Since my oldest just turned 3, this is the first year I've had to deal with that 4-letter word: CAMP! If you thought there were a lot of daycares in Westchester... or if you thought there were a lot of preschools in Westchester... just do a search for camps and it makes everything else look puny in comparison. So. Many. Choices. So how are you supposed to find the perfect camp for your LO?
HOW TO WIN THE GREAT CAMP SEARCH
1. Pick a category
Your search will be a lot easier if you narrow down what you want. Which of the following are you looking for?
sprawling camp grounds
swim lessons mandatory
full days vs mornings only
consecutive weeks or pick-and-choose?
THE BIG GUYS
If you know you want your child to have a big, traditional camp experience, then you're going to want to tour the Big Guys like Camp Hillard, Mount Tom Day Camp, Purchase Day Camp, Mohawk Day Camp, or Kiwi Country Day Camp. Lots of them have open houses or host other events on property. (Mohawk Day Camp is hosting the Westchester Children's Book Festival on Sunday, May 6 from 10am to 3pm.) These larger camps tend to have swimming and/or water play at least once a day and tons of other traditional camp activities. Some of them include transportation that's either door-to-door or from pickup spots around the county. Kiwi Country Day Camp has pickup points in Pleasantville, Bedford, and Chappaqua, among others. These camps are gorgeous, but you get what you pay for. These camps tend to cost up to $1500 per week, and many have extras such as hot lunch, transportation or supplemental swim lessons.
THE LITTLE GUYS
You don't need triple-digit acreage to have a great time at camp. There are several smaller camps (we'll call them Little Guys) that have everything a big camp is offering, but on a smaller scale (and with a smaller price tag). Ann & Andy in Elmsford offers indoor and outdoor play, water play and bikes, along with sports and an area for resting inside. They do bussing to activities like swim and bowling, and even have a lunch program. ESF Camps operates out of Riverdale Country School in the Bronx or Greenwich Academy in Connecticut. The Little Guys are often more accommodating to a flexible schedule. At Ann & Andy, you pick which weeks, which days of the week, and even which 8 hours of the day (or less if part time), you'd like to attend, and everything is priced from your selections.
If you want to take a trip back in time to the land web design forgot, search for your local town's website. (And once you get there, take a moment to marvel the archaic look: ooh, jewel tones! Underlined links in a sidebar! A table!) Then find the Parks and Recreation homepage. From there, you'll find a PDF called something like "Summer Programs 18".
You might be surprised how many activities are actually on that PDF. My town does a Zumba program? Wait, I can pick up a free recycling bin? These programs can be hard to find, but the secret's out: town camps are cheap and convenient. Most don't offer options like swim, but the price is right. Town camps are about $100 a week. Don't like your town's offerings? Many towns, such as Yonkers, offer non-resident fees for camp, so shop around. It might be worth the extra $30.
Theme camps are great for slightly older kids who know what they like and aren't afraid to tell you. Any activity you can enroll in during the school year you can find a camp for in the summer. Theatre, ballet, circus arts, any sport, STEM activities, foreign languages, you name it! If you only have a few weeks this summer for your child to attend camp, the thematic approach is a great way to make the most of a small amount of time and ensure that when your child arrives in August, they aren't entering a social circle where friendships were made on the first day of camp in June. However, that specialized training comes at a cost. Discover Camp in Hawthorne runs about $700 a week for a full day program of STEM camp.
MOMMY & ME CAMP
They're never too young for camp! At World Cup Nursery School in Chappaqua, you and your toddler can attend Prep Camp, a program for 17 to 29 month olds. This camp runs in the mornings and includes outdoor water time, open gym time, and nursery school-type activities. It's a great way to introduce young ones to the social world of school. The Bronx Zoo also offers Toddler Camp, a 1-hour program for kids ages 2-3 with a caregiver that is $150 a week.
CAMPS ARE EVERYWHERE
Short of, say, Trader Joe's, if you go there with your kids, you'll probably find a camp there during the summer. The Little Gym? Camp! Bounce U? Camp! The Bronx Zoo? Camp! Even Lil Chameleon has unveiled a summer camp program with activities and outdoor play. These camps run $200-$250 a week. Many of these camps offer last-minute drop in options depending on availability, so they are a great choice for parents who aren't really sure what they will need just yet. At The Little Gym, you can purchase summer camp days now and specify which dates you will be applying them to later (depending on availability). This is perfect for when you don't have your summer plans on lock yet, but you know they include 10 days of camp thrown in here and there.
Ha! Just kidding! Our kids are too young for that. A mom can dream, though, right?
2. Enlist (free!) help
NEED MORE HELP?
Been through all these options and STILL not sure what you want? Enter Susan Pecker, a camp advisor at Camp Connection. The Camp Connection has been helping parents at no cost for over 30 years. They represent over 600 summer programs, meeting directors and visiting every camp. Though they specialize in sleepaway programs for children ages 8-18, they have tons of experience with local day camps for children ages 3 - 8 years old. We asked Susan some questions that come up for a first-time camp shopper:
What's the most important thing to keep in mind when choosing a camp?
