You’re a proactive parent. You want your kids to go to camp this summer and have a great time. And unless you’re already planning on booking them at the same amazing camp they loved last summer, that means doing a little homework.
As you check out various camps, you’ll need to check all the usual boxes. You want safe camp facilities, well-trained and experienced staff, program hours and location that fit your family’s needs and activities your child will enjoy. Many camps will offer all of those things. Beyond that, how should you direct your search?
Here are tips from directors of four local camps to help you find a great fit:
Look for unexpected interests. Sometimes, we are so busy trying to connect children with what they are interested in that we forget to look for things they might be interested in. Camps can be a great way for kids to explore a new activity, and there are camps focused on just about everything you can imagine.
Heather Cole is founder and director of Modeling Camp, a program that travels to a dozen cities in and outside the U.S. every summer. Cole says that many girls who sign on for a week of camp weren’t previously interested in modeling. “A lot of the girls who end up at Modeling Camp are girls who are interested in drama or dance or photography,” she explains. They discover that modeling is closely related to these things, and they enjoy it as well.
Cole also points out that a major mission of Modeling Camp, which will have an L.A. session for ages 11-17 July 17-20, is to build girls’ self-confidence. And you don’t have to be an aspiring model to benefit from that. “Why can’t any girl come to camp and feel like a model for the week?” Cole asks.
Think outside the “camp.” Modeling Camp’s L.A. session is held at Residence Inn by Marriott in Beverly Hills, and Cole points out that theirs isn’t the only camp that doesn’t have a permanent site. Don’t let this exclude these camps from your search. Even if you can’t visit the location before camp begins, you can call the main office and talk with the staff, check out the camp website and online reviews to get a picture of the program. “Use the power of the Internet,” Cole advises.
The El Camino College Kid’s College program does have a permanent site, but isn’t exactly a traditional summer camp either. Betty Sedor, director of community education at El Camino, says people don’t normally think, “Let me put my first grader or my fifth grader at a college this summer.” But the kids seem to enjoy it. “They really like this format. They like doing something different,” Sedor says.
The program takes place on the El Camino College campus and includes two-week sessions for grades 1-12. And Sedor says it has a real college feel. “I try to use the college as much as possible and use our actual instructors,” she explains.
For grades 6-12, options include a popular veterinary assistant camp. “We’re using our real veterinary assistant instructor,” says Sedor. “The kids can’t wait until they are 18 and can take her full veterinary assistant course.” The basketball camp takes place in El Camino’s gym, soccer camp on the soccer field, and the piano course culminates with a recital in a recital hall with a baby grand piano.
Another perk of Kid’s College is that it gives campers a supervised chance to learn to find their way around a college campus, building confidence for high school and beyond. “That’s a life skill, getting yourself between buildings,” Sedor says. “I think it makes their experience here even better.”
Is variety your child’s style? While some kids love venturing into new territory, others – especially the little ones – might be happier with something they know. “There are so many options out there even for younger elementary-age children, but some kids are happiest in a familiar environment,” says Susan McCarthy, extended programs coordinator at The Center for Early Education (CEE) in West Hollywood. “Their school or neighborhood might have a camp they would love.”
CEE operates the Summer Institute for Kids, with one- and two-week classes for students in kindergarten to third grade in June and July. These cover a wide range of topics, from academic subjects to cooking, performing arts and sports. In making activity choices at any camp, McCarthy advises thinking about how your child will spend his or her day. “If they are very focused and want to dive deep into one subject, then a one-week intensive camp might be perfect,” she says. “If they like to try different things and have time to play with friends, then maybe a camp with a number of different activities during each day is the thing for you.”
Try a trial run. For even more assurance that you have found a good fit, look for programs that offer a chance for your child to preview the activities. El Camino College, for instance, offers “Sizzling Saturday” workshops that let families get a little taste of the program. Among these is a wood-turning workshop where kids in grades 6-12 learn to craft wooden pens.
Many camps and schools also offer short programs on weekends, after school or during spring break. Studio LOL, a comedy school for kids in Studio City, takes it one step farther, offering free 90-minute trial classes during the school year. “It’s an excellent way for a curious student to meet our teachers and to gauge whether or not improv is an activity they’d enjoy doing for a full week,” says Katy Chase, who founded and runs Studio LOL with her husband.
The studio, which offers classes in comedy improvisation for ages 4-12 during the school year, also hosts birthday parties and offers camps during spring break and summer. But the trial class is your child’s only chance to attend for free. “Parents should plan ahead,” Chase says. “We run out of available space and time for trial classes the closer we get to the end of the school year.”
Find the fun. In all of your planning ahead, however, don’t overlook what to your kids might be every camp’s most important feature. Because even the safest, most innovative camp with the best facilities and a focus on your child’s favorite pastime has missed its mark if your child doesn’t have fun there.
Dylan and Tao Gaines own All-Star Baseball School in South Pasadena and have a 9-year-old daughter, so they have lots of camp experience. They find that the camps their daughter wants to return to summer after summer are the ones where she has the most fun. And they say kids come back to All Star, which offers camp sessions in July and August and lessons throughout the year, for the same reason. “We try to really make sure that the kids enjoy themselves and have fun,” says Dylan.
All-Star brings that fun by packing camp with things like pitching contests where kids can earn baseball cards, and special days like Slip-n-Slide Day, which campers look forward to all session. “We design all the baseball drills with the Slip-n-Slide incorporated,” Dylan says.
But there is plenty of baseball instruction as well. “They’re definitely learning all the different aspects of the game,” says Tao, explaining that campers are grouped by skill level, and that instructors are all former professional or minor league players.
All-Star, like the previously mentioned camps, boasts several years in business, excellent supervision and a program where camper safety is top of mind. But they all also offer a little something more. And it’s that little something that will have your child bouncing out of bed, excited about camp each morning.
Christina Elston is Editor of L.A. Parent.