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Summer camp is making a comeback. For the last couple of years, many parents have been hesitant to sign their kids up for camp. Even last year, the omicron variant was still sweeping through the Tri-State area when registration opened in February.

But as people learn to live with COVID, camp directors are noticing the outlook on summertime fun is brightening.

“Camp registration is up,” says Brooke Bradley, the executive director at Quinipet Camp and Retreat Center. “We are seeing a resurgence of camp from COVID.”

That means that if you’re thinking of sending your tiny tyke or multi-passionate teen off to day or sleep-away camp, you’re not alone.

“People are signing up a lot earlier,” says Mark Crandall, the camp director at East Hampton Sports Camp @Sportime.

For first-time camp parents—or people just out of sync thanks to the pandemic—deciding whether to send your kid to camp, choosing one and knowing what to the ship them off with can feel overwhelming. Bradley and Crandall shared tips for parents signing their kids up for summer camp in the Hamptons.

When should I be signing my kid up?

In a word, now. Because more people are signing their kids up early instead of taking a wait-and-see approach to COVID, spots are filling up more quickly than in years past. 

“People should be thinking about registering for camp sooner rather than later,” Bradley says.

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What’s the Best Age to Start Camp?

Bradley and Crandall are noticing some different trends.

“Eight is the new seven [for overnight camp],” Bradley says.

Whereas Crandall, who runs a day camp, is noticing parents are ready to send their 3-year-olds to camp, especially since they spent much of their first years in a bubble.

“Those kids would have been in something structured and haven’t been, so they are learning everything about socializing,” Crandall says. “It’s important to get those skills, learning and playing with others, doing cooperative learning games and how to share and get along with others.”

Ultimately, it depends on your kid and the camp. For example, Quinipet’s full-day camp runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is for kids 5-12

“It’s tiring for children,” Bradley says. “There are wonderful camps out there for 3- and 4-year-olds, but I’d want to look at the schedule. If it’s full-day, is there a rest time?”

There are also signs of readiness—and not-quite-readiness—for overnight camp.

“The child has never spent the night alone or can’t make it through the night at a sleepover, it doesn’t matter what age they are, they are not ready for sleepover camp,” Bradley says. 

Sleepover vs. Day Camp vs. Specialty 

 The options typically break down into three large buckets: traditional day camp (e.g., playground time, camp songs and stories), sleepover (similar, but overnight) and specialty (runs the gamut from horseback riding and soccer to STEM and drama).

“Are you going to start with a traditional well-rounded approach?” Bradley suggests considering your choice by looking at the activities.

Just like signs of readiness, the best answer to that question is personal to the camper. Still, inspect the website. Some camps have a wider range of ages, so some kids may be more experienced or physical than other campers, a consideration if your child is newer to a sport or other activity.

“Do you want to send a younger camper to a horseback riding camp if most campers are older?” Bradley says.

Kids with a very specific interest, such as sports, may want to use the summer to grow that passion, and prevent a summer slide in their athletic abilities.

“If you’re going to be a competitive athlete, you have to test yourself against the best,” Crandall says.

Regardless of the type of camp you choose, the camp should prioritize fun, even if competition is involved. 

“It’s about making friends and creating lifelong memories,” Crandall says.

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Do Some Additional Homework

Before writing out a four-figure check, you’ll want to speak with someone from the camp. If possible, Bradley suggests scheduling an in-person tour. Many camps offer open houses or tours by appointment. 

“You’ll pick up on the vibe right away,” she says.

As you walk with the person, ask how areas, such as the waterfront, look during the summer. Bradley and her staff put up poster-sized pictures so parents can see where the laggard station and shade are.

Bring your kid along to get a feel for the place, too.

“Go into a bunk and see what it looks like,” Bradley says. “It helps a child imagine themselves there. It orients the child in advance.”

Ask the right questions

If you can’t schedule an in-person tour, get a year-round staffer on the phone to get the 4-1-1. Bradley suggests asking:

1. What’s the counselor-to-camper ratio? Hone in on how many campers actually walk around with your kid’s day camp group or will be in the bunk at night. 

2. What accreditations do you have? “The American Camp Association is the largest accrediting body of camps in the United States,” Bradley notes. “It’s a voluntary peer review that is very comprehensive. Reviewers go for a day and see every aspect. If a camp is accredited, it says something about their awareness of safety and that they are using best practices in the field.”

3. What safety precautions do you have for high-risk activity? Will your kid be wearing a helmet at lacrosse camp? Where does the lifeguard sit during swim time? Do the lifeguards get continuous in-service training? Answers to these questions help ensure your child is safe while away from you.

4. Is the camp licensed by the New York State Department of Health? Bradley says most are, but it’s good to double-check, as this answer will also ensure health and safety best practices.

What Does My Kid Need for Camp?

Let’s start with what they don’t need: String lights and large plastic drawers. 

“It’s a simple life,” Bradley says. “Leave things at home that aren’t necessary. Camp is about building a community.”

Some camps don’t even allow plastic dressers, so check if your kiddo insists on bringing theirs to fit their entire shoe collection. Speaking of clothes, old but intact is preferred.

“We encourage parents to send clothes that their kids aren’t afraid to get dirty. Camp is not the time to dress up,” Bradley says.

Many camps, particularly overnight, have quiet time. Make sure your child has something they like to do to stay busy if they won’t be napping, such as journals, puzzle books or comic books.

If you’re new here, you know summer days can get hot, humid and sunny. Sun protection like hats and sunscreen and a water bottle to stay hydrated are essential.

Last but certainly not least, pay attention to the checklist your camp sends home.

“Every camp will have a packing list specific to their camp,” Bradley says. “Parents should pay attention to that.”

Whatever you send your kid with, make sure it’s labeled so it comes home with them.

“Children aren’t good at keeping track of things,” Bradley says. “If they lose a water bottle without their name on it, it’s really hard to get that back to them.”