Happy New Year – and happy summer-camp season. While you might not be ready to leap that far into the future, you should at least consider thinking ahead to February (and March and April), when summer camp fairs pop up all over the L.A. area to help with your camp shopping.
“Somebody asked why we have it this early,” says Sharon Silver, organizer of the Bel Air Camp Fair (taking place Feb. 22 this year). “This is the time that parents are starting to really make decisions for the summer and want to get organized. They kick off the new year, and before you know it you’re in February and off and planning, so it’s really a good time to do it.”
There’s more than one reason to gather the kids and visit one or more of these fairs. In fact, there are at least five.
1. You won’t have to go far to find one
It’s likely there is a camp fair happening in your part of town, or not far from it. The Bel Air Camp Fair serves families in and around that Westside enclave, but there are plenty of other options.
Families within driving distance of UCLA can check out the UCLA Camp Fair organized by Eric Naftulin and LA Camp Fairs. That organization also hosts fairs in Calabasas (in a new Agoura-friendly location this year) and Los Feliz. And this year Naftulin launched the Northridge Camp Fair at Cal State Northridge. “It’s, I think, an underserved area for camps and for families and kids looking for camps,” Naftulin says. “We expand or add locations based on demand from families.”
San Gabriel Valley families can look forward to the Westridge Summer Opportunities Fair taking place in Pasadena.
A bonus is that admission to all of these fairs is free.
2. Your kids will find fun stuff to do
There’s no need to attend solo. “The kids absolutely will not be bored. They should 100 percent come,” says Naftulin. At the Calabasas fair, there will be a rock climbing wall and a barbecue. “We’re going to make s’mores just like you would do at camp,” Naftulin says.
The Westridge Summer Opportunities Fair this year will feature a glitter-jar craft project, crazy hair painting and an inflatable obstacle course for toddlers. There will also be carnival games and a cake walk. In the spirit of community, the small fee for games and activities benefits Partnership for Success, a collaboration between public and private schools in Pasadena providing summer enrichment to students with academic promise and financial need.
At the Bel Air Camp Fair, you’ll find an obstacle course, bounce house and other free outdoor activities. There’s also a bake sale, “which you only find at a community fair,” says Silver. “We do things that we know, because we’re parents, that other parents will want and be interested in and where the kids will have a fun day.”
The fairs all have food-for-purchase options on site, so it’s easy to have lunch and make a day of it, or just treat the family to something sweet.
So much to do, and we haven’t even talked about the actual camp activities yet!
3. You can get up close and personal with so many camps
At the Los Feliz Camp Fair, the fun is indoor-outdoor. “There’s a big yard in the back so camps can do sample activities and demonstrations and that kind of thing,” Naftulin says. “Kids can actually participate in the activities that they’re going to be doing at the camp that they choose.”
All of the LA Camp Fair events have activities brought by the camps themselves, according to Naftulin, and these have included archery, photography and even the chance to pet some cute bunnies. Last year, one of the camps brought a floor-size Jenga game.
Camp-led activities at the Westridge Summer Opportunities Fair this year will include Legos, robotics and art projects. “The family fair activities that we host along with the camp booths make coming to SOF a fun, relaxing day rather than a task to be accomplished,” says Summer Opportunities Fair Chair Ellen Tsang. “And many come back year after year hoping to repeat some of the hands-on activities the camp booths have.”
And there are plenty of camp booths to choose from. Westridge expects more than 100 camps to attend this year. Naftulin says that his biggest fair will be at UCLA, with 60-70 camps, followed by the Los Feliz, Calabasas and CSUN fairs, with 40-50 each.
The Bel Air Camp Fair is the smallest of the lot – by design. “We like to keep the number around 26, which is manageable,” Silver says, adding that there is still a nice variety of both day and sleepaway camps, all of which attend by invitation. “When we get new families at the school, we tend to hear about camps that haven’t joined us before, and we get that recommendation and we have them join our fair.”
4. It’s way easier than an online search
Once upon a time, before the internet, it was much more difficult to learn about summer-camp options. But camp fair organizers say there are still plenty of reasons to go beyond an online search. “What we hear now is, even though the information is online, it still is a big commitment,” says Kim Kerscher of Westridge School. “You would never be able to get this depth of information and breadth of camps by searching online.”
Westridge visitors can easily follow up with camp connections after the fair, because the printed program handed out at the fair entrance is later posted online with links to camp websites.
The Bel Air Camp Fair and all of the LA Camp Fair events post their camp listings online prior to the fair, but Naftulin agrees that families will gain so much more by visiting. “Everybody can make their website look great,” he says. “But there is nothing like a face-to-face meeting where you’re interviewing the people who will be caring for your kids this summer. If anyone’s on the fence about whether they should choose this camp or that one, the camp fair can help you make that decision because you’re meeting the people in person.”
5. There’s even stuff for teens
What if your kids are too old for summer camp, but are looking for other kinds of opportunities? They might find a connection at a camp fair.
An enterprising teen might, for instance, canvass the camp booths in search of summer employment as a camp counselor. This is something they could do on their own, but the LA Camp Fair events will give them a hand. After noticing increasing numbers of teen job seekers in recent years, Naftulin decided to incorporate a mini job fair into his events, meaning a number of camps will have someone there specifically to talk to aspiring employees.
If extra income isn’t the main objective, the Westridge fair offers information on volunteer opportunities, summer academic programs and college programs for teens. There is also a dedicated college booth, where colleges and universities from across the U.S. have literature for visitors to pick up. Think of it as a mini college library.
So, there you have it – five reasons to mark at least one of these fairs on your calendar this year. Naftulin neatly summarizes: “It’s a free event. It’s fun. It’s informative.” And, attending might just mean a great summer for your kids.
2020 Summer Camp Fairs
- Westridge Summer Opportunities Fair: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Feb. 1, Westridge School, 324 Madeline Dr., Pasadena
- Bel Air Camp Fair: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Feb. 22, Roscomare Road Elementary School, 2425 Roscomare Rd., L.A.
- Los Feliz Camp Fair: noon-3 p.m. March 14, Friendship Auditorium, Griffith Park, 3201 Riverside Dr., L.A.
- UCLA Camp Fair: noon-3 p.m. March 15, Pauley Pavilion, UCLA
- Northridge Camp Fair: noon-3 p.m. March 29, Redwood Hall Activity Center, Cal State Northridge
- Agoura Hills/Calabasas Camp Fair: noon-3 p.m. April 4, Agoura Hills/Calabasas Community Center, 27040 Malibu Hills Rd., Calabasas
Christina Elston is Editor of L.A. Parent.