For some new moms, the whole notion of summer camp planning seems a mystery. If your child attends a daycare center, the summer will most likely be indistinguishable from the school year, aside from a field trip or two and the availability of water play. If your child is in preschool or with a nanny, you may have the option of choosing a summer camp experience that breaks up the daily routine. And certainly, once your children are school aged, you'll be confronted with an array of choices for summer camps near and far. Here's a primer on summer camp, covering all the essentials.
Here's a secret: it can be fun to choose a summer day camp for your child. Depending on the area where you live, there may be choices as varied as gymnastics, horseback riding, soccer, arts, music and traditional day camp. Some private schools in our region open their campuses for day camp and offer a huge catalog of choices. Remember to look for government-run camps as well, since these are often more affordable, and can be just as enjoyable.
Naturally, you'll look for types of activity that suit your child's temperament. Your child may prefer a multi-sports camp or a camp devoted to just lacrosse or soccer. Or perhaps a typical day camp with arts and crafts, swimming and fun games would be a better fit. Or maybe a camp with an academic component would help your child keep up his learning over the summer.
Once you narrow down the choices to a few acceptable ones, involve your child. When possible, take a tour or attend a camp fair before settling on one camp. Ask other parents in your community when to start looking and what camps are best, since some may fill up as early as January.
Sometimes it seems that as soon as you've worked out a smooth child care arrangement, something disrupts it. That something could certainly be summer vacation. Day camps don't always have the flexible, extended hours that after-school care providers offer. So when choosing a camp, ask yourself this key question: what hours of child care coverage do we need?
The answer doesn't need to be a deal breaker, but it will shape your decision making. If you need coverage 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but the best camp is only open until 3:30 p.m., you may want to arrange a carpool and babysitting swap with the parents of your child's friend. Or you could hire a nanny for the summer to pick up from camp -- a college student home on vacation can be a terrific choice. You might also consider staggering your work schedule with a spouse or other family member, to coordinate with camp schedules.
It's one thing to put your child on a bus for the day. It's quite another to say goodbye for one, two or even four weeks at a time. Yet in many parts of the country, children eagerly look forward to sleepaway camp as an opportunity to bond with new playmates, learn new skills and develop independence from their parents.
Typically, overnight camps begin accepting children at age 7 or 8. However, not every child is ready to be apart from her parents at this age. You're the best judge of your child's readiness for sleepaway camp. Moreoever, this kind of camp is often far more expensive than day camp, so you may want to decide that it's not an option for your child before she even brings it up.
Now that you've chosen a summer camp for your child, it's time to think about what to bring. Even for a day camp, you'll need to consider whether to send sunblock, a swimsuit, packed bag lunch and the like. For overnight camp, there's an even longer list of supplies you want to send with your child. After all, there's nobody to run out to the pharmacy for a forgotten item when you're in the midst of the Maine woods.
Begin with the packing list that your camp should give you. Then look at the mammoth packing list resource below to see whether anything else would add to your child's comfort or enjoyment. (I've even included car games, in case you have a long drive to camp drop off.) Make sure to send any paperwork that's needed for camp personnel to administer medicine to your child -- and some camps even require permission for a counselor to apply sunblock!