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Summer camp’s all about making friends, trying new things and having non-stop fun. Everything happens in a parent-free zone, away from TVs and cell phones. And of course, your kiddos 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. “Knowing specifically what you’re looking for is good to identify before you tour or speak to camp directors,” says Charles Maltzman, owner and director of Willow Lake Day Camp in Lake Hopatcong.
If your kid has a specific interest or hobby, it’s likely there’s a camp that specializes in it. “Kids enjoy specialty camps when they’re passionate about the activity,” says Christopher Thurber, PhD, clinical psychologist and co-author of The Summer Camp Handbook.
“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. The American Camp Association’s (ACA) site 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 the camp websites for details. We’ve rounded up a bunch of specialty camps to get you started.
At the Art Garage in Bloomfield (973-677-7701), creative kids can take an out-of-the-box class like “Bookmaking” or “Drawing Foundations.” Or try The Center For Contemporary Arts in Bedminster (908-234-2345), a state-of-the-art studio that offers budding artists classes in ceramics and other art mediums.
Hone your little chef’s kitchen skills at a cooking camp. Classic Thyme in Westfield (908-232-5445) holds a summer camp that takes cooking to the grassroots level, teaching kids about gardening and what farm-to-table really means, with the curriculum changing based on seasonal vegetables and herbs. There’s also Bambino Chef in Jersey City (201-333-9090), where kids put their own spin on green salads and make personal pizzas that look just like their favorite animal.
Kids get a taste of life as a college student while studying arts, math and more at the Summer Institute for the Gifted at Princeton University (866-303-4744). Stars-in-training take classes on public speaking or becoming a pop star at Montclair State University’s Gifted and Talented Program (973-655-4104).
Performing Arts Camps
An array of performing arts camps are at your emerging thespian’s disposal. Taubenslag’s Theater Camp in Edison (732-422-7071) 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 wrapping up with a “Broadway Spectacular.” Actors at The New Jersey Workshop for the Arts in Westfield (908-789-9696) take classes like “Broadway Dance” where they learn the fundamentals of choreography.
Special Needs Camps
A medical, physical or mental disability isn’t a roadblock for a camp experience. Some camps serve certain groups and others integrate special needs kids with non-special needs campers. Harbor Haven in West Orange (908-964-5411) is for kids with mild special needs; campers spend time outdoors, swim and dance. At Hybridge Summer Program in South River (201-549-8661), children on the autism spectrum get one-on-one and small-group instruction to foster social and play skills.
Your little Serena Williams can perfect her swing at a tennis camp like the one at Brooklake Country Club in Florham Park (973-377-2235, ), where she’ll get match play and videotape analysis. And your mini-slugger can throw a curveball at Nike Baseball Camp at Yogi Berra Stadium in Montclair (1-800-NIKE-CAMP). Campers are taught the fundamentals of hitting, fielding, base running and more by New Jersey Jackals coaches.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. If your kid loves these subjects, consider a STEM program. Think about taking a class at the International Ivy Summer Enrichment Program in Summit (908-899-1338), which includes “Canvas Paintings” for ages eight to 13 and “App Design Using Touch Develop” for ages eight to 10. You can also enroll kids in grades five to nine in courses like “Hi-Tech Accessories” or “How the Web Works” at Dwight-Englewood’s Summer Connections program (201-227-3144).
Ask Questions (Lots of Them)!
Don’t worry about asking the right question or too many. 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 conducts on-site visits and reviews a camp’s 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 is professionally run.
• How much is it? Is the cost all-inclusive or are there extra charges for transportation or special trips?
How long are 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 lunch or does the camp offer it? How are needs like allergies accommodated?
• Is transportation included? How are your kids getting to the camp every day? Is busing an option?
• What is the swim program like? “Swim is usually the most talked about activity on a tour,” says Maltzman. Ask if they have an instructional program, and if so, ask how it’s run. Find out how many lifeguards are on duty on a typical day and how they’re trained.
• What is your overall philosophy? Maltzman says to ask if the camp is based on fun, participation, competition, etc. “Find out if the camp’s values mesh with your family’s values,” says Maltzman. “Surround your child in the atmosphere that you want to raise him in.”