Summer camp’s all about trying new things, making friends and having nonstop fun. Everything happens in a parentfree zone, away from TVs and cell phones. And of course, your kids get to create memories that last a lifetime. But where do you begin when options are seemingly limitless? For starters, focus on what your kid loves. If she has a specific interest or hobby, there’s probably a camp that specializes in it. “Kids enjoy specialty camps when they’re passionate about the activity,” says Christopher Thurber, PhD, clinical psychologist and coauthor of The Summer Camp Handbook.
But remember, “even if you have a child who loves gymnastics or soccer for an hour a week, he might not love doing it five days a week,” says Renee Flax, director of camper placement for the American Camp Association of New York and New Jersey. Look for programs that’ll develop and nurture what he’s good at while improving his weaknesses. If it’s an all-day or overnight camp, Thurber suggests asking about non-specialty activity offerings. “Some time has to be spent doing something else,” Thurber says.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
Tap friends, community centers, sports facilities, coaches and organizations for ideas up your kid’s alley. Then, visit online camp directories for inspiration. New Jersey Family’s camp directory is searchable by camp type and location (njfamily.com/camp), and the American Camp Association’s site (acacamps.org) has a massive database of day and overnight camps.
“See how camps describe themselves and their philosophies,” says Flax. If everything looks good, set up a tour or go to an open house. Once you’ve made a list of prospects, visit camp websites for details. We’ve rounded up a bunch of specialty camps to get you started. Art camps are a popular option for creative kids. Try The Center For Contemporary Art in Bedminster, a studio that offers budding artists classes in ceramics, pottery and other mediums. For glassblowing, hit GlassRoots in Newark to design and learn the science behind blowing techniques, like making flat glass. The Visual Arts Center of New Jersey in Summit offers camps for kids and teens in painting, drawing, ceramics, photography, fiber and sculpture.
Keep their fires burning at cooking camps like Classic Thyme in Westfield, which teaches gardening and making seasonal, farm-to-table meals. At Bambino Chef in Jersey City, kids put their own spin on cooking, like making healthier desserts, exploring international cuisines and getting creative with veggies, fruits and herbs.
If you’ve got a young thespian at home, there are plenty of performing arts camps to choose from. Taubenslag’s Theater Camp in Edison is held on the main stage of the Performing Arts Center at Middlesex County College. Campers perform a musical each week for the first six weeks before working on a “Broadway Spectacular” performance during weeks seven and eight. Porch Light Studio, Stage & Schools in Glen Rock offers camps, workshops and internships for all experience levels focused on building self-confidence, teamwork and a passion for the performing arts. Broadway camps, technical theater camps and summer studio classes are just a few ways your kids and teens can perfect their craft. At Circus Place in Hillsborough, a performance camp, kids can learn aerial skills, walk the tight wire, swing from the trapeze, learn to juggle, ride a unicycle, build a human pyramid and more.
A medical, physical or mental disability doesn’t mean there isn’t a special needs camp experience for your kid. Some camps serve particular groups while others integrate special needs kids with non-special needs campers. Camp Huntington in High Falls, NY is for kids with special learning and developmental needs; campers spend time at activities like swimming, arts and crafts and drama.
Winston Preparatory School in Whippany has a summer program for kids in grades 4-12 with learning disabilities. Campers get together in a garden area, and have fun being active and also work on skill development and learning. Break out your racquets, swimsuits and volleyballs for a summer filled with sports camps. Your little Serena Williams can perfect her swing at a tennis camp like Tennis Prime in Fort Lee for training with pros and tech like slow-motion video. Lil’ athletes can go-kart, race to the top of the climbing wall and more at Spring Lake Day Camp in Ringwood. Campers split their time swimming, making art and playing sports—everything from tennis and lacrosse to horseback riding and boating. They can throw a curveball at the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center’s Baseball and Softball Camps in Little Falls.
They’ll learn from the pros and work on pitching, catching, fielding, hitting and more in groups based on skill level. Team85 Fitness & Wellness in Bordentown offers arts and crafts along with dance, swim lessons and sports, which encourage teamwork and leadership.
If you’re looking for a gifted and talented camp, give them a taste of college life while studying art, math and more at the Summer Institute for the Gifted at Princeton University. At The Gifted Child Society’s Summer Super Stars Camp in Allendale, kids work on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) activities and building in classroom labs, kitchens and a planetarium.
If your kid loves all things science and math, a STEM summer camp should be at the top of your list. Think about signing up for International Ivy’s Summer Enrichment Program in multiple locations, which includes robotics, video gaming, computer programming, science, engineering, math and more. Newark Academy’s Summer Programs in Livingston give kids an opportunity to prep for science and math classes and SAT and ACT exams, or gain school credit through advanced courses. The Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart in Princeton offers a host of camps that focus on game design, filmmaking, artificial intelligence, Minecraft, spy tech, 3-D printing, sports analytics and YouTube.
ASK QUESTIONS (LOTS OF THEM)!
Don’t worry about asking “dumb” or “too many” questions. You need to feel good about the program you choose. “You have options and choices,” says Flax. “[You need to] know what you’re paying for.” Start with the questions below:
- Is the camp accredited? The ACA does on-site visits and reviews summer camp facilities, programs, safety and hiring policies. If a camp isn’t ACA-accredited, you’ll want assurance that it’s committed to your kid’s safety and professionally run.
- How much is it? Is the cost all-inclusive or are there extra charges for transportation or special trips?
- How long are the sessions? You’ll want a timeline that works for your child, budget and schedule.
- How is the staff trained? Find out what the camper-to-staff ratio is and whether or not counselors undergo a background check.
- Is food provided? Do campers bring their own lunches or does the camp offer it? How are allergies accommodated?
- Is transportation included? How are your kids getting to camp every day? Is busing an option?
- What’s the swim program like? Ask if they have an instructional program, and if so, how it’s run. Find out how many lifeguards are on duty on a typical day and how they’re trained.
- What’s their overall philosophy? You’ll want the camp’s values to match the ones you teach your kids at home.
—Stacey Feintuch is a seasoned print and digital writer and editor. She covers health and parenting for various publications.