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Summer camp tips: Finding the best fit

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Options for summer camps

Experts and parents alike say summer camp is a great way to keep your child busy and engaged. Whether you're considering day, special-interest or sleepaway camps, the options are endless. Here's how to pick the one that's just right for your child.

Summer Camp

Picking the right summer camp for your child requires knowing the options and which will best fit with your child's personality and interests.

General or specialty camps?

Adam Jacobs, executive director of Kids Creative, suggests asking yourself what kind of camp you are looking for. "It all begins with the family and the child," he says. "Location? Staff? Mission? Activities? Do you want your kids to be close to home, close to work or go away for the summer?" Based in New York-based , Kids Creative is a non-profit organization fostering confidence, creativity, conflict resolution skills and a strong sense of community through arts education in after-school programs, summer camp and workshops.While general day camps include a variety of activities such as sports and arts and crafts, specialty camps may be more appropriate for your child if he's enthralled with one particular activity, such as band or cheerleading. Another option: Combine the best of both worlds. For instance, the six-week program at Kids Creative lets kids spend half of each day in traditional activities such as playing sports and in the sprinklers, and the other half in arts education, to help them gain key skills in theater. Their campers work together to brainstorm stories, create characters, compose songs, write scripts and perform their musical at the end of camp to family and friends.

Is your child ready for sleepaway camp?

As your child rocks out to the concept of camping, how do you know when it's time to ditch day camp and opt for sleepaway instead? Beth Feldman, creator of RoleMommy.com and author of Peeing in Peace: Tales and Tips for Type A Moms, knew it was time when her 10-year-old daughter approached her. "My daughter is a free-spirit and she's incredibly independent. She said, ‘Mom and Dad, I want to go'."Joel D. Haber, PhD, "The Bully Coach" and author of Bullyproof Your Child for Life, says Rebecca demonstrated one of the key readiness signs for sleepaway camp. Additional signs include positive experiences of your child's friends at sleepaway camp and your child's successful sleepovers at friends' houses. "Summer camp is known for its ability to help kids learn new skills, become more independent and grow emotionally and physically. Knowing your child is the first step to seeing if she is ready for camp, especially an overnight camp."He cautions that you must add parental anxiety into the equation: Your kid may be ready, but you may not be. "Do you as a parent, feel comfortable and confident that your child will be okay without you? Can you show him, with little anxiety, that the separation from you will be successful?" In fact, Beth jokes, "I think it's going to be harder than us than it will be on her!"

Do your research

All anxiety aside, savvy parent Beth started researching specific camps and narrowed them down to three. "I do what I normally do," she says. "I used my network." She contacted people she trusts and started looking into it by meeting with camp directors, getting references and watching videos, to name a few things.The Feldmans decided upon Camp Echo in Burlingham, New York. Jeff Grabow, owner/director of the camp, says, "Our goal is to help the child out of the nest. Incredibly strong bonds develop at camp. They're friends for life. That's my goal: To see my kids from camp go to each others' weddings."

Cut back, don't cut out

While the lifelong friendships, independence, creative thinking and emotional growth are priceless, let's not forget that each camp has a price tag. Jacobs reminds us to research all options thoroughly. "Many camps offer shorter programs," he points out. This way, you're not skimping altogether, just tightening the purse strings a little while still giving your kid a memorable, albeit abridged, experience.

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