By Heather Skolnick
Spring has sprung but for those who have not finalized camp selections for their children, now is the time. The camp selection process can be an arduous one. As a mom who recently enrolled her two youngest in their first real camp experience, I know first-hand how daunting this can be. Fortunately, our community has many ways to help parents navigate the complexity of camp selection. But how is one to know what a successful interaction between prospective camps and families looks like?
One popular option is to attend a camp fair. These fairs are a way for families to get exposed to multiple camps in one fell swoop. They also provide the ability to associate a face with the camp experience and speak in person with the directors of the facility. For camp directors, this type of interaction with families allows them to explain the points of differentiation of their camp.
Westchester Family hosts a couple local camp fairs, which have a great representation of our local camps. Editor Jean Sheff says, “A successful camp fair is one where parents and camp representatives get to interact in a meaningful way. Parents are looking to match their family’s needs with the right camp, and camps are looking for new campers. It’s a real win-win when the match is made.”
Westchester Parent hosts a similar camp fair; this year was their 34th annual event. Jacqueline Lachman, head of marketing, said “Our goal is to expose parents to a wide variety of camps and summer activities, so they can get a lot done in one place in a few hours. Additionally, we want to be sure that parents are able to see that all of their questions are answered and the kids have a little fun. There is often a mix of parents who are embarking on this decision for the first time, some returning for new options and those looking to make a change to accommodate each child during various life stages. We try to have each group represented. Camp fairs are best when there’s a mix of local day camp opportunities.” She added, “It also helps to have some sleepaway camps on-site, to let parents explore that option without having to drive all over the place, and maybe decide it is time to switch.”
The Camp Connection is another resource with Susan Pecker as the local expert. Pecker is an experienced camp consultant who covers camps across Westchester, Rockland, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. She can help ensure campers are well matched with camps. Pecker says that a good visit with the camp or camp director is critical. When working with Pecker, both parties already know about each other and what they are looking for so they have a solid starting point. She feels it’s important for the camp director and camper to have face-to-face interaction so that they can each determine if they are a match for each other. Pecker recommends looking at each camp individually. She finds that it may be difficult to have meaningful dialogue between prospective families and camps at large camp fairs. Pecker added, “Going to visit a camp is a great idea but going to see a camp this time of year doesn’t give a great representation of what it’s like. Go to see a camp when it’s active and in session–that is the best way to evaluate it.” Some parents may choose to visit a camp’s open house, allowing them and their children a chance to see first-hand what the camp has to offer.
“Some camps might think an open house is about bells and whistles, about putting on some awesome display to entice prospective families,” said Chris Del Campo, director of communications at Harvey Cavalier Camp. “But my 20-plus years as a camp director has shown me that moms and dads (and grandmas, too) want to meet face-to-face with the people who will be caring for their child in a safe and nurturing environment where kids will have fun doing the things they enjoy.”
“Open houses are a great way to bring prospective families to your camp to experience what makes your camp so special,” explained Matt Pritikin, the Associate Director of Breezemont Day Camp in Armonk. “In the few hours parents and kids spend at our camp, our goal is to maximize the number of things they see and do, culminating in a unique experience shared together.”
In speaking with parents, what constitutes a successful interaction between them and their children and prospective camps varies. Local mom Amanda Goldberg is already looking into camp for the summer of 2017. Her family will be attending an informational session for a specific summer program and will speak with camp directors at that time. “The three of us will have an opportunity to ask questions of the directors,” she said. “While my son has watched all of the promotional videos for the camp program, he has some very specific questions that cannot be answered from a video. It would be our son’s first time away from home and it is also important to meet the people who will be caring for him for six weeks.”
Learning about various summer programs can be accomplished many different ways. Each approach offers something different and it is important to recognize what a successful interaction entails. Ultimately, what’s important is that parents, children and camp directors leave with a clear indicator of whether or not that camp is a good fit for the child.
Heather Skolnick and her husband and three kids are New Castle residents. Heather works for Macys on their Omnichannel Process and Systems team. She often reminisces fondly about her fun-filled summers at camp.