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Is your child ready? Which camp is right? How do you prepare?

► Searchable directory of day camps

At a day camp, kids can gain independence, develop friendships and learn new skills close to home. But is your young child ready?


A Checklist

Start with this checklist from the American Camp Association. Does your child:

⇒ participate in group activities?

⇒ play nicely with other kids?

⇒ get excited to see her friends at chld care or on play dates?

⇒ like to learn new things?

⇒ attend preschool?

If the answers are yes, your child’s probably ready for day camp fun. Michael Chaveau, executive director of the American Camp Association’s (ACA) Keystone Section, adds another criterion: If your child cries or clings at day care drop-off, “maybe it’s too early for day camp,” he says.

Choosing the Right Camp

You can help a first-time day camper get ready by getting her involved in selecting a camp. First, look at camps that fit your own schedule. Some day camps run from early morning until late afternoon with extended day care, if needed. Others offer a combination of half-day or full-day sessions.

Many camps have brochures that can help you narrow the choices. Discuss camp activities with your child. See which he thinks would be fun. Some day camps are general, while others have a clear focus such as sports, academics or arts, says Erin Burg Pudlo, program coordinator at Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, DE.  Ursuline’s summer program combines academic enrichment classes with recreational activities.

Some families “mix and match,” day camps, sending their kids to different day camps in different summer weeks. This approach works well if you have a mid-summer vacation, your child has multiple interests or you just want to try different programs.

 When deciding on the right fit, talk to camp directors. If time permits, visit the program or the facility, advises Andy Pritkin, owner and director of Liberty Lake Day Camp in Bordentown, NJ.  Ask questions. What’s a typical day like? What is the counselor to camper ratio? How are discipline problems handled? What is the camp’s philosophy?

Most camps will provide references from parents of previous campers.

Before Camp Begins

Be positive and encourage your child to try new, fun activities. “Parents need to put their own fears and anxieties aside and be excited about their kids going to camp,” advises Pritkin.

As the start of camp draws near, calm uncertainties by discussing what she will do each day. Start by explaining drop-off and pick-up. A quality day camp will know how to engage children and work through any hesitations. Camp directors and counselors are trained to help with this transition, so involve them as needed.

Once kids start day camp, they don’t want to stop. They have a blast and make strong friendships. When your kid cries at the end of summer day camp, you’ll know it was a good summer! 

Deb Dellapena is a local freelance writer.

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