Summer camps offer children an opportunity to try new activities and meet new friends during the summertime. Fortunately, there are more than 1,000 summer camps to choose from in Connecticut, offering parents a variety of programs that will meet their child’s needs. But with so many options to choose from, learning the particulars of each program can be overwhelming.
From application deadlines to program structures, there is a lot to learn about camp. A basic understanding of the program can mean the difference between finding a program that is the right fit for your child and a missed opportunity for a great summer.
Day camps offer a variety of activities for children to enjoy. Many of these programs accommodate children ages 5 and up, while some will accommodate children ages 3 and up. For parents seeking programs that accommodate 3 and up, it is important to begin the camp evaluation and selection process early to ensure you can find space in a program that will both accept a child that age and meet their needs. Day camps are typically less expensive than overnight camps and some offer extended program hours to accommodate working families. If you are the parent of a first time camper, it may be helpful to look for a day camp that is close to home or work, so your child can benefit from the comfort of knowing that you are close by if they need you.
Overnight camp programs are a bit more complicated than day camp programs. While they work to build a close sense of community among campers, they come with the challenge of determining if your child is ready to be away from home for that much time. Overnight programs typically except campers age 7 and up and offer a wide range of activities including arts and crafts, swimming, hiking, and various sports activities. These camps are more expensive than day camps but can offer children a rewarding experience in which they can become more independent and develop leadership skills. Programs are typically held 5-7 days a week for one or two week sessions.
Specialty camps usually focus on an activity geared towards a specific set of interests. Sports, arts and education are among the most common types of these programs. Other programs are targeted to a specific group of children such as The Hole in The Wall Gang Camp, which services children with a diagnosis of cancer, a serious blood disease, acquired/hereditary immune disorder, or a metabolic disease. Specialty camps operate as both day camps and residential (overnight) camps.
Session descriptions vary widely among camps. Commonly, camps operate from the end of June until the middle of August and offer 1 or 2 week sessions.
Some camps feature different specialties, offering campers the opportunity to do one week of an activity and one week of another activity. Camps of this nature are typically run by larger organizations such as the Boy Scouts, or Girl Scouts. Sometimes they run the specialty camps consecutively (week one is horseback riding and week two is archery). Other times they are run concurrently. In programs of this nature, all of the campers typically meet in the morning when they arrive and then break off into the specialty group they signed up for. The larger group typically reconvenes at the end of the day. Camps that run specialty programs concurrently can be ideal for parents of multiple children, since they allow them to drop-off and pick-up their children from one location while enabling them to meet their children’s varied interests.
The majority of day camps offer co-ed programs. There are a handful of camps that are separated by gender, which are primarily Boy Scout or Girl Scout camps.
Co-ed camps are popular among working parents of children with different genders, as they are convenient for scheduling purposes. Sending children in the same family to different camps can cause scheduling challenges and younger siblings often prefer to be at the same camp as their older sibling for an added sense of security.
Residential (overnight) camps vary as far as being co-ed or sex-ed, but sports camps are typically gender specific.
For children who feel they are too old for a camp program, but too young for a summer job, Counselor in Training or Leaders in Training Programs are a great option. The Connecticut Department of Public Health mandates that CITs/LITs be at least 14 years of age, but licensed exempt programs often have programs starting at 13. CIT/LIT programs are a great opportunity for teens to take initiative and learn responsibility. Depending on the program, CITs/LITs may be responsible for developing and implementing activities. Other programs may have them serve as an assistant to the camp counselor. Since these opportunities are more limited than camp slots, it is imperative to search for these programs early-on in the camps’ enrollment periods to ensure your child finds a CIT/LIT program that is suited to their interests and requires them to assume a level of responsibility that they are comfortable with.
Special need camps
There are a wide variety of both day and residential special needs camps available throughout Connecticut. Among these programs are camps that focus on children with cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and physical special needs. In addition, there are camps for children who are intellectually disabled, burn victims, and children with a loved one that passed away from HIV/AIDS, among other unique programs. The programs are typically categorized as: Health Impairment, Physical Disability, Developmental Delays/ Learning Disabilities, Speech/Language Impairment, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Hearing/ Visual Impairment, Social-Emotional/Behavioral Concerns or Intellectual Disability. The programs often have a limited capacity due to the staff to camper ratios.
Licensed exempt camps
Some programs are not required to obtain a youth camp license from the CT Department of Public Health. Since they are not required to comply with the associated guidelines, parents should take the time to understand what these programs offer and what it means for each not to have to comply with DPH guidelines. Among the programs not required to hold a youth camp license are programs operated by municipal agencies; classroom-based summer instructional programs operated by any person, provided there are no activities that may pose a health risk or hazard to participating children are conducted at such programs; and, schools which operate a summer educational program. Licensed day care centers can operate a camp without a youth camp license by using the child care center license.
With so many types of camps to choose from, it is important for parents to learn the intricacies of the type of program they want for their child before enrollment. These details can mean the difference between a smooth enrollment process and pre-camp experience full of challenging surprises.
Tracy Zolnik-Brown is Director of child care services for 2-1-1, a nonprofit organization providing free, multilingual referrals to camp, preschool and other child care programs throughout Connecticut. To connect with one of its child care specialists, dial 2-1-1.