Campfires and Kumbaya

Amy Dunkin

It's hard to believe that the school year is winding to a close and in 10 short weeks, I'll be kissing my 9-year-old son good-bye as he boards a bus and heads off for his first sleepaway camp experience. He'll be spending the first two weeks of July at a lovely, somewhat rustic camp in New York's Adirondack Mountains. Rather than doing extensive research to find it, I simply trusted the recommendation of a fellow parent who had spent years there as a camper himself and was planning to send his 9-year-old daughter for the same two-week session. To make sure my son didn't get shut out, I put down a deposit back in the fall.

But there's good news for procrastinators, according to Jill Tipograph, an independent camp consultant I chatted with last week.

Even at this late date, many camps still have space for the coming summer, she says. "There used to be a pattern for full season camps. If you didn't put a deposit down by the fall of the previous year, the spots were taken," she says. "Even those camps this year have spots available like I’ve never seen before."

This is happening for several reasons. First, the population of kids in the 16 and under range has peaked, so demand has fallen. Second, traditional camps have gotten very expensive, averaging as high as $1,000 or more per week for an eight-week session. Partly as a result of cost, more parents are sending their children away for just two or four weeks instead of a full summer, meaning more spots have opened up. These same parents are filling out the summer with shorter enrichment programs, sports camps, and family vacations.

So if you and your child are getting camp envy right now, don't assume you'll be shut out. If you have a particular camp in mind, call now and you could secure a slot. If you're not sure what camp is the best fit for your child, you can try searching the American Camping Association's database of camps. Or contact a camp consultant. Many are paid by the camps to bring customers; Jill works directly for families, so she doesn't have a vested interest in sending you to any particular camp. Her fee ranges from $350 to $750, depending on what she does for the client.

Jill says she's an advocate of sending kids, at least initially, to a camp that offers as well rounded an experience as possible. For a younger child especially, camp is about personal and social development. "Anything you can do to get your kids self reliant, and used to being away from home, becomes important later on when they go away to college," she notes.

I can barely think about my son leaving home for two weeks, much less going off the college. But I'm willing to push him out a bit farther into the world for the fun he'll have and the important growing experience he'll get.

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