Countdown To Summer Camp Los Angeles

By Ronna Mandel

JCA Shalom summer camp Los Angeles

Campers can challenge themselves on the ropes course at Camp JCA Shalom. PHOTO BY BLAIR NEWMAN

When Valentine’s Day cards appear in stores, it’s time to think about summer camp. Maybe you’re sending your child to day camp for the first time. Perhaps your tween’s transitioning from day camp to sleep-away. Whatever your plans, use this month-by-month guide to help you through the process of preparing for summer camp Los Angeles style.

February – Start your research.

“Most camps should have their websites updated for the season of 2015,” says Linda Stephenson, camp director at Westmark School in Encino. Do some browsing, talk with your kids and answer these questions:

  • Are you looking for a day camp (with a full- or half-day program) or sleep-away camp?
  • Would your kids prefer a specialty camp or one with a variety of activities?
  • How long would you like your kids to attend camp this summer?

Your kids can help you add camps to the list. “Ask them if any of their friends are going to camp, and where,” says Stephenson. You can also ask fellow parents for suggestions. Note the open-house dates for camps you are considering.

River Way Ranch summer camp los angeles

A counselor helps her camper practice archery technique. PHOTO COURTESY RIVER WAY RANCH CAMP

Getting an early start could save you some cash, as camps often offer discounts for early registration. “You have nothing to lose, but plenty to save,” says Nancy Oken, director of River Way Ranch Camp, a sleep-away camp in Sanger. Beginning your search now also means the best possible opportunity to find a camp that best suits your child.

March – Visit some camps.

Once you have a good idea what you’re looking for, and have narrowed your camp list to a workable size, visit some camps – and bring your questions.

  • What is the staff-to-camper ratio?
  • What type of training does the camp staff receive?
  • Is there a camp doctor on site?
  • Does the camp offer before-/after-camp care?
  • Is lunch provided?
  • How secure are the campgrounds?
  • How are food, bee-sting allergies and other medical issues handled?
  • Are staff first-aid and CPR trained? What’s the emergency procedures plan?
Summer Art Academy summer camp Los Angeles

Campers at Summer Art Academy enjoy Circus Day fun. PHOTO BY ELIZABETH PARAVICINI/SUMMER ART ACADEMY

Take a look at the camp’s play structures, restrooms and other facilities, and do your best to find out what a typical day is like. “This will help your child imagine what’s in store for them once they are actually at camp,” says Joel Charnick, director of Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu. At an open house or during a visit, pay attention to how camp staff greets your child. “This can give you great insight on how welcoming new campers might look during the summer,” Charnick says.

Look for an environment that is well-kept, organized, kid-friendly, upbeat, fun and bright. “Parents should know what classrooms/areas their children will be using. Check out the playground area and any other areas that the children will be using during camp time,” advises Elizabeth Paravicini, Summer Art Academy Site Director-Valley Village. When visiting a camp in session, see how well staff members supervise areas where kids are playing.

If your child has special needs, make sure the camp can accommodate them. “Special-needs campers will need an area that is safe and contained,” says Nicole Webb, program director of The Help Group’s Kids Like Me Camps.

“Paying a visit to a resident camp may not be possible due to the distance, but if the resident camp runs year-round, I would encourage you to visit,” says Oken. During the visit, ask to see the dorms, how the cabin assignments are decided, and whether your child will bunk with other new campers.

April – Shop for gear.

Got Game summer camp Los Angeles

Got Game campers enjoy a story told by some of their spirited staff. PHOTO COURTESY GOT GAME CAMP

Once camp selection’s done, make a checklist of camp requirements so you can take advantage of pre-season sales by purchasing items early. Acquaint yourself with camp rules and policies before any shopping. “Most overnight camps have policies regarding food and electronics,” says Charnick.

Tops on any gear list are reusable water bottles, sunscreen and a hat to block the sun. Close-toed shoes or sneakers, water shoes, a swimsuit and towel, light-colored clothing, a sweatshirt and a spare set of clothing are must-haves, too. Also inquire about theme days and what your child may want to wear, suggests Oken.

Buy several insulated lunchboxes (just in case they lose one), small food-storage containers and frozen cooler ice packs, Paravicini advises.

For sleep-away campers, don’t forget self-addressed, stamped envelopes. “This might mean the difference between getting letters, and not getting letters from your camper!” says Charnick.

“Don’t spend too much money on things going to camp,” she adds. “Things sometimes get misplaced while at camp, and you’ll likely get back only a percentage of what you send your kids with.” Labeling everything with your child’s name will help with the recovery effort.

“A great camp tip: include a small photo of your child with their medicine!” says Paravicini.

This is also the time to schedule camp physicals with your camper’s doctor if needed, and to ensure camp medical forms are submitted.

May – Make your game plan.

River Way summer camp Los Angeles

Campers have a blast inner tubing at Pine Flat Lake. PHOTO COURTESY RIVER WAY RANCH CAMP

First, be proactive and call the camp office to make sure your completed paperwork has been received.

Next, plan transportation. “Once you coordinate who’s taking the kids, who’s picking up and dropping off, it’ll make summer time so much easier,” says Paravicini. “It’s extremely important to communicate with everyone, especially when you’re carpooling, who is taking the kids what days to which camp, and who is picking them up.”

Select your emergency contacts and add the camp director’s contact information into your cell phone in case you or your authorized pick-up person run late. Likewise, camp directors need your contact information for when a field trip delayed by traffic means a late return to camp.

For sleep-away campers, go online or call to confirm your child’s transportation to and from camp, bus pick-up points and times. “Discuss with your child who will pick them up after camp, as this uncertainty can cause unnecessary anxiety,” says Oken.

Finally, help set your child’s expectations. “Most camps will send out letters or packets with more information about daily activities, what to bring to camp and rules of the camp program. It is important to go over this with the child that is attending the camp,” says Webb.

If your camper is nervous, offer plenty of encouragement. “Once they’re at camp, those feelings will disappear rapidly,” says Charnick, who advises campers to keep an open mind. “Part of camp is stepping out of your comfort zone.”

June – Prepare for drop-off.

Summer Art Camp summer camp Los Angeles

Jr. Counselors at Summer Art Camp join in the fun. PHOTO BY ELIZABETH PARAVICINI/SUMMER ART CAMP

“How do you let go and allow your child to head off to camp? Just do it!” says Oken. “There are many studies that support the fact that children who attend summer camps are more independent and self-confident and, yes, even safer.”

Here is your checklist for a great drop-off:

  • Read the camp literature/welcome packet in advance.
  • Double check that you have correct dates, times and contact information.
  • Know where the pick-up and drop-off area is. Know street-parking regulations to avoid a ticket.
  • Know whether your camp allows you to drop off or if your child must take the camp bus/mini-van. Don’t embarrass your child by getting on the bus with him or her.
  • Encourage your child with positive statements. If you’re upbeat and excited, your child will be.
  • Talk about what your child is going to do, not what you and the rest of the family will do while he is at camp.
  • Label camper medicine (Epi-pens, Benadryl, asthma inhaler) in a Ziploc bag and have it ready for camp staff.
  • Bring water, lunch, snacks and a freezer pack for day camp.
  • Dress your child in comfortable, camp-appropriate clothing with closed-toe shoes.
  • Arrive early, as many camps have health checks and/or lice checks at check-in.
  • Have staff introduce your child to fellow campers.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions!


Preparing for camp is a learning experience that gets easier every year. Personalize this countdown to suit your camper’s needs so that you are ready for many enjoyable years of camping adventures.

Ronna Mandel is a local freelance writer and mom of two.

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