Find the Right Summer Camp for Your Child
Pick a summer camp based on your child's personality and interests.
Whether it's a sleep-away experience or a day program, summer camp is a place where new friends become old friends and memories are made. The problem? There are so many to choose from. And while it's great to have options, it can be among the most overwhelming decisions for a parent to make.
Do you choose a camp based on honing an interest, making your child more well-rounded, creating new challenges, meeting new people or going on extreme adventures? Should the camp be just one of these things, or a little of everything? Either way, figuring it out is a lot for parents to process and consider.
Debbie Rosen-Alfonso of The Camp Experts, counsels families in camp selection. "Years ago, you went to a camp because your neighbor went or somebody's cousin went, and you just went -- basically, camps were the same...[But] camp has done a major turnaround, and there are so many different options out there now."
Robi Ludwig, Psy.D and Care.com Parenting Expert, says that, "Every child is different, so these decisions really depend on where your child will blossom."
When searching for the place that might change your child's life this summer -- or just occupy them and keep them happy -- it's helpful to start with their age, level of maturity, distance they're ready to travel (if going away) and if they need to be with a sibling or friend to adjust. After that, it's all about gut feeling and personality fit.
READ MORE: What to look for when choosing a camp
With the help of Dr. Ludwig and Rosen-Alfonso we created the following kid-personality types and matched each with potential camp fits to help point you in the right direction.
Who: Totally game for new challenges, the Adventurer is not afraid to try something new, especially if it's physical. This outgoing, brave kid loves the outdoors and craves new experiences.
Camp fit: As long as the camp spends the majority of the time being active outside, you'll hit a home run. Depending on your child's age and readiness, an overnight camp could be a great fit. If your child would prefer to stay close to home, consider day camps based around sports she knows she loves - and others she'd like to try. If you're looking for one well-rounded camp, make sure all programs offer a level of adventure including favorites like rope courses, sports and boating. Also, consider looking into outdoor-focused camps specializing in wilderness, hiking, or environmental studies. One thing seems certain: with such a sporty spirit, your child will thrive at a place where the goal is to have new experiences.
Who: This child loves to perform for a crowd. He might be arts-oriented or an athlete with a penchant for applause. Aside from performances, the Star finds great satisfaction in creating, rehearsing, and perfecting a performance.
Camp fit: Drama camps, music camps, dance camps, etc., this is one area where you will definitely find a ton of choices. There are endless options when it comes to specialty camps for performers to develop a craft.
Or perhaps your child wants a more specialized focus, say in basketball fencing or gymnastics. These are often shorter sessions than the longer, traditional programs, so it's even possible to try more than one over the course of a single summer.
And don't rule out a traditional camp setting, even if he only wants to focus on one interest. Most non-specialty camps offer a range of sports and performance arts classes into the mix, allowing your child to shine in some areas while challenging him at others.
Who: Some kids are more comfortable in seemingly familiar surroundings, and that is perfectly fine. Even if your child is shy, always preferring to hang out with the same small group of friends, it's okay to challenge him with camp. It just might mean tapping into a single interest or familiar group of people to keep him comfortable -- even if it's away from home.
Camp fit: If this is your child's first camp experience and you're concerned that he won't thrive in a completely new overnight setting, try local day camps. Maybe he goes with a best friend or a sibling, or he chooses a camp that's part of his school or religious group. Maybe he teams up with Boy Scouts. Being around kids with common interests may help your child have an easier and more comfortable experience from the get-go. And just because he's shy doesn't mean he doesn't want to challenge himself this summer. A sleep-away camp with some familiar faces might be a perfect balance.
THE CHALLENGE-DRIVEN CHILD
Who: The Challenge-Driven child may very well also be an Adventurer or a Star. This likely outgoing child might be the kid who is interested in running for student office or even kickstarting an entirely new club or organization. She often speaks up, wants to be heard and loves meeting new people.
On the flip side, some Challenge-Driven children are more introverted. They might be great at conflict resolution -- literal peacemakers -- but not necessarily interested in delivering a speech from a podium.
Camp fit: Anything new and exciting will allow this child to thrive. Your goal is to pick something that might offer advanced programs, so she can choose to go year after year, while still getting challenged. Consider thinking outside the box with options like leadership programs, international studies camps or farm experience camps. There is a wealth of possibility out there for children in this category.
THE PROBLEM SOLVER
Who: Always up for a new intellectual challenge, the Problem Solver may be super tech-savvy (or may just want to be), and his or her analytical strengths can easily include some of the aforementioned categories -- meaning some Problem Solvers are Homebodies, while some are total Adventurers.
Camp fit: From specialty camps for the high-tech minded, to traditional camps with computer-based sessions, this is an area that's exploding in terms of options. Maybe your child is a budding digital photographer or a game-modeling pro. Problem Solvers may even shine in theater set design or aviation.
THE D-I-Y KID
Who: This creative, crafty kid would love a true hands-on experience. This type of kid may also exhibit Problem Solver, Homebody, Challenge-Driven or Adventurer qualities.
Camp fit: From cooking to magic to web design, there are camps out there that will allow your child's crafty side to shine. Traditional camps allow their campers an element of D-I-Y time to every day, and of course there are specialty camps for kids who just can't get enough!
A Note on Special Needs Programs
Many special needs children do very well in traditional camp programs, both sleep-away and day camps. Rosen-Alfonso states that a general rule of thumb is that the child's school diagnosis will determine if a child needs a specific special needs program. If a child is mainstreamed in school, he or she can usually be mainstreamed at camp. However, camps for children with special needs can work on specific tasks that a child might need or want to work on. They have psychologists on staff and typically do all traditional camp activities. There are also camps that specialize in a particular need, and are run by specific organizations.