Believe or not, choosing a summer camp program for a child can be as (or more) difficult than choosing a college. With countless options catering to any and all interests, including engineering, sports and, yes, even roller coasters, many families struggle to decide the best fit.
To aid locals in what can easily be a confusing and overwhelming process, the annual Bucks County Camp Expo is returning on Saturday, Jan. 18, from noon to 3 p.m., at Delaware Valley University’s Student Center Building.
The free event is expected to feature camp directors and staff from more than 50 programs in Bucks County and its surrounding areas, all poised and ready to help attendees make an informed decision this summer.
“When you watch them interact with your kid, that’s a really good first indication of what your child’s experience would be like at that camp,” said event coordinator Ellen Warren. “It’s different from just looking on a website or in a brochure or getting a recommendation from a friend. You really get to watch how they relate to your child, and you also get to ask questions that you might not think about.”
According to Warren, who is usually seated at the welcome desk to help direct guests, many families end up choosing a program they didn’t know existed prior to the expo. They can learn about day and overnight/sleepaway opportunities, specialty camps for kids interested in everything from marine science and farms to performing arts and nature, faith-based programs and options that cater to special needs.
“I’m always delighted by the diversity of the camps that we have because I really believe there is something for every child and every family here,” Warren said.
Most camps offer flexible schedules and payment plans, which allows families to create what Warren called a “patchwork” experience – a child can attend multiple camps for one week each to try out different things.
“It’s not like in my day where you just went to overnight camp for eight weeks and that was it,” Warren said. “Today’s families are sometimes looking for a variety of ways to meet their children’s summer needs, and we have all of that.”
Warren encourages expo-goers to ask as many questions as they require to understand what each camp is all about, and recommended a few key points for first-timers – How much elective choice is built into the day? Counselor-to-camper ratio? Cell phone policy? Can the camp accommodate special dietary needs? What’s the percentage of returning campers and counselors?
“People should come with questions and not be afraid to ask them,” Warren said. “The camp directors are there because they want to talk to you. No question is too small. Don’t worry about taking up their time. That’s why they’re there.”
She also stressed that parents should involve their child in the entire camp-choosing process. This should include bringing them to the expo, and then chatting with them about it once home.
“Look at the brochures together, go online and visit the camp website and watch the videos together and look at all the fun the kids are having. Look at the activities and say, ‘Oh look, you can try that,’ ” Warren said. “By the time they’re ready for camp, they’ve been looking forward to it for months. It should be an exciting thing.”
In recent years, it’s been argued that a summer camp experience provides more than just fun for kids and teens. They learn social-emotional skills such as communication, teamwork and interpersonal problem solving, all while building resilience and grit – something Warren said is needed in order to thrive in life. Unlike at school, where success is based on grades and GPA, young people can try, fail and try again at camp, where they’ll be supported and cheered on as they work to improve.
“A kid doesn’t have to win a swim meet. Just getting into the pool for the first time, that’s their win. If they don’t win the race, that helps develop grit and resilience. It’s OK to not win. The message is get back in and try again,” Warren said.
As the mother of three millennials, she admitted her generation of parents wasn’t the best at letting their children fail.
“We were always there to catch them and help them because we were focused on building self-esteem. When kids are failing and their self-esteem suffers, we all thought that was a really bad thing,” she said. “But if you never let your kids fail, then they’ll never know how to fail. They’ll be depressed and miserable and won’t learn how to be successful in a competitive environment like a workplace.” ••
If you go…
The Bucks County Camp Expo takes place Saturday, Jan. 18, from noon to 3 p.m. at Delaware Valley University’s Student Center Building, 700 E. Butler Ave., Doylestown. Camps featured are for ages 3-17. Early registration for certain camps available. Free admission and free parking. For more information, visit BucksCampExpo.com.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org