Where can your kids learn to dance like a ninja, grow vegetables and help the other fellow first? Summer camp, of course!
If you're planning to send your kids to camp, now's the time to start signing up for sessions. This month's Kids VT Camp Guide includes information about regional camps, as well as parent responses to our first-ever Camp Experience Survey. We asked our readers to share their knowledge about local summer camps, and they didn't disappoint.
We heard from 129 respondents from all over the state. Most were moms, but a few dads chimed in, as well. Nearly 90 percent said they plan to send their kids to at least one camp this summer. About 66 percent plan to enroll in more than one; 11 percent said they'd be signing up for five or more this year.
A handful of parents admitted that they'd never sent kids to camp, but most of our respondents — 96 percent — said they'd be enrolling at least one child in a daytime program. About a third said they'd be sending one or more kids to sleepaway camp.
The experienced parents had lots of tips and suggestions to share. We've excerpted some of them in this month's issue of Kids VT; we'll print more feedback in next month's Camp Guide. In April, we'll let their kids explain why they can't wait to go back to camp.
Want to talk with camp staff directly? Come to our 17th annual Kids VT Camp and School Fair, Saturday, February 1, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Burlington Hilton. It's a chance to have face-to-face conversations with representatives from more than 50 camps and schools. Hope to see you there!
Why do parents send their kids to camp?
"It's a great opportunity to explore something new, or to be outside doing things they wouldn't normally do." —Maureen Tansey, North Hartland
"My kids have met some good buddies that they otherwise probably wouldn't have." —Julie Gramling, Ferrisburgh
"Last year, my 11-year-old learned that he can ride his mountain bike from Williston to Essex, then ride on the trails, go for a swim and ride all the way back in the rain without complaining. That would definitely not be possible with mom or dad leading the way." —Becky Tharp, Williston, Kids VT contributor
"Hiring a sitter and working out a weekly rate would be more affordable, but I don't think it would provide as much adventure." —Helen Rock, Burlington, Kids VT contributor
"It allows us to appreciate each other even more when we have time away from each other." —Erin Kihm, Bristol
"I have the summer off. For me, sending kids to camp is a vacation of sorts for myself!" —Megan Cannella, East Montpelier
At what age are kids ready to go to camp?
There's no one-size-fits-all camp-readiness age, as child development experts will tell you. Most of our survey respondents — about 55 percent — said their kids started at age 5 or 6. Another 24 percent waited until their kids were 7 or 8. And 20 percent said they sent kids age 4 or younger to camp.
But it can be hard to find programs aimed at kids younger than 4, some of whom may not be in preschool yet. A Shelburne mom noted that Shelburne Farms used to have a half-day camp for 3-year-olds, but now camps there only accept kids 4 and up. "Probably wise," she wrote.
Many parents enroll their kids in day camp for a few years before shipping them off to sleepaway. Sara Haskins of Morrisville said she started her kids on day camp at age 5, and sleepaway at age 9.
Burlington mom Alice Stokes said her kids started overnight camp a little sooner. "My oldest went to sleepaway camp at age 8," she said. "My middle child is 8 this year and may go to sleepaway camp. We haven't decided, but I think he's ready!"
What are some of Vermont kids' favorite camps?
Day camps run by Shelburne Farms, Burlington City Arts, Davis Studios, the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts and Petra Cliffs came up most frequently in response to this question.
Rachel Shelley of Burlington said her kids love the BCA camps. "For my youngest, the Tadpole camps have been a big hit, and my older son now loves all the clay camps," she wrote.
Sheldon mom Deanna Haag recommended Shelburne Farms' "Horses, Snails and Fairy Tales" day camp: "So good, my daughter wanted to do it again!"
The cooking camp at Davis Studios was tops with Julia Andrews of Westford, who sent her daughter there: "She still uses the recipes!"
Several parents mentioned sleep-away camps, including Covenant Hills Christian Camp in Cabot, Camp Dudley in Westport, N.Y. and its sister camp, Camp Dudley at Kiniya in Colchester.
The YMCA-run Camp Abnaki for boys and YWCA-run Camp Hochelaga for girls earned high marks. Both offer day and sleepaway sessions. Brian Pine of Burlington gave a shout out to Camp Abnaki, whose motto is "help the other fellow first." Pine is a fan "because the boys have some freedom and build lasting friendships."
Erinn Rolland of Waterbury recommended Camp for Me, a day camp in Stowe. "All the kids are adopted, and that creates an immediate connection and bond," she said.
Many parents mentioned theme camps that offer kids a chance to play sports, ride bikes, practice an instrument, act in plays, try welding, go sailing, build with LEGOs, ride horses, practice archery and gymnastics, and/or play outside. Jennifer Kalbfleisch of Fairfax says the St. Albans Rec Department swim camp is her kids' "all-around favorite because they love the water and the staff is fantastic." Her oldest son also enjoyed a preschool science camp put on by the Fairfax Rec Department.
"Partners in Adventure allows kids with and without disabilities to participate in tons of amazing activities at various levels," wrote Laurie Mumley of Shelburne.
Sara Garland of East Montpelier said "ninja dance camp" at the Contemporary Dance and Fitness studio in Montpelier was a hit with her girls. "It was a great introduction to self-expression through dance," she wrote, "wrapped in the coolness of being a ninja."
Farm-themed programs are also popular. Miriam Block of Starksboro recommended Maybelle Farm in Wardsboro, where her kids "learned how to needle felt and take care of sheep."
And Burlington dad Jules Fishelman said his kids love New Village Farm in Shelburne. "Great staff, lots to do, and the kids were proud to show some of their labor by bringing home veggies!" he wrote.
Kids VT contributor Tasha Lehman of Williston was surprised to find that her three boys enjoyed family camp at Camp Ohana on Lake Fairlee. "They loved trying new things and being adventurous together as a family."
Has your child ever had a bad experience at camp?
The vast majority of respondents answered "no" to this question, but a few parents reported disappointments and mishaps. We heard of a few instances of broken bones, bullying, untrained counselors in over their heads, mean girls and a case of Lyme disease. Most parents were reluctant to name names, but several said they were underwhelmed by the parks-and-rec camps in their towns.
The most common complaint? Bad weather forced the kids indoors, and the counselors were ill-prepared to deal. "I wished I'd asked them what the rainy day plan was," lamented one East Montpelier mom. "There were several rainy (pouring!) days during camp, and they ended up sitting in a crowded, sweaty room on the floor."
What advice do you have for parents who've never sent their kids to camp?
"Let them go, they'll have a blast." —Kim Tardie, Barre
"Kids have great fun, and in Vermont there are so many wonderful options." —Sean Recicar, Colchester
"Check the background of the camp thoroughly. Ask other parents who have sent their kids before." —Stephanie Conlon, Huntington
"If you have trouble communicating with the folks in charge before it begins, that's a sign that it will be worse once camp starts." —Joanna May, Richmond
"If kids are apprehensive, try to sign up with a friend." —Amy Livingston, Burlington
"If they don't want to go, don't force them." —Stephanie van Blunk, Eden
"It can be expensive, but so worth it. And it's worth going to the camp fair in February to learn about all the opportunities." —Aimee Upchurch, Essex