This year, parents are as excited as their kids about summer camp. Our children are facing so many changes in their day-to-day lives due to the pandemic, and we long for a return to normalcy. Summer camps offer just that, a chance for kids to be kids, to make new friends and leave their worries behind. Whether you’re all in or still on the fence about camp this year, you’ll need to do your homework before making a decision. Read on for guidelines on choosing the right sleepaway or day camp for your littles.
SAFETY REGULATIONS AND PROTOCOLS
Last summer, day camps in New Jersey ran successfully and with very few cases of COVID, says Susie Lupert, executive director of the American Camp Association, NY and NJ. this year, camps have extensive plans in place to prevent the spread of the virus, and the New Jersey Department of Health has created further regulations and guidelines on how camps must operate. For parents who‘re concerned about COVID, contact your child’s camp directly to find out what plans they’re putting in place. “Camps this summer will offer a kind of antidote to all of the intense restrictions that have been put on children this past year,” says Lupert, with regards to quarantine, hybrid or remote learning and canceled activities.
Sharon McDonald, a Maplewood mom of two, is planning to send her children to the same sleepaway camp they attended for three years pre-COVID. “My kids have tons of fun there, and it’s the highlight of every year. They love the independence and freedom. The camp has been very good about communicating with parents about safety protocols and updates. I totally trust their leadership,” McDonald says.
South Orange mom Lauren Doyle has decided to send her two daughters to camp this year (one to day camp and one to sleepaway) after keeping them home last summer. “We feel more comfortable sending them this summer because we have more information about the virus, vaccines are happening (even though not for kids) and the monitoring tools (testing, etc.) are more readily available,” says Doyle. “Ultimately our kids need it. They had nothing last summer and they have not been in school. The socialization alone is worth it. Last summer the cons outweighed the pros for us. This summer we feel differently.”
FOCUS ON YOUR CHILD’S INTERESTS
When choosing a camp for your children, considering their age as well as what they’re into will ensure a good match. “If they’re doing their own research, [parents] should be finding out: What is a typical day like? What types of activities will the child be participating in? Are these activities that my child enjoys?,” says Lupert. “If my child likes to do art all day, I wouldn’t necessarily send them to a soccer camp and vice versa. Is there a mixture of activities or it focused on one particular activity? How many counselors are in a group? What kind of supervision is there? Do I want my child to learn to swim? Camps can offer so many different activities.”
If your child is attending a sleepaway camp, there are additional factors to consider. “It’s important for parents to ask, again, what will my child be doing all day, but also, what does the bunk structure look like,” says Lupert. “What do meals look like? What is the staff-to-camper ratio? If a parent is looking for a sleepaway camp for the first time, that would be a great opportunity to give the ACA a call and learn more about any concerns or questions they might have.”
GOING SOLO VS. WITH FRIENDS
Many parents decide to send their child to camp along with a friend or sibling. Short Hills mom Marisa P. has two boys, ages 4 and 6, who’ll be attending camp together this summer. “Choosing a camp was easy,” says Marisa P. “We asked a few friends where they were going and wanted them to play sports and be able to swim and really improve. My [older] son went to Willow Lake last summer for the first time with a few friends and came back after months at home energized, happy and just smiling like we hadn’t seen since the pandemic started. So, this summer we’re sending both together.”
On the flip side, one of the perks of summer camp is the opportunity to cultivate new friendships, says Lupert. “For some kids, it’s a great chance to make new friends and not necessarily be dependent on someone that they already know. For [other] kids, that connection is very, very important, and it turns out great,” Lupert says. “We often recommend to families who are thinking about sleepaway camp with a friend to consider having them in separate bunks just so the kids really get an opportunity to meet lots of different kids… but it’s up to the level of comfort involved. For parents with kids who are different ages, I recommend [the older kids] go somewhere they don’t know anybody, but for a much younger child, it might be nice for them to have a friend.”
—Heidi L. Borst is a mother, writer and nutrition coach based in Wilmington, NC.