Summer Camp Los Angeles: Ask the Camp Director

What is the number-one reason you believe kids should have the chance to go to summer camp?

Summer Camp Los Angeles Mirman

Summer camp gives kids the chance to explore a variety of activities they might not have time for during the school year. PHOTO COURTESY CAMP MIRMAN

Rita Smith and Arpa Ghazarianm, directors, Camp Mirman: Students should have a chance to go to summer camp so that they can enrich their educational and social-emotional experience. At summer camp, students have the opportunity to expand their interest in subject areas that they might not get a chance to explore during the regular academic year. In addition, summer camps may take children a bit out of their comfort zone where they can learn new things, make new friends and develop new life skills.

Glen Tripp, founder and CEO, Galileo Camps: For many kids, summer camp can be more than just a good time. It can actually be a life-changing experience. The right camp can give kids the chance to explore their interests while also discovering new ones, as well as build life skills and boost self-esteem. More importantly, children need to be in a place where they’re inspired to take risks without fear of failure. In fact, research shows kids who are exposed to that kind of environment are happier, more creative and more confident when faced with life’s challenges.

Annie Grimes, director, Rising Stars Drama Camp: The number-one reason to send children to camp is to gain independence. Through that experience, they learn social skills and have fun.

Karen Thurm Safran, iD Tech Camp: The summer is a wonderful opportunity for kids to explore what they like … and even what they don’t like to do. It’s also the chance to make friends with others who share their interests. Luckily, there are many types of camps and within those summer programs there are a multitude of options. By the year 2020 there will be over one million STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) jobs that will be unfilled. This leaves a huge opportunity for today’s youth to enter this area and see how they can take a passion and turn it into something like a college degree and even a career. Additionally, coding is only offered in one of 10 schools in the U.S., so summer camps are a great way to introduce your child to coding.

Morgan Pladys, camp director, Lycée International de Los Angeles: Camps keep students active during the summer, providing fun and educational activities and, at the same time, a chance to make new friends​.

What are the most important factors parents should consider when making their summer-camp choice?

summer camp los angeles city seedlings

Winners of the Garden School Foundation’s City Seedlings scavenger hunt share their treasure. PHOTO COURTESY GARDEN SCHOOL FOUNDATION

Tripp: Safety, staffing and activities. There are some simple questions you can ask prospective camp providers to make sure you find the best of the bunch. How will your prospective camp keep your kids safe? How old are the staff members? What kind of experience and education do they have? How are they hired and trained? How many return year after year? (A great camp will give your kids meaningful mentorship from dedicated, experienced people — much more than just childcare.) What will your kids do all day? How is the day structured? Are the activities well balanced? Do kids of all ages all do the same thing or is there a more age-specific approach? Is it fun? (This is camp, after all.) A great camp will consider these factors and more to thoughtfully craft a fun, enriching experience for your kids.

Safran: Is this something that my child will like, or that I want my child to try? Does the summer camp put an emphasis on safety and hire only adults (instead of CITs) and can the instructors act as mentors, setting a positive example for my child? Will this create a long-lasting impression instead of simply being a camp that they attend for a short period of time?  There are many programs that can empower a child and teach them vital 21-century skills needed to compete in today’s society. You want a program that is a positive and even life changing experience.

Pladys: Look for variety in the activities, with sports, art-oriented and educational​ activities, and field trips throughout the week, and some routine changes every day. Activities should be age-appropriate to make sure campers will be engaged and having fun, not frustrated because something’s too hard or bored because it’s too easy.  And make sure the camp theme is something that the child is interested in.

Smith and Ghazarianm: The first factor that parents should look for when researching summer camps is whether it peaks their child’s interests in an age-appropriate manner. In addition, parents may want to look at camp schedules to see if they cater to working parents (research camps that offer early-care and after-care). The cost of camp is always a factor; it is important to look at camps that provide quality in their programs while being comparable in their cost.

Grimes: The camp should be a safe, nurturing environment for kids, no matter how old they are. Do your research. Is the camp reputable and willing to give references? What does the camp have to offer your child?

How can parents help a reluctant child be more excited about going to camp?

Summer Camp Los Angeles JCA Shalom

Kids can enjoy horseback riding at Camp JCA Shalom. PHOTO BY BLAIR NEWMAN

Lewallen: Reviewing the themes and activities each day can help a child understand what will happen at camp and reassure them that they will have fun. Some kids may benefit from a visit to the camp before it starts. You might also get one of the child’s friends to come along.

Also, make sure you’re choosing a program that has strong philosophical alignment with what you want for your child and has a very strong staff. A strong staff team will make your camper feel safe, welcome, and engaged.

