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Coast Kids Magazine | Parenting OC Style


Spring 2009

Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda

A Parent’s Guide to Sleepaway Camps

Whether you opt for one week or eight,

the selection of
overnight camps
has never been more plentiful or diverse
By Nancy Gelston Fries

My mom grew up in a section of Queens, N.Y., inaptly named Woodside, as there were no woods on any side and in fact
scarcely a tree to be seen. So it was that my grandparents, of modest means, scraped together the funds to send her to the
real woods for eight weeks every summer. On the East Coast, the tradition of spending the entire summer at overnight camp
continues today, not only among kids needing a respite from city life, but also among those from leafy suburbs. According to
my niece, a 10-year veteran of sleepaway camp, a summer spent at her suburban Connecticut home would be the equivalent
of being sentenced to solitary confinement.

Not so here in Southern California, where eyebrows are raised if you send your child to overnight camp even for a week or
two. Newport Beach mom Karen Brutman, who grew up in New Jersey and spent all her summers at camp, doesn’t get it.
“Parents here won’t do it because they feel like they’re trying to get rid of their kids so they can have their summer free, but
in actuality it’s not like that at all,” she says. Brutman feels camp gave her a chance to explore another side of herself. “At
home, I was very quiet and shy. At camp, I was not that person; I was outgoing and friendly,” she says. “I think camp gave
me the confidence to become who I am.” Brutman is so passionate about overnight camp that she helped form Camp Yofi,
the resident camp of the Jewish Community Center of Orange County, now in its fourth year.

Even if your child doesn’t have a life-changing experience, overnight camp can boost his or her personal growth. “It is an
integral part of a child’s educational and social development,” says Jill Levin of the advisory service Tips on Trips and Camps.
“They learn responsibility, how to take care of themselves, how to share, how to get along with other kids. They develop a
sense of themselves away from their parents.”

Ready, Set…Go?

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Coast Kids Magazine | Parenting OC Style

How do you know when your child is ready for sleepaway camp? There’s no guarantee your child won’t become homesick,
but Steve Monke, director of Gold Arrow Camp in the Sierra National Forest, says successful sleepovers at a friend or
relative’s home stack the odds in your child’s favor. “The few kids who have the homesick issues are the ones who haven’t
had a lot of experience away from home,” he says. Monke adds that parents’ own attitudes have an impact. “If parents say,
‘If you have any problems at all I will come get you,’ it sets them up not to try to enjoy camp,” he says.

All camps set a minimum age based on the activities and what the directors know about children’s readiness. “If they are on
the borderline being really young, maybe wait another year,” Levin says. “If they are more than age-appropriate, I wouldn’t
force them, but I would highly encourage them.”

Consider also your own readiness. I tortured myself for two weeks one summer, waiting for mail from my older son, then 10.
Long after he arrived home, the coveted letters were finally delivered…all with stamps on the wrong side of the envelope.

Make New Friends or Keep the Old?

Choosing this summer’s camp for my 9-year-old was simple: He’s going where his friends go. But sending your child with a
friend has its pros and cons. “Parents often call me and say they sent their child to camp because their friend was going and
it wasn’t the right camp,” Levin says. “You have to do the research for your particular child’s needs and interests.”

Plus, striking out alone may leave your child more open to new experiences and new friends. Torrey Olins-Feffer sent her
son, Rafe, to camp for three and a half weeks without a friend. “Summer is a great time to get away from the usual routine,”
Olins-Feffer says, “and that includes the friends he spends time with throughout the year. I wanted him to meet kids from
different places with different backgrounds, life experiences, values?and hometowns.” Rafe’s camp experience was so
positive that he’s heading back this summer for the fourth year in a row.

Kumbaya or Kick Ball: Choosing the Right Camp

Whether your child likes canoeing or computers, macramé or marine biology, a little research can yield the right fit. The
Internet is a great place to start. On the East Coast, parents routinely use free advisory services like Tips on Trips and
Camps. They even take road trips to visit camps, much like you’d visit colleges. Bear in mind that while advisory services
may direct you to some exciting, unexpected options, they only refer to camps that pay them a referral fee. After enrolling
our 13-year-old with Tips on Trips and Camps, we received intriguing brochures on community service programs in the
Galapagos Islands, expeditions in the desert Southwest, as well as more traditional options.

