The summer months provide children with the opportunity to experience and discover new or emerging interests or to focus on special skills and interests that may be set aside or even neglected during the academic year. Joan Bergstrom, ED.D., consultant on school-age children and author, writes in A Parent's Guide, The Best Summer Ever that out-of-school activities provide children with "a range of opportunities for developing 'the other Rs' - resourcefulness and risk taking, responsibility, and relationships - while still providing ample time to play."
The time to register for camp varies from program to program. Therefore to avoid disappointment, it is best to begin researching options early. Some experts suggest exploring summer camp options the summer before you wish to enroll your child so that you can visit the camp in action. And, if you find one you like, you can register as early as the Fall and often benefit from discounted tuition rates.
Whether you're looking for a recreational program or a program that is specially designed to reinforce academic skills, you can expect to have several from which to choose. Summer options range from day camp to overnight camp, from visiting with a relative in another community or country to hiring a college student to care for your children. Older children may be interested in travel or adventure programs or exploring the world of work through volunteer or paid employment. Deciding which option is right for you, your child and family will depend on your child's age, interests and temperament, your budget, and other resources.
Day camps can vary widely in their hours, program offerings, and location. A typical day camp is designed to provide campers with the opportunity to experience a variety of activities including sports, arts & crafts, drama, computer, and orienteering. Some provide campers with a chance to concentrate in one area of interest (sports or art, for example).
Day camps are generally offered for the full day (8 a.m. - 6 p.m.) however shorter programs are available. As children grow older many camps begin to offer an overnight or two and/or trips away from camp. Programs are available locally, or a bus ride away in surrounding suburban or rural communities. They are housed in schools, community organizations, day care centers, recreational facilities, at Y programs, or in churches or synagogues. Transportation to and from camp is often included.
Sleep-away camps generally provide program options of two, four and eight weeks. They tend to be more expensive than day camps, but if you and your child have your hearts set on overnight camp this summer, explore whether scholarships are available. Like day camps, some residential camps focus on a specific theme, while others are more varied and offer a range of activities.
An extended visit to a relative in another state or country can provide your child with a special experience and can enrich your child's life. It is important that your relative is excited about your child's visit. Discuss how your child will spend their days and about any special outings or activities that might interest your child. Be sure to alert them to your child's special needs and to send along enough spending money for any special treats or excursions.
Sometimes the perfect summer is spent in the neighborhood, going on day trips to the local playground, pool or beach, and taking tennis or swimming lessons. If you're interested in a less structured summer for your child, consider hiring a college student, older teen, or a neighbor to care for your child during the summer. However, because it is unstructured, be prepared to be involved in planning how your child is spending his/her days and weeks.
As children mature they may begin to feel too old for summer camp. Although you might think otherwise it is important to listen to their feelings and strategize with them about ways they can have a productive and enjoyable summer. Explore new and different summer camp programs. Counselor-in-training programs offered by some summer camps and youth programs usually provide a good balance, as do volunteer or intern programs in non-profit organizations such as hospitals. After considering health and safety issues, try to be as flexible and creative as possible to make your teen's summer a happy one.
Plan ahead - and don't forget to have some fun yourself
Summer can be an enjoyable time for everyone. As you plan for your child's summer don't forget to consider scheduling some vacation time away from work for yourself. By thinking ahead, talking with your child, and doing some research, the words "School's Out!" will bring a smile to your face.
The following resources can help you begin your search for summer activities for your child by providing families with information and referral to a wide range of programs from which to choose.
NYU's Employee Assistance Program is staffed by knowledgeable specialists who provide consultation, information and referral on all forms of child care, including summer camps, and can help parents strategize about creative alternatives for the summer months. Written materials help parents assess whether a camp program is the best choice for their child and family.
Teen Life dedicated to providing information and referral to summer programs, volunteer opportunities, schools, college resources, and gap year activities for teens.
(866) 222-TIPS (8477)
Tips on Trips is a free information and referral service on overnight camps, trips and programs in the U.S. and abroad.
American Camping Association is an organization that accredits camps across the U.S. Website offers educational materials and on-line search for camps.
The on-line searchable database provides list of day and residential camps focusing on the arts (dance, media arts, music, theater, visual arts), academic areas (journalism, science, computer, math, among others), magic, and sports for students 8 to 18 years of age. Searches are possible by activity, college, or location.
Peterson's publishes a variety of guides offers on-line searches of their database of 3,000 summer camps and academic and travel programs for K-12.
Mommy Poppins lists "free and cheap summer camps."
Explore a sampling of summer programs for children of all ages.