Finding the right camp for your child can seem daunting. After all, there are so many choices—from camps that last only a few days to camps that run for weeks and even the whole summer.
Then there are camps to meet every interest, price range and schedule. Knowing your child’s personality as well as your options will help you identify programs that will benefit them the most.
A great resource to rely on? Camp consultants.
Think of camp consultants as expert advisors who makes it their mission to match each child with the camp that is the best fit, all while offering free information to families, says Eve Eifler, director of Tips on Trips and Camps in Baltimore.
Tips on Trips and Camps shares summer options from a group of screened and selected residential summer lineups—more than 600—based on a student’s interests and a family’s needs. It is, in essence, a matchmaker for summer programs.
And for Eifler, the consultant process is simple. Based on a call, her advisors research programs that they think are right for that individual child.
“There are thousands of programs on the web, and the process can become very confusing. Our goal is to do the research and vetting for a family,” she says.
Baltimore’s Child is hosting its annual free Summer Camp Fair on Sunday, Feb. 23. Find out more here.
A Tips advisor will email websites of about four to six options that they think will match what the family wants, she adds. “Then we discuss the options to make sure we are on the right track and if not will suggest more. It is a partnership, and often, we will introduce a kind of experience that the family did not even know existed.”
But if parents want some face-to-face planning, they have that covered, too.
“We have advisors in 12 cities and offer camp fairs as well as personal consultations. We are always happy to meet in person,” she says.
Laurel Barrie, co-owner of Camp Connection, a consulting business that serves families throughout Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia, also shares her tips for first-time campers looking for help.
“I think it’s important that parents do their due diligence and research when looking into where they should send their kids to camp,” she says. “What are their interests? Are they competitive or noncompetitive? Do they have special activities they would like to pursue? What kind of distance are you looking for?”
Goals for camp
Once you know that, you can begin the camp-planning process, she says. What do you want your child to get out of the experience?
Is your child extremely active and athletic? Then perhaps a sports camp is the right fit. If you want your child to gain more hands-on learning, then an overnight camp or other specialty camp might be the best choice.
From campfires to water skiing, there all sorts of diverse activities that have some instructional and recreational component to it, Barrie says. But it’s bunking in a cabin 24/7 with others that builds self-control and empathy. It’s helping carry someone else’s equipment on a hike, making a fire and cooking together, trying new foods and overcoming homesickness that builds independence, she adds.
Eifler agrees, adding that summer camp can help kids become more liberated, learn resiliency, build self-esteem and self-reliance and absorb social skills.
“Camps offer the opportunity to learn new skills, but perhaps more importantly, [they] teach kids to advocate for themselves, problem solve and learn to get along with other kids who may be quite different from them,” she says. “It also encourages kids to try new things and teaches them that it is OK to fail the first time and persevere. It teaches kids to be good losers and also good winners — all without parents who often jump in to fix things.”
Another bonus? Camps are now generally a “media-free” zone. While most parents cannot get their children to turn off electronics, especially during the summer, most camps today provide a space that is electronics free. This leads to campers learning better communication skills, Barrie says.
“At traditional camps, they can’t bring their cellphones or iPads. They actually have to string words together and talk to one another,” she says. “As difficult as it might seem for kids in today’s digital world, they also seem to appreciate the way camp used to be. You’re not only learning activities, you’re also learning social skills and appropriateness. You’re remembering to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and to show consideration.”
What also usually happens is the feeling of creating a new family, says Meridith Jacobs, a Montgomery County mom. She has two elementary school-aged kids and has been using Summer365, a camp consultant service, for years.
Jacobs says that camp has become a “community” for her kids.
“It’s their home away from home,” she says. “We wanted our daughter to have another life and other friends outside of her world here. Now, when she’s having a bad day, she FaceTimes one of her friends from camp. That’s what she lives for. Camp has becomes very much a part of our entire family.”
As for how the camp consultant process benefited her family? Jacobs says that using a consultant has produced some happy campers each summer.
“When we first started looking for camps, we went in open-minded,” she says. “We knew we wanted either a four-week camp or a seven-week camp. We didn’t know which would be a better fit.”
One family’s story
That’s where Andrea Grinspoon of Summer365 came in.
Jacobs set up a time to speak with Grinspoon by phone, at which time she shared her child’s background, likes and dislikes and what they were looking for in terms of location, duration, activities and general ambiance. Grinspoon then talked all things summer camp and how to find the best sleep-away spot for her two children.
From there, Grinspoon emailed Jacobs a list of eight camps.
“She was completely neutral. She would not tell me where her kids went camping; she would not give opinions,” Jacobs says. “It was more just factual information because she wanted to make sure we made the right decision for us.”
“I think it’s a really helpful resource for parents, and using a camp consultant was a phenomenal experience, honestly,” she adds.