In a city like New Orleans, parents have more than just a few options for summer day camps, but how do you know when you’ve found the right one?
Last summer, Kenner resident Michelle Roberie sought a different camp experience for her two youngest children, Maks, 8, and Elizabeth, 7. “I wanted them to have a more creative experience,” Roberie says.
She researched summer camps in the metro New Orleans area and decided to make an appointment to visit each candidate. Number one on Roberie’s list was Upturn Arts summer camp where children gain experience and confidence in dancing, music, acting, and art. Within minutes of stepping inside the studio, “I just knew this is our place,” Roberie says. “This is where we’re going to be.”
Selecting a summer day camp can be overwhelming for parents who may be nervous about letting their little ones try new activities. It can also be difficult to know if your child is ready to experience a little freedom.
Roberie did her research and planned on visiting each summer camp to find the best fit for Maks and Elizabeth. She liked that the teachers, guest artists, and campers at Upturn Arts reflected the diversity of New Orleans. The best part? Her children begged to come back after visiting. “I didn’t check any camps after that,” Roberie says. “And I did have a top five list.”
Local summer camp experts and parents who have already experienced the pain — or joy — of sending their kids to day camps say there are a few tips to help parents choose the right camp.
Don’t Give Up
Dana Reed, Upturn Arts executive director, says it’s important for parents not to give up if the first camp their children attend turns out to be a bust. “It’s important finding a camp or camps that offer a variety of things for your child to do,” Reed says. “I think we live in a city where that’s a luxury we have. There’s just not one kind of camp out there. Your first choice actually might not be a fit for your child. Don’t let that frustrate you.”
Another tip for first-time day campers and parents is to learn as much as possible about the camp’s schedule. Some campers are more comfortable when they know exactly what to expect each day and how long each activity will last, says Carolyn Harari, camp and children’s director at the Jewish Community Center Uptown. “As much as parents can show their camper what their day is going to be ahead of time, the better off they will be,” Harari says.
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Broadmoor resident Aden Burka Wright has sent her two children, Britton, 5, and Lyla, 4, to day camp at the JCC for two years. Wright encourages parents to arrange a playdate for children attending the same camp as their children to build a relationship. Parental involvement with the camp activities and open communication with counselors or teachers can also soothe worried nerves, she advises.
Parents also have to be willing to let go, experts say. “You have to realize your kid is willing and able to do things on their own,” says Harari, who graduated from Tulane University where she studied early childhood psychology and education.
Jennifer Weitzel Homberg, a self-described “hovering, overprotective” mom of four-year-old Charlotte, found herself immediately comforted by the open communication, descriptive calendar, and tight security at the Academy of the Sacred Heart’s Summer Camp last year. “I knew what she was doing at every part of every day,” Homberg says. She also knew Charlotte was ready for summer camp because she seemed so comfortable attending preschool at Academy of the Sacred Heart. “I think she was ready,” Homberg says. “She was growing up.”
The summer camp business is very competitive in New Orleans, but Homberg calls the ASH Summer Camp a “top-notch” extension of the school. ASH Summer Camp Director Meliss Saltaformaggio said the school’s summer camp started in 2006 with programming available only to girls. Since then, the camp has opened programming to boys as well, and includes sports, theater, music, plus much more.
For younger children, Saltaformaggio recommends parents not linger after camp drop off, which only prolongs potentially painful goodbyes. Gary Alipio, director of marketing and web design at Academy of the Sacred Heart, said he personally enjoyed ASH Summer Camp’s flexibility because it’s sometimes tough to really know what your child will enjoy.
Alipio enrolled his daughter, a budding artist, in an ASH summer art camp last year, which she promptly wanted to drop when she saw other friends loving the water slides, swimming, and field trips offered in another ASH summer camp held at the same time. Alipio says he was able to switch camps for her, which is an advantage at ASH. “From a parent’s perspective, how do you get your children ready?” Alipio says. “Sometimes you really don’t know.”
Their First Time
There isn’t an exact moment that signals every child is ready for summer day camp, but children who express interest in new activities or who are coming out of their shells at school may be ready, says Harari. A good transition year is between pre-k and kindergarten because summer day camp is a great way to prepare that child for a full day of school.
“Our kids come back from camp exhausted, but in a good way,” she says. Christine Cassolino, Audubon’s Zoo Summer Camp director, says if a parent plans on sending their child to a camp that takes field trips or holds programming among the public, like the zoo camp does, it is a good idea to practice being in large crowds.
“Our number one thing is safety,” Cassolino says. “If you can’t trust your child to remain with a group or if your child runs from you when at the grocery store, then maybe zoo camp and others like it isn’t the best option.”
One Final Tip
Parents can help shape their child’s attitude towards camp.
“I think if the parent has a positive attitude towards camp, I think that will translate into the child’s willingness to accept the change and transition,” Saltaformaggio says.
Kate Stevens is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Nola Family.