Safran: Parents can involve their child in the exploration and decision-making process. It’s very important to empower your child so they can become more self-sufficient adults. Including them in the summer camp plans is a wonderful opportunity. You can request a brochure, visit the website to understand the culture (ie: a fun, inviting environment), talk to the Client Services team for more information, and even ask around to see if anyone you know has attended. If your child is reluctant about attending, it would be a good idea to include them in these exploratory activities.

Pladys: ​ Have them visit the school/venue beforehand​ and meet some staff if possible. It also helps if you can arrange to sign up with a friend for your child.

Smith and Ghazarian: Coming to summer camp can be a bit daunting, especially for little ones. The key is to remind them about the fun and enriching experience that lies ahead of them. Mention the friendly staff. Focus on the theme weeks. Share the idea of making new friends and being around lots of friendly faces. Let the kids be involved in their class selection. Giving them a sense of empowerment before they get to camp may make the first day a bit less daunting.

Grimes: Be open to conversation. Having a little fear of the “unknown” is not unusual, and it’s helpful if parents are open to discussion with their child and their reluctance. Parents can share their own positive childhood camp experiences, and be supportive the new adventure that lies ahead.

When packing for day camp or sleep-away camp, what are some items families tend to overlook?

Friends enjoy technology together at iD Tech Camp. PHOTO COURTESY ID TECH CAMP

Friends enjoy technology together at iD Tech Camp. PHOTO COURTESY ID TECH CAMP

Lewallen: For Day Camp, make sure your camper has enough to eat and drink. Sending a full water bottle each day is important, and if you have another healthy drink that your child enjoys, send that along, too. Apply sunscreen before your camper checks in, and send along some spare sunscreen with them (and encourage them to think about it every time they go outside). Galileo staff will make sure campers reapply, but campers can help remember, too. If you’re sending your own lunch, or even if you’re taking advantage of our healthy lunch option, make sure your camper has enough to food satisfy them. They’ll be playing hard, and will definitely work up an appetite!

Safran: It’s very important that a child bring something of comfort with them to camp, especially if they’re young or if this is a first-time sleep-away experience. This can be a photo, stuffed animal, special clothing or trinket. You just need to check and make sure that the item is allowed at the camp. If smart phones are allowed, this is a great way to keep in touch with your parent or even know that they’re within reach if needed. However, it’s best to give the child space to mature and become independent. It’s also important to not let a smart phone interfere with the camp experience.

Pladys: ​ ​Sunscreen! Refillable water bottles with their name on them (we end up with bunches of empty bottles and thirsty kids, and no one knows which bottles are theirs). Appropriate shoes/clothes to follow the forecast (usually chilly in the morning and hot in the afternoon). It’s good to pack a change to follow the day’s weather.

Grimes: If your child attends a camp full day, they will need a snack or lunch if not provided by the camp. Sunscreen and an extra set of clothes is always a good idea. Be sure that everything from home is labeled with your child’s name. Sometimes a little note from a parent hidden inside a lunch box adds an element of surprise and an extra bit of reassurance to a little camper. A favorite cuddly toy can also give a child a sense of comfort, whether they’re at a day or an overnight camp. Keep in mind that you know your child best, and what he or she needs to make things as stress-free as possible.

Once camp has started, how can parents help support the new friendships their child has formed?

Friendships formed at camp can last a lifetime. PHOTO COURTESY CAMP JCA SHALOM

Friendships formed at camp can last a lifetime. PHOTO COURTESY CAMP JCA SHALOM

Lewallen: Talk to your camp counselor at pick-up every day. They will share with you who your child has made connections with, and you may be able to talk to that parent at pick-up. When parents make an effort to get to know their kids’ friends, the connections will stick. If you live near your child’s new friends, try to set up a playdate for soon after camp is over, and at the very least, exchange email addresses to stay in touch. Think about some innovative approaches to new connections. Establishing a pen pal setup can be super fun for kids and parents! Don’t overlook talking to your camper every day on the drive home and over dinner at night. Ask them to tell you about what they did that day and who they interacted with. Ask them if there were any campers who were particularly nice or helpful to them, or any staff who they feel especially connected to.

Pladys: ​ Sleep-overs or play dates during camp weeks will help foster an “after camp” friendship.

Thurm Safran: A key benefit of summer camps is forming friendships with others who share similar interests. This can be an empowering experience for any child. Parents can help support these friendships by suggesting that their child keeps in touch via texting, email, social media, phone, and in-person visits. They can also ask their child questions (in a non-interrogating way) to encourage a conversation about their friends and hobbies.

Grimes: Camps are such a great place for your child to make new friends. Parents can support these new friendships by scheduling play dates during the summer.

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