Camp Expo on Saturday will feature information on 50+ programs

The annual event will take place at Delaware Valley University from noon to 3 p.m.

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

In recent years, summer camps have drastically evolved. Rather than serving as a place to simply pass the time while school is out of session, camp has transformed into a multi-purpose experience. Kids can test drive a slew of interests, whether it’s sports or coding, improve their health by getting active, and get a jumpstart on adulthood by honing skills like conflict resolution and communication.

A child’s future could arguably be impacted by the summer camp they attend. But there are more than 12,000 in the United States. So how are parents supposed to determine which of the seemingly endless options is the best fit? To ensure families have enough knowledge to make an informed decision as early as possible, directors from more than 50 programs will convene on Saturday, Jan. 19, at Delaware Valley University in Doylestown for the annual Bucks County Camp Expo.

Originally started by the American Camp Association approximately 20 years ago, this free event features camps for day and overnight, special interest, special needs and teen travel. Area camps slated to exhibit include Bristol’s Silver Lake Nature Center, Warminster’s East Coast Recording Camp, Rockwood Adventures Teen Travel in Montgomery County, and Warrington’s The Little Gym.

“Its only goal is to help parents make good decisions about camp. We’re not recommending any one camp. We just want to promote the value of a summer camp experience because there are so many acknowledged, recognized benefits,” said Ellen Warren, coordinator of the Camp Expo.

According to Warren, there is truly a camp for every budget and schedule. Many offer early registration, sibling and referral discounts, as well as shorter, flexible sessions rather than a strict eight-week program.

“Over the past five to 10 years, but really in the last few years, camps are getting ever more accommodating, recognizing that families have an array of competing interests and things they want to do, and they’re trying to cram everything into one summer,” she said.

When attendees arrive at the Camp Expo, Warren will be situated at the entrance, ready to greet them and provide some direction if needed. There is no designated start or finish to the layout, and families are free to roam for as long as they wish during the three-hour time frame.

“I encourage families to walk the whole floor and to try to at least see all the different programs and maybe talk to some that they weren’t thinking about or weren’t aware of because there are so many options, and it’s hard to know what you don’t know,” she said. “I encourage parents to come and be curious and have an open mind.”

Warren also suggested taking time to speak with the camp directors rather than simply picking up a brochure and moving on to the next table.

“There are so many options these days. It’s really overwhelming, it’s like choosing a college. Certainly, you can find information online, but when you’re making a decision about a child, I just don’t think there’s any substitute for face-to-face interaction, meeting a camp director, seeing how a camp director interacts with your child,” she said. “You’re just not going to get that online.”

While Warren admitted asking a dozen questions to each director would be time consuming, she recommended families prepare a handful that are relevant to their wants and concerns. Options include inquiring about the camp’s mission/philosophy, what a typical day looks like, staff training, availability of healthcare, how issues such as bullying are handled, and what foods (if any) are included in tuition.

At the event, families are also able to learn about the benefits of summer camp. According to the American Camp Association, there is a wealth of data that proves the experience helps build critical life skills such as independence, responsibility, leadership, teamwork, problem solving and conflict resolution. Based on research conducted by the nonprofit Partnership for 21st Century Learning, camp also teaches skills that can be utilized later in life in the workforce such as communication, collaboration and creativity — all things future employers may look for in a candidate.

Additional benefits include physical activity, which helps combat the obesity epidemic, the ability to try new hobbies and improve each day, and the chance to unplug from electronics.

“What are they doing instead? They’re actually interacting with other kids. So instead of worrying about their likes on social media, they get to like humans, interact with humans and build human relationships,” Warren said, proudly stating how she’s still in touch with camp friends from 1973. “Camp friends are the best because you’re having these kinds of experiences that are unique to camp and they’re shared.”

For families who plan to attend the Camp Expo, Warren suggested they not only think about a program for summer 2019, but one their child may grow into. A child who’s still too young for an overnight camp may be ready in 2020, so starting the research process early allows families to visit and tour camps while they’re in session this summer.

“You get to see how the bunks are arranged. Do the kids look like they’re bored or happy?” Warren said, explaining how she toured three camps while on a roadtrip with her own children. “That’s a hugely valuable thing.”

She also recommended parents register their children by early spring, since that’s when most camps fill up and discounts expire. ••

If you go…

The Bucks County Camp Expo will take place Saturday, Jan. 19, from noon to 3 p.m. at Delaware Valley University’s Student Center Building, 700 E. Butler Ave., Doylestown. Visit BucksCampExpo.com or email info@buckscampexpo.com for information.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com