Traditional versus specialty: What type of camp is best for your child?

specialty-campAre your children passionate about a certain subject, or would they rather take part in multiple different activities?

That is the question many parents ask themselves and pose to their children when it comes to picking either a traditional camp or a specialty camp.

“I think it is important to have a lot of options especially as a young child to pick and choose what you would like to do instead of being focused on a particular activity or sport,” said Associate Director Katie Rice Moulsdale of Echo Hill Camp, which offers children between the ages of 7 to 16 a sleepover experience with a number of traditional activities such as archery, sports, arts and crafts, sailing, water skiing and fishing.

“It’s a really good opportunity to learn things that maybe you didn’t think you would like or be good at or felt connected to. … You don’t know what you like unless you have tried it. If you are never exposed to art or archery or nature how do you know if you like it? Same with water sports. You won’t know unless you try.”

Stevensville-based Camp Wright provides participants with traditional camp activities in both a day and sleep-away setting. “(Campers) get to taste a little bit of everything,” said Julia Zahn, interim director. “It meets the needs of a large volume of kids. I also think traditional sleep away camp is really good for kids to gain independence so that they are learning how to do things themselves.

“They have to make their beds every morning. They have to decide which shoes they are going to wear. They have to put on sunscreen. All with the love and care of their counselors but they are getting to make more decisions and take care of themselves more which is really a growing opportunity and in today’s environment where people are getting more and more attached to their phones and tablets and things like that.”

Camp Wright also offer mini camps featuring all of the regular sleep away camp activities but just compressed into a two night stay. “It gives them that taste and gets them to come back for more,” Zahn said.

Looking for variety

On the first day in late January that Congressional Camp in Falls Church, Virginia, opened registration up for returning families, a number of specialty programs, including the adventure-themed Treasure Island and Survivor Jr., filled up within hours.

“One of the things we pride ourselves on is our variety,” said Dan O’Neil, camp director. “We have a large number of programs but most of them are only offered once. Sometimes they do fill up if it is an idea that is very popular.”

The camp offers dozens of unique specialty camps, including The Wizarding World, Spanish immersion, weather watchers, space expedition, water robotics and Jedi academy. “We are always trying to come with new ideas and new things that we think families and kids will be interested in,” O’Neil said.

Specialty camps can be a better fit for some campers who prefer low group sizes and a more in-depth experience in a particular area. O’Neil notes one camp will be building an electric go-cart over a week. “That’s something we could never do in a (traditional) day camp activity in a half hour at a time over five days,” he said. “You just wouldn’t get very far.”

The nearly 80-year-old camp also offers traditional day camp options as well. “I think everyone’s goal is a positive summer experience for the kids,” O’Neil said.

Emphasis on education

Camp SciKidz Chesapeake, based in four different counties — Howard, Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Baltimore — provides nearly 50 science and technology-based camps, including robotics and engineering, filmmaking and effects, video game design and extreme science. “I think there is a heavy emphasis on education right now and with specialty camps, I think parents really enjoy sending their kids to a camp that is not only fun and engaging but also teaches them something,” said Matt Bogusz, program director.

The camp offers so many different options because kids have a variety of interests so they could attend all summer long and learn a new topic each week.

By choosing an educational camp, students may be able to avoid the dreaded summer educational slide. “In our camps, (students) are having a lot of fun doing different activities, but they don’t realize that they are learning so much as well,” Bogusz said. “They are doing maps. They are measuring things. They are building things with their hands. They are applying the things they have learned in school in a different way here.”

Camp owner Victor Bowman said the number one thing he hears from parents is, ‘My son or daughter will not stop talking about what they do every day.’ I’ve also had parents say to me, ‘I wish my son or daughter would be as excited for school as they are for camp.’ It really is a unique learning environment.”



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