Exploring the great outdoors.
Making new friends.
Staying up late.
Getting up early.
Telling scary stories around the campfire.
Visiting the arts and crafts cabin.
Lounging on bunk beds.
Earning merit badges.
All these things and more are part of the summer camp
There are camps that are specialized, focusing on a
particular sport or craft. There are camps that are
strict, seeking applicants all year round and
selecting only a few lucky counselors and campers.
There are camps that are open to the public, more
affordable than the selective camps, and accept a wide
range of ages. There are day camps, night camps,
school-related camps, dance camps, soccer camps,
religious camps, drama camps, Boy Scout camps, Girl
Scout camps, even circus camps. In other words, there
are camps for everyone.
How can you pick an age appropriate camp for kids?
"It is all based on the child's comfort level," says
camp counselor Brandi Dueweke. "If the child is okay
(with) spending the night away from their parents, I
would recommend a camp that is overnight. If they are
still somewhat attached, I would try day camp first."
Heather, a mother of two, agrees. "Send them on a day
camp before sending them away overnight. That way, you
can see how they feel about (camp)."
Engineering student Kelly O'Shea is a counselor at an
overnight camp in the summer. "The camp should
advertise what grade levels or ages are appropriate
for a particular session." She began attending camp at
age nine. She prefers residential camp.
O'Shea adds, "Everyone learns something at camp that
they'd never learn anywhere else. (Campers) will try
new things, make new friends, and increase their self
confidence and independence as they do things they
didn't know they could, like sleep or cook outside,
climb a fifty foot wall, or live through a week of
College student Emily Ambash thinks the type of camp
appropriate for a certain child depends not only on
the age of the child, but "the activities he or she
enjoys, his or her level of independence and
motivation to participate, and his or her interest in
exploring the new or sticking to what's familiar."
Beth, a high school student, has a more relaxed view.
"As long as the camp separates the age groups and
doesn't try to house them all in the same area, things
should be all right."
As children grow, their interests change. A child who
dreams of being an astronaut at age 4 might be a star
gymnast at age 9 and a soccer star at age 12.
Likewise, a kid might benefit from day camp at the
local YMCA when he or she is a shy toddler, then
become more outgoing in grade school and feel ready to
attend an overnight arts and crafts camp at that age.
Changing camps every few years to fit the current
interests of your children will keep them from growing
too bored. However, changing them too frequently might
confuse them or make them feel displaced.
Ambash has attended a wide variety of camps. She first
went at age six, and went to day camp until she was
ten, when she went to a two-week overnight circus camp
with her twin sister. The next summer, she went alone
to a month-long overnight arts-orientated camp. The
year after that, she went to a six-week day camp for
middle school students. She has even been to a
One of the camps she attended, Buck's Rock, was an arts camp.
It included activities such as acting, weaving, creating
jewelry, and making books. She greatly enjoyed another camp,
Circus Smirkus, a special camp that taught her how to walk
on stilts, swing on the trapeze, and walk on balls.
If your children really love a particular camp, then
returning there year after year will definitely
benefit them. They will have a home away home, a
comfortable place where they can escape every summer.
Ask your children what they want to learn about and
where they want to go. Don't exclude them from the
conversations and decisions. Show them brochures and
pictures. Visit camp websites together, then talk to
their friends and friends' parents afterschool. Let
them help you pick camps to try out and compromise.
Eighteen year old Janna first went to camp when she
was eight years old and continued to go to the same
camp until she was fifteen years old. It was a special
day camp for the arts, with classes such as drama,
art, movement, singing, and improvisation. "Classes
were broken up by age group," she explains, "then you
took an elective - band, chorus, dance, or art - with
the other ages."
When she turned thirteen, the focus of the camp was
theater. Younger kids created the plays, which the
counselors then wrote and directed.
Twenty-three year old Gloria Brenes only went to
summer camp once, when she was 11 years old, but it is
an experience that will always stay with her. It was a
summer camp for low-income families. Her grandmother
recomended it because it was free of charge and she
would get to work with hearing impaired children,
something she was interested in. "I got to work with
two kids, ages four and elevent, who were both
hearing-impaired. I learned a little sign language and
it was amazingly rewarding to watch them come out of
their shell and learn new things throughout the
Brenes goes on to say, "Because of that experience, I
wouldn't mind being a special needs camp counselor in
the future. Certainly, when I have a family, I will
encourage my kids to attend this type of summer camp."
Meara, another camper-turned-counselor, now an adult,
thinks all kids should go to camp. It encourages them
to turn off the TV and get away from the internet.
"It's good to learn how to deal without your parents
or your comfort zone."
If you went to camp as a child, share those
experiences with your kids and see how they react. Do
they listen attentively? Do they ask questions and
urge you to tell more camp-related stories? Ask them
questions in return. What do they want to do? What do
they want to learn about?
Encourage them to talk about their fears. They may be
worried about bugs, being away from home, sleeping
outside, a multitude of things, but not want to tell
you. Perhaps staging a mock camp in your backyard will
help combat those fears and ease them into the idea of
Here are some favorite memories from camp counselors.
O'Shea loved "seeing my girls come together as a unit,
making up their own songs, laughing at their own
inside jokes, and treating each other like sisters."
She goes on and talks about the time when a young girl
was very sad, so her fellow campers formed a line and
cheered her up, one at a time.
O'Shea is certified as a lifeguard, in CPR and first
aid, and as a ropes course instructor. "One of my
groups were cheering so loudly for their cabin-mates
who were climbing the rock wall that I started
When Erin Koster was a twelve year old camper, she
went on a backpacking trip. "As the sun was setting,
we were all sitting on rocks, watching (the sunset),
singing camp songs. It was so magical. This was when I
fell in love with hiking."
A few years later, she became a counselor herself. Her
campers woke her up early to watch the sunrise on
another backpacking trip. She thought there was no
place she would rather be. "Then that night, after we
watched the sunset, we all sat around for hours
talking about our dreams, hopes and fears. To see a
group of eleven to fourteen year olds talk like that
was so inspiring and made me realize why I was a
Fourteen year olds Rachael and Anna have been
attending Girl Scout camp in Michigan and look forward
to becoming counselors. They are currently picking out
their special counselor names.
"I will be a camp counselor when I am old enough
because it seems like such a good experience," Rachael
says. "I mean, what other jobs will you get paid for
"It is so much fun," Anna adds, "and a great place to
become friends and meet new people. Good times, good
Here are some camp necessities:
A sleeping bag
A favorite stuffed animal
Stationery and stamps to write home
Then there are the things you should NOT pack:
Anything you don't want to get dirty
Anything you don't want to lose
Anything electronic or expensive
Anything too dressy / formal
A camera is also recommended to capture those
once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Snap pictures of or
with summer friends and favorite counselors. Take
pictures of the sunset and sunrise. Digital cameras
are all the rage. Regular cameras are simple for small
kids to operate. Some parents and kids might be more
comfortable using disposable cameras, which are
inexpensive and, if lost, not such a big deal.
Koster says, "I love the atmosphere of camp and what
is has done to make me a better person."
When asked why she goes to camp, O'Shea answered, "My
heart lives there. Camp is different from every other
place in the world."
Many thanks to everyone who took part in the summer camp survey. I greatly appreciate your support and participation. I beat the deadline by three days. Special thanks to Kelly and her amazing friends for their assistance and expertise!