Learn to code, design haute couture, sail Lake Pontchartrain or go horseback riding right here in the city. Those are just a few camp activities that New Orleans kids can enjoy this summer.
But sorting through the myriad summer camp options is challenging, especially since parents must consider timing and logistics, the camp’s reputation, and whether or not their activities are even appropriate for their children.
We spoke with a parenting educator and a mom who's been finding camps since her children started elementary school. They offered advice for parents of toddlers, grade-school age kids and tweens.
Do your research
“Here in the playroom, people are talking about summer camp and the experiences their kids had last summer,” said Jenni Evans, the assistant director at Children’s Hospital’s Parenting Center.
She said most families come across camps through “word-of-mouth." But “we always caution parents: Once they've heard of a camp that somebody else liked, think about it from their own child's perspective,” Evans said. “Just because someone's 3-year-old had a great time at a sports camp, it doesn't mean that your child who likes to paint will want to do that.”
Mirella Cameran, the mother of two girls, ages 9 and 11, and a 12-year-old boy, scans camp listings in local publications and gathers suggestions from her children, fellow parents, even teachers.
“Do research, because if you send your child to camp every year, it's nice to come up with something new,” Cameran said.
Just for kids
Cameran’s children have enjoyed summer fun in sports workshops at Elmwood Fitness Center, zoo camps hosted by the Audubon Nature Institute, and Louisiana Children's Museum’s weekly camps that cover a variety of topics, including space and dinosaurs.
They’ve attended camps at The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, featuring fashion classes; the Southern Yacht Club; the Cascade Stables in Audubon Park; and the National World War II Museum, which offers a spy camp.
Parents should also determine how the drop-off and pickup times, along with the location of the camp, affect their own schedule, Cameran said.
“If you have a routine that you have to stick to, you have to build in a whole new set of logistics,” she said.
Although weekly camps require more planning than monthly camps, the extra work is usually worth the effort.
“You can give (children) different mini-experiences across the city,” Cameran said. “Sometimes they might not realize how much fun they have doing something else.”
Are toddlers too young?
“Exposing children to new things is great, but changing a child's regular day care program isn’t necessary, and it can be stressful,” said Evans, adding that parents of toddlers should take the same approach of searching for a camp as they would for a day care.
“Look closely at the adult-child ratio, and the group size. For very young children, especially toddlers, too many people in a room is stressful and overwhelming,” she said.
Overnight camps are almost viewed as a rite of passage for tweens, but they’re not for everyone.
“Sleep-away camp is best for a child who's interested in that experience,” Evans said. “You could certainly encourage that if it sounds like a great idea, but it should be something they want to do.”
Evans said that parents should prepare by getting their questions answered by camp administrators in advance, and by alerting the staff about their child’s allergies or medications, if necessary. They should also speak with their tween about what to expect at camp and how to cope with any fears; and determine a way to keep in touch.
No matter how old your child is, learn about the camp’s transportation methods, their lunch options, and their sunscreen and water break policies. Find out how the counselors are selected and what sort of training they received.
Cameran will occasionally stop by the site unexpectedly.
“It's nice to see what they're doing,” she said. “I’ve been to places where the children were just sitting against the wall and doing nothing.”
And, if your child is new to the camping experience, consider enrolling them at small, nearby camp — possibly hosted by a school or organization that they’re familiar with, or one where friends go.
“They’re so confident in their little school environment. It's challenging to go to a big place, where they don't know any of the counselors or the other children,” she said. “As they get used to going to camp, they can grow and become more adventurous.”