As the sun gets hotter and school lets out, many girls are saying good-bye to school friends and turning their attention to what has become the staple of the season – summer camp. With more than 6,000 overnight camps to choose from and double that number of day camps, parents and their girls need to do some thoughtful planning to find a memorable, fun, and nurturing experience for their girl.
Going to camp “needs to be a family decision,” says June Gray, owner of Camp Wawenock, a traditional all-girls camp in Maine. “As you are talking with your child, how much persuasion seems needed to interest the child in camp? Are you really ready for your child to be away?” Many parents and children, she says, are unprepared for the emotional wrenching of a long absence.
These days, most camps are coed and most last about two weeks. Many girls are camp hopping: two weeks in soccer camp, two weeks in aeronautics camp, and two weeks at a horse-back riding camp. But while the options in dazzling brochures are seemingly endless, some camp advocates worry that highly specialized camps are missing the biggest point of camp. While Christopher Thurber, a clinical psychologist and camp consultant, finds some specialty camps worthwhile, he also believes that girls need some time to enjoy nature, to be quiet, to slow down. Specialty camps may also skimp on what children repeatedly report as the most pleasurable and powerful part of the camp: the social component.
“It’s not the equipment or specific attractions—it’s the friends,” Thurber said. “The best model is not the specialty camp model, but this is a market-driven phenomenon. We live in a society, at least in the United States, where families feel more pressure to imbue their children with expertise as opposed to what I would say are positive developmental experiences. It’s much more valuable to have social skills and a friendship base than to be an expert soccer player.”
David Pointer, whose daughter, Paige, is entering her eighth year at Rockbrook Camp for Girls, has seen the strength and the longevity of the camp friendships she’s enjoyed since starting camp at age ten. Camp develops girls’ skills as well, he says. “When they have to be independent, when they have the responsibility for planning their days, their self-esteem goes through the roof,” Pointer says.
Where to research a good camp? Parents can start their investigation at the American Camp Association, which gives well-run camps their seal of approval. Parents can ask how long the directors and counselors have been with the camp. What percentage of the eligible campers return each year? How does the camp handle homesickness? Parents can also give their girl a trial run away from home. How does she do after three days at a relative’s home without phone calls?
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