Studies show that camps of all kinds help kids build a solid sense of identity and community, while also contributing to mental and physical well-being. But with so many options out there, how can families make the best choice possible for their children?
Summer camp champion and Bennett Day School Director of Auxiliary Programs, Cally Vevers, sat down with us to discuss why camp is so worthwhile, as well as her top tips for choosing a best-fit camp:
Camp is a unique and powerful experience that truly lives with you forever. It develops a community that has helped me so much in both my childhood and adult life to communicate, network, and build connections with others. I still have pen pals from my 4th grade summer camp who joke that "camp never ends!" It's a time for kids to create relationships outside of their school realm; to explore different worlds, schools, and communities without the pressures that sometimes come along with regular school life.
I always say when planning Bennett Day Summer Camp that the magic words are "safety" and "engagement." Families are entrusting us to take the best care of their children, and we want to deliver on that promise while also making sure the kids are excited to come back day after day.
When choosing a camp, there are some key considerations you want to keep in mind.
Family Needs Come First
How will camp work within your existing life? Especially for families with multiple children, the most important question is what age ranges are served by the camp. Can you bring them all to one place? It's important for families to be able to relax and enjoy their summers, so the convenience factor shouldn't be ignored.
Also, does the camp offer flexible scheduling options that work for your family? At Bennett Day Camp, we believe it is important for families to have the option to go on vacation or take a day together whenever they want to, so we allow families to attend camp by the day or week.
Many stay-at-home parents ask me whether camp is a good option for their children, and I always respond with a resounding, yes! It is important to get kids out of the house in the summer so that they can develop new skills and relationships. Camp can also be a great way to ease kids back into the routine of school toward the end of the Summer.
When it comes to finances, families should absolutely consider budget, but know that a more expensive camp does not always equal a better camp. Another lesser-known parent financial benefit of Summer Camp is that you can claim it as a part of your Child and Dependent Care Credit on your tax return.
Again, especially for families with multiple children, it's important to consider whether a camp can differentiate for a number of interests. Even for families with one child participant, it's crucial that the camp allows the child to explore many different facets of their identities.
I typically do not recommend to families to try a different camp every week. Even as adults, a lot of anxiety comes from being in a new environment every week, and it's something that often prevents us from getting to know others. You don’t have to commit to one camp forever, but it's important to allow children to develop the relationships that make camp so special. Many camps even have year-round events that build on that sense community.
Even within speciality camps, the best programs should be able to show a high variety of activities and quality field trips. You don't want a STEM camp that never goes outside or a sports camp that never allows for relationship-building and communication. Any camp worth going to caters to the "whole child."
Many camps also offer additional academic programming that could be important to your family. More and more camps are attempting to combat the "summer slide" by providing educational activities without it feeling so much like regular school. For instance, Bennett Day Camp offers add-ons, like literacy tutoring and private music lessons.
You also want to do some research on the relationship quality between the staff and families; it's so impactful when counselors come back year-after-year and continue to build those relationships. Take a look at the camper-to-staff ratio. You want this to be as low as possible, as that means your child will be able to build stronger relationships.
A consideration for many families is whether to choose sleep-away/overnight camp versus a day camp option. While many people think that age is a primary consideration, I think it's more important to simply ask—what are you looking to get out of the camp experience?
Sleep-away camp is a great opportunity for kids of all ages to build autonomy and confidence in their identities. It can be empowering to try out different versions of yourself. On the other hand, it can be really tough to go somewhere for weeks when you know no one, so I recommend that first-timers go to sleep-away camp with a sibling or friend to check in with. It's also important for families and kids to really consider whether they want to be apart for an entire summer. Do you want to keep building those family and friend relationships in your own community in the summer months?
Day camps can be a wonderful option for gaining that confidence and autonomy, while still maintaining space to grow family and community relationships over the summer. There are some day camps that are stagnant and stay in one location, so be sure to look for a camp that takes kids out into the world. Many day camps offer the same field trip and nature activities that sleep-away camps might have, so you really can get the best of both worlds.
At the end of the day, choosing the best camp depends entirely upon the family and what they hope to gain from the experience. Hopefully these tips help make that decision a little easier and help grow camp connections that last a lifetime!
To learn more about Bennett Day Summer Camp, click here. If you have questions, feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.