Choosing a Summer Camp
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. “Camps truly give children some of their first opportunities to take on personal responsibility, to experience independence and to develop social and life skills in a uniquely nurturing environment,” says John Dovic, director of High Meadows Summer Day Camp. He added that High Meadows, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is “often described as a traditional overnight camp, but without spending the night.” “An outstanding camp,” Dovic says, “will help children develop their potential by exploring and celebrating their sense of self and in forming meaningful and respectful relationships with others, all in an environment of fun and adventure.”
Once you’ve decided which camping format is best for your child, the next step is deciding between a traditional camp, an 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 several factors, including your child’s temperament, interests, goals and educational needs.
Traditional Summer Camps
The words “summer camp” conjures vision 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:
“Camp is so much more than childcare to fill in time between school grades. It gives children outstanding opportunities to help them become their best selves, to explore interests and unique activities and to be part of a community full of inspiration, growth and fun,” Dovic says.
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 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 rising kindergartners through 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 45-acre Fairburn campus, including swimming, soccer and conquering the school’s challenge course.
“Squirrel Hollow is designed to provide academic tutoring in a recreational setting,” says Betsy Box, Bedford’s admissions director and director emeritus. “Students who attend all four weeks make average gains of six to eight months in reading, math and written expression.” (thebedfordschool.org)
At McGinnis Woods Country Day School, 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 and focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) topics such as robotics, computer programming and modeling. Camp H2O, meanwhile, is geared toward giving first- to fifth-graders a behind-the-scenes look at the aquarium through animal encounters and lessons from caregivers.
Kids with other interests will find camps to suit them as well. Zoo Atlanta’s hands-on Summer Safari Camp introduces children to animals ranging from pandas to parrots to pine snakes. Each week campers will go on a different zoo exhibition, exploring wildlife and wild places. (zooatlanta.org/program/summer-camp)
“Summer Safari Camp provides youth ages 5-14 the opportunity to explore animals from around the world, participate in hands-on STEAM activities, learn how they can help save wildlife and wild places and have fun,” says Staci Wiech, the zoo’s senior director of education.
The Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta hosts a variety of summer camps, including cooking, sports, theme, performing arts and outdoor camps, plus an inclusion program for children with special needs. (mjccadaycamps.org)
“I think the fact that we have a 52-acre campus that has outdoor pools, a zip line and ropes courses, indoor camps like dance and gymnastics and sports camps and tennis camps and culinary camps makes the center stand out,” says Jodi Sonenshine, director of its day camps.
Arts organizations across metro Atlanta are hosting summer camps once again this year. The Center for Puppetry Arts is hosting Puppet Camp with three different age groups. Children will learn about the creative and collaborative world of puppetry. (puppet.org) The Alliance Theatre will have a variety of camps for grades K-12 in different age groups to help young actors build character, confidence and creativity. (alliancetheatre.org)
The High Museum of Art will host a plethora of camps for grades 1-8. Campers will learn about the museum’s collection and special exhibitions while honing their drawing, painting and design skills. (high.org/camp). The Spruill Center for the Arts and Stage Door Theatre will partner to host visual and performing camps for ages 3-18. (spruillarts.org/camps)
Art Station will host a variety of camps for ages 5-14 in the performing, literary and visual arts. (artstation.org)
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.
With such a large number and variety of camps available, it takes a little legwork to choose the right one, 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.
What to Look For
- 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?