If you're looking to provide your kids with a fun and meaningful experience this summer--i.e. kick them out of the house for a little while--summer camp is often your best bet. Kveller talked to Jessica Wolf Spiegel, Director of New Country Day Camp, about how to choose the right camp for your children. With so many options out there, she gave us some tips about the questions you should ask to help narrow down the search. And though she may be a little biased toward her own camp, she managed to give some very solid, impartial advice. Use these questions when talking to the camp director, and you’ll find the best place for your kids to spend their summer.
1. How will the camp fill my needs?
There are a lot of different camps out there, so before choosing one for your kid, your family must to determine what its needs are. Important factors to consider include:
· Program: All camps will be glad to tell you that they have the best program out there. But what’s most important for your child? Outdoor swim time, the camp play at the end of the summer, or arts and crafts every day?
· Flexibility with registration: Many camps will only allow you to register for specific sessions, while others allow you to choose individual weeks. Both registration options have their perks. The former gives campers a consistent community throughout the time they are in camp which helps them make friends and get to know their counselors. The latter allows more freedom for families, letting them schedule a vacation for week four, for example, without losing out on weeks five and six.
· Proximity: For the youngest children, a camp day can feel long, so it might be best to have a camp close to home without a long bus ride. But for slightly older kids, a bus ride can add to the fun of camp and is convenient for parents if the bus stop is close to home or work.
2. What are the camp’s Jewish values?
You might want to ask further questions, like: Do you use prayer in camp? Do you celebrate Shabbat? How are Jewish values experienced in camp? How important are Jewish values to a camper’s experience? These questions can help you find a camp that embraces Judaism in a way that resonates for you and your family.
3. What are staff-to-camper ratios, and do they include the head staff?
All camps in the New York City region should be licensed by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. To be licensed, camps are required to follow the DOH’s regulations and requirements regarding ratios and safety protocols, including how to conduct a fire drill, how to exit the camp premises in case of emergency, and appropriate counselor-to-camper ratios. As a general rule, the camper’s age is the number of campers allowed to be with a counselor at one time. For example, if your camper is 6 years old, the ratio is 1 counselor to 6 campers. Some camps count their head staff in the ratios, and some do not. Additionally, according to the DOH, camp counselors can be ages 16 and older. It is preferable to have your child be with a mix, including a majority of older, college-aged staff, and some younger, high school-aged staff.
4. What is the camp’s swim program like?
Summer means it’s time to get in the pool! Swimming is a priority for many camp families. Lessons only need to last for a half hour for campers to get solid instructional swim. Be sure to ask your camp how often they swim, what the swimming facilities look like, and if there is a clear distinction between free swim and instructional swim.
5. How does the camp’s setting impact the summer experience?
Some campers might find the bugs at camp...
The camp setting is an integral part of the camp experience. An outdoor camp allows kids to be in nature, to run around, and to use their surroundings in a different way than is possible during the school year. For example, there may be special outdoor programs, like cookouts. Some campers, however, are not outdoor campers. Outdoor camps have bugs, and can be hot and dirty. Some campers do better indoors in air conditioning.
If you are considering an indoor camp, think about the location. , For example if you chose to keep your camper in the same place as they go to school, there will be a sense of familiarity and level of comfort but not a significant shift in their regular routine. Often the staff will be the same as during the school year. This can be great for a shy camper, or turn monotonous for a camper who likes new things.
6. What programs are important for my camper?
Think about your child’s interests. There are traditional day camps where campers will be in one group for the summer and rotate through different activities. There are choice-oriented camps where campers get to make their own programming decisions. And there are specialty camps. If you choose a specialty camp (sports, martial arts, drama, dance, fine arts, science, etc.) you’ll want to ask for a typical day’s schedule.
7. What does tuition include? And how can I get discounts on tuition?
Does tuition include busing to and from camp? Lunch? T-shirts? Trips? You’ll want to make sure you know everything that’s included in your camp fee, and if there are add-on’s required or available. For example, some camps will charge extra for transportation, knowing that you’ll need to take the camp bus to get to camp. Others have a pre-camp care program in the mornings or an after-camp care program in the evening.
Most camps will have an early bird rate which will give you a discount on tuition. Early bird rates expire, well, early, so keep an eye on it. Also, some camps will offer discounts for hosting meetings at your home, for referring friends, and for first-year campers.
8. How are parents involved in the camping experience?
When parents were campers, life was different. Kids got sent to camp, and came home. There was no email, no cell phones, and no way to check in regularly with your kids. Now, we live in a digital world. As parents, you will need to decide how much contact with the camp you require. Is a weekly newsletter enough? Are photographs posted daily so you can see your camper in action? Do you get to meet the staff one-on-one? Camp is not school, and not all camps send home camper progress reports, but if this is important to your family, check in and make sure that the camp communicates in a way that makes you comfortable .
9. What is the transportation situation?
Lots of camps will send buses to pick up from centralized locations to get campers to camp. Ask for the list of bus stops. Remember that summer is hot! Make sure that if the bus ride is longer than 20 minutes there is air conditioning available. You can also ask how long camps have been working with their respective bus companies, if there is a way to connect with the buses directly while they are en-route to camp, and what will happen if you miss a bus or you miss pick up at the end of the day. Also, find out who rides the buses with your campers. These might be important factors in making your final decision.
10. How can I set my camper up for the best summer experience?
Camp is great! It can be a positive, amazing, and wonderful experience for campers in so many ways. Many parents will tell you how much their children grow over the summer when attending a camp that they love.
Here are just a couple of suggestions of ways you can help your camper have the best possible summer:
· Swimming: Figure out the camp’s swimming component. If your camper is uncomfortable in the water, or nervous about swimming, try signing up for a few pre-camp swimming lessons. If your camp has a lot of swimming, have your camper practice getting dressed without your help, and have them work on putting on their own sunscreen.
· Adjusting: Sometimes campers can feel stressed about being in a new place and not knowing what’s happening. See if your camp has any pre-camp programs or activities that will allow new campers to meet one another. Also, most camps have photos from the previous summer online. Have your camper check out last summer’s photos and show them all of the fun stuff they will get to do at camp.