Although summer is still several months away, now is the time to start checking out camps for the kids. You’ve got plenty to choose from--there are more than 11,000 camps across the country ranging from all-around activity ones to the specialty types for weight loss, basketball or computer study.
There are day camps and resident ones, sponsored by nonprofit agencies such as the YMCA and Boy Scouts, by churches and temples, by cities, and by private for-profit companies.
But how do you go about picking the right one?
“With care,” says Anne Kogen of American College Placement Service, an Encino firm that offers camp placement as one of its services.
First, you should talk it over with your child.
“You should take the kid’s priorities into consideration, and know your kid’s strengths and weaknesses,” Kogen explained. “Whether he or she would do better in a more regimented or a hang-loose atmosphere, prefers the desert or mountains. Do you have an outdoorsy kid or the country-club type who doesn’t like mosquitoes?”
Most camping directors recommend that children be about 7 or 8 years old for a resident camp.
Parents, Kogen said, often tend to put their own fears and anxieties into the selection process. “There are plenty of overprotective mothers who don’t want the kid to water ski because they fear he’ll break his neck.”
Camp experts and advisers recommend the all-around camps for younger children. Specialty camps--sailing, riding, computers--may be best for teen-agers who have established certain interests.
Then, do your homework--extensive checking on how the camp is run.
“Whether it’s a day camp or overnight, they should make sure it is safe, clean and well-supervised by trained staff,” Kogen noted. Don’t “just look at brochures.”
“I go out and talk to the people who run the camps,” said Katherine Kendell, an educational consultant in Beverly Hills. “I encourage parents to do the same thing we do--set criteria and check out the camps. They should make sure that the staff has professional training, that they’re not all college students. That some have experience in camp and recreational management and child development.”
“Safety is a primary concern,” Kendell added. “Parents should check the camp’s safety record and find out about their liability insurance. Because of the extremely high cost of liability insurance, a lot of places aren’t carrying it now. A couple of camps I recommended before have dropped it. Now, I’m staying away from them. I wouldn’t recommend them.”
Kendell says that a good source for summer camp information for parents this season would be the Camp Fair ’89, a yearly camp-information show held at the Buckley School in Sherman Oaks. It will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 12.
Although Californians do not send their children to camp as much as Easterners do, experts say, there is growing interest in summer camps here, especially in the past five years.
They’re not sure why. Perhaps the recent interest is from the increase in families where both parents work or in more single-parent families, according to Jim LeMonn of the American Camping Assn. (The ACA accredits about 2,200 day and resident camps in the United States, and publishes a yearly directory of U.S. camps.)
LeMonn recommended that parents talk with camp directors and visit the camp.
“They should ask a lot of important questions,” LeMonn advised. “How do you handle homesickness? Do you let the kids know homesickness is a perfectly normal reaction? What kind of child enjoys your program? How do you handle staff? What do you hope to accomplish for children at your camp? What activities are offered?
“Parents should have referrals about the camp, too. The one most people use is word of mouth, from other parents, kids who have been to that camp, teachers.
“Most people first go to a nonprofit resident camp, usually within 300 miles of their home,” LeMonn said. LeMonn encourages families to visit the camp they’re considering “a summer ahead of time, so they can see the camp in operation.”
Next, decide what you can spend on a camping experience for your child.
Most nonprofit camps, day or residential, according to ACA figures, charge from $1 to $35 a day. The agency or church camps are usually cheaper than the private ones because they are underwritten by groups or businesses and often operate all year.
The Los Angeles area Boy Scouts operate many camps on a year-round basis, but also have “some summer camps, including one on Catalina,” according to Jim Stainer, a camping director at the Los Angles Area Boy Scout Council.
The YWCA runs no resident camps but offers summer day camps at schools and Y centers for boys and girls ages 5-12.
The YMCA has a multifaceted camping program, which includes day hikes and van trips; resident camps in the San Gabriel, San Bernardino and Tehachapi mountains; and computer study programs in the inner city.
Fees for the YMCA camps vary greatly, said Larry Rosen, director of operations for the Los Angeles YMCA. “For a week away, it could run $150 to $200,” he said.
All YMCAs have a “campership program” to provide financial aid to underprivileged children who want to attend camp. “These are based on a family’s need,” Rosen observed. “We turn virtually no one away for lack of funds.”
Registration for YMCA summer programs begins April 1, and Rosen advised parents to go to their area YMCAs and sign up their children early.
As far as private camps go, they’ll be higher priced. Fees begin at $35 a day and can go as high as $65 per day, depending on what they have to offer. Some camps that involve travel abroad can cost up to $3,000 for a three-week stint.
“The health specialty camps, weight reduction and such, can run as high as $80 a day,” LeMonn said, because “they have to have extra medical personnel, dietary people and most of those camps have some sort of follow-up after the camp is over.”
If you are interested in a weight loss camp, camping experts suggest you make sure there are medical personnel on site, ask for documentation of results and speak to other parents whose children attended the camp.
There also are specialty camps for almost every kind of illness, disability or learning disorder, ranging from asthma to speech impairment camps.
As for the popular sports camps, experts recommend you check out the coaches to see that they have good teaching skills. And if a celebrity player has lent his name to the camp, will he actually be there?
If none of these seems to strike your fancy, how about sending your little darling to spend a month working on a farm in Nicaragua, or three weeks in Africa studying wildlife, or off to space?