When choosing a camp, a parent needs to take a two-pronged approach: What does the parent want? And what is the parent’s objective in sending their child to camp? What is the budget? How long do they want their child to attend?
Also, consider their child: What activities does my child like? Would a big or small camp be better for my child’s personality?
Are there deals to be had? Or do you think more money buys a better camp experience?
The higher the tuition can reflect a lot such as the physical infrastructure a camp has, the breadth and depth of programming, the age and layers of staff. Yet there are camps that are non-profits (or lower tuition) that may suit families just fine.
What's the best kind of camp for kids ages 3-6?
The best camp for the younger child offers short days, mature staff and age-appropriate activities and facilities, such as basketball courts with low hoops and pools that are shallow enough for instruction and recreation.
Want to receive free personalized camp recommendations? Email Susan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Make your list
TL, DR: JUST TELL ME WHERE THE CAMPS ARE!
Okay, okay, fellow blogger and author Lori Fettner has been researching camps for her Irvington-based 4 year old, and has graciously agreed to share the results of her findings. This list below is just the tip of the iceberg of available camps, so use it at as head start into your camp search.
I’ve managed 4 years without sending my daughter to camp. We’ve had a great time being outdoors, checking out every park, playground, and library, and even working our way through pre-k workbooks. Last summer, it got a little hard toward the end. So this year it’s camp, camp, CAMP!
I’ve signed my daughter up for a 5-week camp that covers the month of July, and now I’m looking into shorter camps to fill the weeks before and after. Here’s my list of 10 places to check out.
Bounce U, Elmsford
Create and bounce art camp
Monday through Thursday 9am - 3pm, ages 4 and up.
$199 per child, $169 siblings of same week. Click here to see the themes for each week.
Central Park Dance, Scarsdale
Monday though Friday, ages 4 to 18
Ages 4-5: 10:30am-1:00pm, $275 per week
July 9-13 Frozen, July 23-27 Moana, August 6-10 Trolls, August 20-24 Aladdin
Ages 6-8: 10:30am-3:30pm, $475 per week
Ages 9-12: 10:30am-3:30pm, $475 per week
Ages 13-18: 10:30am-4:30pm, $625 per week
Kids in Sports, Scarsdale
Individual and multi-sport camp
Monday through Friday
Single day camps from 9am-12:30pm. For ages 3-7 these are multi-sport camps, which may also include art, storytime, etc.
Scribble Art, Dobbs Ferry
Monday through Friday
Ages 3-4: 9:00am -1:00pm $450 per week
Grades K-4: 9:00-3:00 day, $600 per week.
Discount available when signing up for multiple weeks. Click here for more info.
Lil Chameleon, Tuckahoe
Indoor/outdoor activities and crafts
Monday through Friday, 10:00am-12:30pm, ages 3-6
$250 per week.
Bronx Zoo, Bronx
Zoo exploration, games, classroom learning
Monday through Friday, 9am-3pm, $400 per week
Many options for themes, depending on age of child, starting as young as entering pre-k. After care available. Click here for more info.
Teatown Lake Preserve, Ossining
Hikes, sensory activities, animal encounters
Monday through Friday, 9am-12pm or 3pm, 2-week camps, ages 4-14
$435 per two-week session, half day, $760 per two-week session, full day
Greenburgh Nature Center, Scarsdale
Outdoor exploration, crafts, and care of the animal residents
Monday through Friday
Half-day camps (Grades K-1 & 2-3) are $350 per week.
Full-day camps (Grades 4-5) are $450 per week.
Membership is required to register for camp. Click here for more info.
The Play Place, Elmsford
Monday through Friday, 9:00am-4:30pm, ages 4-8, $325 per week.
Several different camp options, including multi-sport, karate, or dance. Click here for more info.
House of Sports, Ardsley
Soccer, Basketball, & Lacrosse
Monday through Friday, 9:00am-4:00pm, K-2nd grade, $425 per week.
Soccer and Basketball are full day programs, lacrosse is half day. Lunch and extended day available. Click here for more info.
Lori Fettner is the author of 4 books: Teaching to the Child, Welcome to Motherhood (A gift book for new moms), No Place Like Earth (A picture book for kids who love space and parents who love Earth), and What Do You Do with a Doodleloo. Visit LoriFettner.com for more information.
That's it for this week! Now, go find a camp! And if you still need a Mother's Day gift, be sure to check out our Westchester-centric Mother's Day gift ideas.
And don't forget about our weekly Mommy Meetup at Lil Chameleon from 10:30am to noon most Mondays. For our (almost always free) Event of the Day, follow us on Facebook or Instagram. And as always, check our website for events and our easy-to-navigate chart of every weekly kids library program in Westchester.
See you next time!