Websites and DVDs make it easy for you and your child to get a good sense of the camp environment and activities. But
what exactly should you look for? Consider the reasons why Olins-Feffer chose Plantation Farm Camp for Rafe, who loves the
outdoors. “The idea of living on a working farm and taking a big role in caring for animals, picking vegetables, chopping
wood, etc., seemed like an experience that?he wasn’t going to get at any of the other camps I’d heard about,” she says. “I
met the camp directors and felt?a connection with?them from the start.” She also liked the small size of the camp and the
free choice of activities. Plantation Farm clearly isn’t for everyone, but it’s perfect for Rafe.

Accreditation with the American Camp Association matters to many parents, as do the counselor/camper ratio, camper
return rate, religious affiliation, and distance from home, which can add travel costs. According to Tips on Trips and Camps’
Jill Levin, here are a few other factors you may want to consider:

Is it competitive? Some kids thrive on competition while others need a break from it. Is it nurturing? Will your child enjoy
linking Arms around a campfire singing songs, or does he just want to play sports? How structured is the program? Some
kids like free time and free choices; some do better with required activities.
How long is the session?

Many parents opt for a one-week session for their child’s first experience. Brutman says that’s a mistake. “The first few days,
the adrenaline is pumping so much the kids don’t get homesick,” she says. “It’s the third day when the homesickness picks
up. It takes four or five days to get into the routine. Just as they’re ready to get into the routine and get over the
homesickness, and just starting to have fun—boom—they have to go home.” Monke and Brutman agree that two weeks or
longer allow the child to settle in, enjoy the experience, and grow. “We feel that two weeks isn’t even long enough,” says
Monke. “However, for parents today, it’s really hard to send their kids away for any longer than that, especially a first-time
parent to our camp.”

Whether you opt for one week or eight, the selection of overnight camps has never been more plentiful or diverse. To help
you with your own search, we’ve compiled a list of programs that may be just right for your happy camper.

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Coast Kids Magazine | Parenting OC Style

Traditional Camps
Both Gold Arrow Camp and Skylake Yosemite Camp are located on lakes in the Sierra National Forest. Their non-competitive,
structured programs include water sports and all the traditional activities you’d expect at an overnight camp. For ages 6 and
up, one- to four-week sessions.

Camps on Catalina Island

The camp choices on Catalina are as varied as the marine life, ranging from purely recreational to highly scientific. Consider
the following:

Guided Discoveries, Junior Sea Camp offers week-long sessions for ages 8–12. Catalina Sea Camp offers 19-day sessions for
ages 12-17. Sea Camp expeditions aboard the tall ship Tole Mour for ages 10–18 last one to three weeks. Guided Discoveries
also runs Astrocamp in the San Jacinto Mountains for ages 8–16.

The Catalina Experience offers one-week sessions for ages 9–13.

Mountain and Sea Adventures features a kids’ camp for ages 8–12 and a teen camp for ages 13–17; both are one-week

Catalina Island Camps has one- to four-week sessions for kids entering 2nd - 11th grades.
USC Summer Science Camp includes week-long, single-sex programs for middle school students and longer programs for
high school students. Application required.

Sports Camps
Surf Sessions Surf Camp offers week-long camps in San Diego for teens.

Canyon Creek Sports Camp holds one- to four-week sessions for kids ages 7–16 at a self-contained sports complex in the
Angeles National Forest.

Big Bear Sports Ranch allows kids ages 7–16 to choose a specialized program for each one-week session, and has the option
to stay for multiple weeks.

Special Interest Camps

Pali Camp Adventures hosts week-long specialty camps near Lake Arrowhead, including fashion design, rock band, movie
making, horseback riding, cooking, leadership and many more.

Plantation Farm Camp gives your child the unique experience of living and working on a sustainable farm in Northern
California. For ages 8 and up in three and a half-week sessions.

Rawhide Ranch is designed for the horse enthusiast, ages 7–15. Week-long sessions on a working ranch in Bonsall.

Idyllwild Summer Arts Program includes fine arts, theater, creative writing and more for kids ages 11 and up. Two-week

Teton Science School is located near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and warrants a mention because a group of Harbor Day School
teachers bring students entering grades 5–8 for a week-long session early in the summer. Enrollment at Harbor Day School
is not required, and you can register for other sessions on your own.

Academic Camps
Center for Talented Youth, a program of Johns Hopkins University, offers a variety of programs around the country. Students
must qualify through testing.

Peterson’s website can link you to a wide selection of academic summer programs, mostly for high school students.

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Coast Kids Magazine | Parenting OC Style

And, many more camps can be found at the American Camp Association’s website:

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