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Make happy campers with the local pros' help!

Finding a camp that matches your child's personality is key

We spoke to representatives from Hudson Valley summer camps to get their tips for ensuring your child has one of the best summers ever.  Sally Buttinger, co-director for Camp Hillcroft in Lagrangeville, says the first thing to consider is the camp's overall environment.   

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Consider the camp environment

Things to ask: Will your child be safe, is separation anxiety handled with patience by the camp staff, are the activities ones your child enjoys, or suitable for their age?
And then there’s the choice of camp. Specialty camps abound these days, and include sports camps, dance camps, theater camps and science camps. These camps usually offer a child two to four weeks of intense instruction in specific areas of expertise and have a tendency to be more work than play.

A more traditional camp experience that includes arts and crafts, fun competition and activities, and field trips may be right for your first time camper. But for all kids, that first camp encounter should be given careful thought.

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Familiarity smooths the transition

Visit the camp before committing. Sally Buttinger explains the best way to smooth the transition from home to camp is for parents to visit the camp with their child first. “The most important thing a parent and child can do is go to the facility and see it, get a feel for what the camp has to offer,” she says. Camp Hillcroft caters to children from 3 years up to 14, and offers an open house where staffers meet the new campers and their parents, and also offers a way for new campers to hear about the camp from families already familiar with it.

Parents should make sure the camp is accredited by the American Camp Association. “To be accredited,” she explains, “you have to go through a rigorous inspection process, a big part of which is health and safety issues,” she says, and adds, there are less than 2500 accredited camps in the United States.

Iroquois Springs is an accredited sleep-away camp in Rock Hill. Its Co-Director, Mark Newfield, says family orientations are held for new campers, but he’ll also visit the families at their home first if that will put their parents and campers at ease. He says, “As one of the directors, I like to prepare them for camp,” he says. “I talk about getting ready [for the camp experience] and I think it alleviates a lot of their anxieties.”

Kids and parents both need time to adjust

Give kids time to adjust. While most first-time campers—and parents as well—experience some separation anxiety, Buttinger is very clear about the parent’s role in this. “Being a parent,” she says, “means you just have to send your child off to camp and tell them to have fun. Even if you’re worried sick, you can’t let them know it.” Newfield adds that once camp is underway, parents not make promises to their child they can’t keep. “I always tell parents not to make deals with their kids,” he says. “Like telling them, ‘if you’re not happy I’ll come and get you.’” Part of the camp experience is adjusting to it. Most kids adjust as long as the counselors keep the kids busy and active.

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The anxious child

The one sure way of alleviating the fears of an anxious child is giving them a taste of the camp experience before it begins. “The day before camp starts,” says Buttinger, “we invite all the people who are new to Hillcroft to meet their counselors...that really helps relieve anxiety,” and adds, “Regardless of age, all new campers have some anxiety, so we do icebreakers, we do name games and try to get the kids to talk about what they like. This gets them to know each other, start bonding, and then they feel more comfortable.”

These days websites and DVD’s, provide parents and kids a lot of ways to research camps of interest, but there’s always that one kid who still gets homesick. Newfield says, “If that happens, camp counselors will monitor the child. Keeping kids busy is the best way to deal with anxiety and homesickness.”

The non-sporty child

Match camp with child’s interests. Parents should make sure that their child, whether a real jock or an occasional player, will feel comfortable at the camp. Camps that focus on competitive sports may not be the best choice for your child if they’re more into the arts or a creative hobby. Camps like Hillcroft offer a mixed bag for kids who are jocks as well as those who are happy to learn the basic rules of a sport, and want to just have fun with it. 
Greg Buttinger, a Hillcroft co-director, says that his camp offers intracamp competitions where kids who want that high level of play can compete against other camps. There’s intramural competitions, held inside the camp, which are excellent for those who want a little competition. And every day, there’s a team sport lesson, whether it be in rugby, field hockey, or cricket where kids can just have fun learning the rules.

Robert Lachman is an award-winning journalist who lives in Red Hook. He has worked for many local newspapers and is also a singer songewriter who performs in the area.