Whether your kids like to climb walls, make music or tinker with robots, the perfect summer camp is out there. But how to find it?
Jenni Evans, of the Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans, had some words of wisdom — from personal experience as a mom, and professional experience as an early childhood educator.
“It has to meet your needs as a parent, be it logistics or financial,” said Evans.
“Also consider your child’s age and interests. Two problems I see happening over and over again: one, parents find a camp that they think is fun, but the child may not. And secondly, forcing their child to try something new that they have no interest in.”
Families have a menu of options, ranging from the traditional well-rounded programs that have children dabbling in the arts, science, technology and athletics; to specialized programs that focus on areas such as film, computer games or horseback riding.
Catering to 550 children over the summer, the Kehoe-France School in Metairie hosts a traditional summer camp that Mitch Bilbe, admissions and guidance director, describes as well-rounded.
“The kids will go to music, art and ceramics. They will swim every day, and they will have access to a field, the gymnasium, a rifle range with BB guns and archery,” Bilbe said.
For older children, though, camps tend to be less broadly focused and more oriented to a single theme, providing the opportunity to explore interests in depth.
“Kids can find a camp that focuses on their interests and pursue it. On the flip side, kids have the opportunity to try new things without a huge longterm commitment,” Evans said.
Christine Spako, director of summer programs and enrichment at St. Martin Episcopal School, has adjusted St. Martin’s camp offerings to cater to families looking for a more focused approach.
“We felt that some of our families are looking for more specific camps,” said Spako. “Our themed camps are definitely the biggest.”
It’s called STEAM camp, playing off the trendy STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. St. Martin’s adds Arts and Academics to that mix.
St. Martin’s has about 200 students per week attending camps with ultra-cool themes: superhero, videogame creation, robotics, Lego spybotics, performing arts and visual arts.
“We try to make everything work toward a goal. There is always some end project, so the students are really invested in what they are doing,” Spako said.
From camper to counselor
During the transitional tween years — 13- to 15-year-olds — many camps give campers the opportunity to learn responsibility and fill their time as counselors in training.
“(Being a) counselor in training is great, because kids still have a place to go, but they are getting leadership skills and work experience,” Evans said.
For parents with more than one child, juggling the logistics and costs with kids’ interests is not easy — something that Kevin Phayer, a father of four, has been navigating for more than 15 years.
“Look for ones your kid is really going to enjoy. One year we had to pull our kids out of a camp early because they weren’t enjoying it,” said Phayer.
What were the experiences the children liked?
“They all did the Zoo Camp and Ripples at Tulane,” Phayer said. “But when they got older, they went to camps (with topics) that they were interested in, like film camp.”
A regional chain called Kidcam lets families build their own sessions, paying for only the weeks when camp is needed. Kidcam stresses that it caters to parents’ needs, including camp until 6 p.m. and discounts for multiple children in the same family.
Research what’s available in the private and the community-run camping world, parents advise. For example, the New Orleans Recreation Department Commission has 39 youth camps that cater to 4- to 12-year-olds, and 10 teen camps that cater to 13- to 15-year-olds. The Southeast Louisiana Council of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts Louisiana East offer camps tailored to preteens and teens as well.
“Take a tour of the place and ask a lot of questions. Ask staff-to-kid ratio. And what will they be doing on the days that it is pouring down rain?” said Melissa Montero, the mother of 6- and 8- year-old girls.
The trick is signing up early enough to ensure your child gets a spot at the camp you want. That’s a lesson Montero learned early on.
“Register right now,” she said. “Once the camps fill up, you are left with very little option.”