One of the biggest worries parents and teachers have about the months off from school is the summer slide, where students lose ground in crucial areas like reading and math. Day camps can help kids stay engaged and excited about learning, and they help maintain certain skills.
Enrolling kids in day camps allows children to go deeper on their interests. Got a Lego fanatic? There’s a kids camp for that. Have a budding chef in the house? Sign up for a cooking camp.
“We offer the whole shebang at day camp except the sleep-away part,” said Meghan Janda, Day Camp Director for the University of Chicago Laboratory School’s summer camp program, now entering its eleventh year.
At Lab School's summer camp, as with most day camps, kids spend their mornings and afternoons moving through a wide variety of organized activities, from arts and crafts to swimming to gymnastics. On other days they get on a bus and go on a field trip.
“The rest of the time, when they’re not at activities, they can sign up for tae kwon do or juggling or jewelry making or cooking class,” Janda said.
New experiences at day camp
By virtue of their vast programming, day camps can launch a child’s interest into something unexpected -- like sailing or Greek mythology.
“Starting at an early age, it’s a wonderful opportunity to let them try and see where their passions lie,” said Janda, who has directed the camp since it began in 2000 on the school's South Side campus. “We offer a taste of things, like camping. We show the kids that they’re in the city, and yet camping is still an option.”
Exposure to so many activities can be an exciting thing for some children. But it can be stressful for others who have trouble with transitions and adjusting to new situations.
“Day camps for kids are a really good way to learn to transfer from one class to the next class, eat lunch with groups of kids,” Janda said. “It gets them acclimated to what can happen during the school year. They can get used to the idea of going from math class to another class with a different teacher. It becomes more natural for them through their summer experiences.”
Building social skills
Adjusting to transitions is just one of the hidden benefits to day camp. Another big one for Janda is learning social skills.
“Building social skills is absolutely a big part of it,” said Janda, who pulls her Counselors in Training (CITs) and Camp Counselors from her roster of campers over the years. “We try to make teambuilding, trust, and cooperation a big part of the experience. They learn leadership skills and a lot of social skills through camp. They learn tolerance, that kids might not have the same backgrounds as themselves.”
When parents look for a day camp for their child, Janda suggested a few points to look for, starting with the overall mission of the camp.
“What is the program looking to do for your child? Is their goal to get your kid to build confidence? Feel comfortable in a group? Work on social skills?”
If the camp just runs children through activities without putting any focus on teambuilding or confidence, that’s a missed opportunity.
“It takes a lot to get camps and campers to focus on those things,” Janda said, “and when they do, it’s wonderful.”
And finally, Janda suggested parents consider camps that they can come back to summer after summer. If a camp offers a progression through activities, then children can grow with it, gaining more experience each year.
“And, of course, it needs to be super fun.”
Find a day camp that's right for you
Summer day camps for kids around the United States are listed at CampPage.
Summer-daycamps.com is a clearinghouse for summer day camp for kids across the country.
Summercamps.com lets users search for camps by ZIP code.
Option 1: Sleep away camp
Option 2: Unstructured play
Option 3: Summer school
Return to summer vacation with MomMD