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4 summer camp tips from the local experts!

Hudson Valley camp experts give their advice

4 summer camp tips from the local experts

If you’ve put off choosing a camp or are just beginning to think about it, take heart there are still some wonderful options available. With a little ingenuity, some scouting around and research you’ll be able to provide your child with some good summer camp options.

There is an option for just about every child and every budget, from day camps, weekly camps to full summer sessions. Finding a camp where your child will thrive and your money is well spent requires some legwork. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with all the options out there, here are some tips to help you navigate this exciting world of possibilities.

Before you start assessing your child’s interests

“The most important factor when looking at summer programs is involving your child in the decision making process and determining what interests your child wants to pursue,” says Dawn Mark, former director of the junior volunteer program for Warwick. 

Be sure to involve kids in the selection process. A good way to begin is to sit down as a family and respond to the following questions to get on the right track:
  • Ask what activities are important to him/her?
  • What are deal breakers?
  • What special interests does your child want to explore?
  • What do you and your child want to gain from the camp experience? For example, do they need to improve proficiency in certain areas, want to learn a new skill, or hone an existing one.
Now that you’ve narrowed your search down to what you’re looking for in a camp, you can begin to assess all the camps that fit your child’s interests.

Helen Hoffman, owner of Our Kids Day Camp in Bloomingburg, says it’s vital to take a tour, don’t rely on nice photos in a brochure.

Tips to follow before choosing a camp:

Seek referrals: Look for referrals from the American Camping Association (ACA). Town halls, county tourism bureaus and local groups like the PTA can put you in touch with other camp-seeking parents. Word-of-mouth can go a long way.

Ask for a tour: Hoffman says it’s vital to take a tour, don’t rely on nice photos in a brochure. She says definitely schedule a tour of the facility with the camp director and your child. When visiting the facility, see if it’s clean, take notice of the medical office, the fire alarms, and emergency procedure information.

READ MORE: Prepare your kids for day camp

Interview camp administrators

In order to narrow down your choices, take the time to interview directors and ask lots of questions. When interviewing the camp administrators always ask about their credentials and how long they’ve been the director at the camp. Hoffman says to be wary of camps where the directors change from year to year, and seek out camps with a low turnover rate.

The ACA says look for 40-60% returning staff. They also recommend at least 80% be over 18. Note the counselor to camper ratio. The ACA recommends the ratio range from one staff member to every eight campers ages 6-8. One staff for every ten campers ages 9-14 and one staff for every 12 campers ages 15-17.

Ken Glotzer has been the director for Day Camp in the Park in Harriman for over thirty years. He urges parents to ask about those who assists the director throughout the day. Camp directors, he says, are very busy, so ask “who will help the kids” when the director is involved with another matter.

He suggests asking about the qualifications of the senior counselors, not just the supervisors. Many camps have high school and college students running groups with a teacher supervising them. Ideally, he says,  licensed teachers run every group of the camp. It costs more, but parents and most importantly the children, benefit the most from this type of supervision.

Don’t always go with the camp your child’s best friend is going to: Don’t let that be your guide.

“Children love to go to camp with a friend,” says Glotzer. “Years ago kids went to camp to make friends, today most kids need a friend. This is disheartening because a particular camp may not be a good fit, but parents pick the camp often on who they know at camp and not always if the personality of the camp fits the child.”

READ MORE: Can summer camp prepare kids for the real world?

Hoffman says her camp has many kids attend that don’t know anyone. She says, “The first day we play orientation games, where everyone learns each other’s names and what interests they have. Children make friends very quickly so no need to worry.”

Pros and cons can help decide

You name the activity, the pastime or theme and there is a summer camp that caters to it. Everything from athletics, to computers, drama, music and academics-the sky’s the limit. You are bound to find one to entice even the most reluctant camper. With so many to choose from doing your homework can really pay off.

Once you’ve visited a few day camps in your area, choose your top two and weigh the pros and cons of each. To be sure you’re evaluating every aspect of the program, make a list of pros and cons, and decide with your child what they can live with.

Dawn Marie Barhyte is a freelance writer who lives in the Hudson Valley.