If there’s anything the upcoming “Summer Days” camp fair proves, it’s that day camps are as diverse as the kids who attend them.
The second annual fair — featuring more than 50 day camps from 30 ZIP codes — takes place Feb. 23 at Stephen S. Wise Temple in Bel Air from 1-4 p.m. It is sponsored by the Parents Education League of Los Angeles, in partnership with Tips on Trips and Camps, a free summer advisory service. Admission is free.
Jewish camps represented will include Stephen S. Wise’s Camp Wise, Temple Akiba Day Camp and programs at the Zimmer Children’s Museum, the Westside Jewish Community Center and Adat Shalom. Non-Jewish camps will be on-hand as well.
The variety of camps available means that there’s plenty for parents and kids to consider: traditional, multiactivity day camps as well as specialized programs focused on arts, sports, cooking, theater, music, surfing and science.
“The right camp for your child becomes an extension of your home and your family’s values,” explained Jeremy J. Fingerman, CEO of the New York-based Foundation for Jewish Camp. “First, think about the type of environment in which your child thrives. Think about if you want a Jewish camp, a traditional camp that gives your child a wide variety of experiences or a specialty camp that focuses on a particular activity or skill set.
“Does your child need lots of instruction and structure, or would they prefer to have more choices? What size camp would make my child feel comfortable, and would he or she feel more comfortable in a coed or single-gender environment?”
Fingerman said the first things families should do is assess their budget for camp enrollment and the child’s dietary or physical needs before delving into their preferences and interests.
A camper samples a climbing wall at the Westside Jewish Community Center’s JCamp. Photo courtesy of Westside Jewish Community Center
Desiree Lapin, founder and president of the Parents Education League of Los Angeles (parentseducationleague.org), a resource for parents regarding education and schools, said there was “a lot of community building” at last year’s camp fair, where parents could review camp schedules and pricing in one place. Her advice to parents who may come this year: Honestly assess your child’s personality to get the most mileage out of one-on-one conversations with camp directors.
“You get a better perspective on a day camp’s mission when you’re face to face with the camp director than you can on the Web site,” Lapin said. “While Web sites are helpful, when you can have a two-way dialogue with a day camp director about your child and their program, you’ll better determine if that camp is a good match. Also, as some camps at the fair will offer early registration and discounts, this is an opportunity for parents to get their children registered and file necessary forms, as spots in some camps fill quickly.”
Jill Levin, the summer program adviser for Tips on Trips and Camps (tipsontripsandcamps.com), said fairs such as “Summer Days” serve a valuable function in making the research process easier for those interested in attending camp. However, she said parents should realize the camping experience has changed since their childhoods.
“Camps today are more aware of what trends in culture and technology affect our children,” she said. “Camp offers a great opportunity to break away from the computers, video games, iPhones and so on. A camp, no matter what its focus, provides an opportunity to get kids back to the basics, and shows them how full life can be without all the gadgets. “Levin suggests parents ask about food and allergy issues, bully prevention and safety concerns up front. If parents are considering a Jewish camp, she recommends asking camp directors about what movement, if any, the program affiliates with. There’s also the issue of whether the food served is kosher, whether staffers are Jewish and how much Jewish activity can be found in the program. In his 40-year career, Paul Reichenbach, director of camp and Israel programs for the Union for Reform Judaism, has observed how both Jewish summer camps and the way parents go about selecting the right camp have undergone an evolution. “Years ago, parents knew their kids had fun at camp, and they knew there were fun Jewish activities, but they did not understand the magic of camp,” Reichenbach said. “Today, the hopes and expectations of the greater Jewish community play a role in the selection of a camp experience. Whether it is a day camp or residential camp, the hope for parents is that the summer will be a [life-changing] experience that will reinforce a child’s sense of pride in being Jewish and what it means to be a part of the Jewish community.” Reichenbach said parents should ask camp directors and representatives what the camp’s specific mission is, and how that mission plays itself out in the staff they hire, the programming and the environment they want to create for the campers. Also, he suggests asking them what the camp’s mission means to the counselors, how their training integrates the values and how they will be good role models for campers. “When I first started out, I found camp directors were asked by parents, ‘How Jewish is your camp?’ ” he said. “The response sometimes was, ‘How Jewish would you like it to be?’ Today, Jewish camps are less nervous about what parents are looking for, and are more comfortable today [in their marketing] proudly proclaiming they are proud that their camp is meaningfully Jewish.”
For more information about the “Summer Days” camp fair, click here.