games, songs, crafts, and water sports.
You can also look at the online versions of your local parenting magazines. While it may seem like spring hasn’t even sprung, camps are busy preparing for their summer programs. Popular camps fill up fast (meaning now) so if you and your child have determined that a specific camp experience is important, plan ahead and register early.
We at Whole Champion Foundation believe camps teach kids many life-long skills, foster decades-long friendships, help kids learn and assert independence, and being outside may even help their mental health. Many camps have scholarships available for campers in need, so don’t be afraid to inquire at a summer camp you think would be ideal for your child.