Exploring Summer Camps
Keep Your Child Learning All Summer Long
By Daniel Beauregard and Anna Bentley
Summer is still months away. But for parents who want to turn thoselazy summer days into exciting opportunities for learning and adventure for their children, the time to begin planning is now, since spots fill up well before the start of summer. With so many kinds of camps available today, there are several things parents need to consider before signing the form and packing the duffel bag.
Day Camp Versus Extended Stay Camp
Your first choice is to decide between day camp and overnight camp. “Overnight camps are great for kids who are comfortable being away from home and family, who make friends easily, adapt well and are excited about new situations and adventures,” says John Dovic, camp director for High Meadows Summer Day Camp. Day camps, meanwhile, “are a good choice for children and parents who are not completely comfortable being apart for an extended amount of time, and for kids who might have other evening or weekend obligations,” he says.
Once you’ve decided which camping format is best for your child, the next step is deciding between a traditional camp, educational camp or a specialty camp that focuses on a particular pursuit, such as academics, dance or science. All offer important benefits; which type you choose depends on a number of factors, including your child's specific temperament, interests, goals and educational needs.
Day Camp Versus Extended Stay Camp
The words “summer camp” conjure visions of swimming, campfires and crafts. With today’s educational focus on test scores and technological proficiency, these activities are sometimes seen as mere “play.” But in actuality play is a child’s most important activity, and the skills and traits it develops are just as important in adult life as technical ones.
Dovic explains, "With the guided leadership of camp counselors as role models, children can strengthen their social skills and develop the 'soft skills' so important in today’s world — things like grit, determination, creativity, communication, teamwork, responsibility, risk-taking and flexibility." He continues, "At camp, children grow and achieve outside the pressures of a formal classroom, developing an authentic love of learning and exploration that naturally benefits them in academic pursuits."
And in today’s over-scheduled world, even youngsters need time to step away from the computer, have fun and enjoy being a kid.
High Meadows Summer Day Camp offers a traditional camp setting focused on the outdoors and experiential learning, in which campers learn about subjects through direct, hands-on experience gained over the course of a three-week session. High Meadows, which accepts children ages 4 through 14 (rising ninth-graders), offers a range of activities including arts and crafts, Native American lore, swimming and more. (highmeadowscamp.org)
Other educational camps combine classroom learning with outdoor recreational activities to help students improve educationally — while still having plenty of fun in the process. Squirrel Hollow Camp at The Bedford School, a school for children with learning disabilities, combines mornings of small-group tutoring with afternoon exploration of the school’s 46-acre Fairburn campus, with activities that include swimming, soccer and conquering the school’s challenge course. Classes are grouped by age and skill level and allow campers to develop skills in a stress-free environment.
At the Children's Museum of Atlanta, kids can choose from three different day camps: the Imaginator Theater Camp; the Adventure Camp, which lets kids explore a variety of Museum activities; and Mad Science Camp for keen junior experimenters.
“Squirrel Hollow is designed to provide academic tutoring in a recreational setting,” says Betsy Box, admissions director and director emeritus of The Bedford School. “Students who attend all four weeks make average gains of six to eight months in reading, math and written expression.” (thebedfordschool.org)
McGinnisWoods Country Day School
At McGinnis Woods Country Day School in Alpharetta, campers can pair subject specific academic camps in math, Spanish and even chess with the school’s Sunsational Summer Camp program. Campers also take an educational field trip each week; past camps have visited the Atlanta Botanical Garden, the Center for Puppetry Arts and Cagle’s Family Farm. (mcginniswoods.org)
For children with a particular interest or passion, specialty camps afford an opportunity to explore it in depth.
For pint-sized scientists, there are plenty of specialized science camps covering topics like video game development, computer programming, robotics and biology. Science-based specialty camps in Atlanta include those offered by the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC), and Camp H2O at the Georgia Aquarium. Georgia Tech’s programs are mostly for middle- and high-school students and focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) topics such as robotics, computer programming and modeling (ceismc.gatech.edu). Camp H2O, meanwhile, is geared toward giving first to fifth graders a behind-the-scenes look at the aquarium through encounters with animals and lessons from caregivers (georgiaaquarium.org).
Camps are available to suit almost any interest that your child may have. The Young Chefs Academy (YCA) hosts Camp I-Can-Cook® Mini camps, during which children prepare dishes from various cuisines. “Even at the age of 4 and 5, a lot of kids love to participate in the kitchen in some way, shape or form,” says YCA’s Jennifer Fox (youngchefsacademy.com). The High Museum of Art hosts an annual summer art camp that lets budding artists explore new techniques as they create and display their masterpieces at a weekly exhibition, while they also learn about famous artists and architects (high.org/summer-art-camp).
Making Your Selection
So how do you go about finding a camp? The American Camp Association’s website (acacamps.org) is a great resource, with more than 3,600 accredited camps. After researching the different options available, it’s time to narrow down your choices. Talk with your child about his interests and expectations for summer camp, match them to your own, and then do your homework to select the best option. Once you’ve found some promising choices, contact them directly with questions to determine if they meet your needs.
Things to ask a prospective summer camp:
- Is the camp accredited?
- How are counselors trained? Are they certified? What is the average age?
- What is the background of the director and leadership staff?
- How does the camp address safety concerns?
- Is there adequate supervision at all times?
- What are the camp’s policies regarding campers’ cell phones and other electronic devices?
- Can the camp provide references?
It can take a little legwork to find the right camp for your child, but it's worth the effort. Your child will have fun while learning and making friends and memories for a lifetime — and you’ll get some summer afternoons to enjoy some peace and quiet.