Choose a summer camp

Karen Frederickson
Cary Ecology Camp 2013.
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Warmer weather is finally here, and for many parents and their children, this means the time to choose a summer camp is fast approaching. The Hudson Valley has a large selection of camps, from day camps to sleep-away camps, covering everything from theater to farming.

Choosing the right camp can be overwhelming for parents, with the myriad choices they are faced with. Is it better to send a child to day camp or sleep-away camp? Will they like a sport- or arts-based camp better?

Susie Lupert, executive director of the American Camp Association of New York and New Jersey suggests involving the child in the process of choosing a camp, and touring the camp beforehand.

"There are many things that parents should consider, such as the philosophy of the camp and making sure that it fits into the values that the family holds," Lupert said. "A parent should feel really comfortable with the camp director, that the director is getting back to them and answering all their questions."

She advises parents to ask about staff ratios, how the staff is trained, and the age of the counselors as well as to check that the camp is accredited.

For parents that choose an activity-based camp, such as tennis or theater camp, they should first make sure their child really enjoys that activity.

"Camp can be costly and you want to make sure you're choosing a camp that your child is excited about and that you feel really comfortable with," Lupert said.

This is especially true for parents who choose sleep-away camps.

"Oftentimes, it's the parents that need more preparation than the child," Lupert said. "We encourage parents to be very positive about the experience. Make the child feel safe and excited about the adventure they're having and that really goes back to the parents doing the research."

Part of the research process is choosing a type of camp, and the Hudson Valley offers a great variety, such as golf, theater, science, ecology, art, horses, farming and different aspects of the performing arts.

One of these specialty camps is Mad Science of the Hudson Valley, a camp started and run by Brian Crandall, who also teaches at the camp.

"We try to make science education fun and accessible to kids," Crandall said. He feels there is less focus on science in school and teachers are not comfortable teaching the subject matter.

"They compensate by making it amazingly cool to the kids but it's presented in an amazingly complicated fashion," Crandall added. "We teach kids in a way that makes them want to learn more science in the future."

The most popular program is called "Mad Machines and Crazy Contraptions." According to Crandall, it's consistently the most popular, year after year. "It's most guided by the kids," Crandall said. "Each day is a scenario." The kids will learn about 17th- and 18th-century technology, and then receive a scenario, such as being in a shipwreck. The kids then have to complete a mission, such as purifying water and designing a boat or raft to get off the island. The scenarios change every year.

"We've had kids take the program two or three years in a row and what they come up with each year is a little different," Crandall said.

Patrice Macauley, the program coordinator for SUNY Ulster Camp, has a grandson, Tyler, who enjoys attending Mad Science Camp.

"He loves making things with their wonderful staff so much so he had them as his entertainment for his 10th birthday party at his home," Macauley said. "When I pick him up at the end of the camp day, he can't wait to show me what he has made and to tell me all about what he learned. There are times throughout the year that he will tell me some little gem of information that I know he picked up from one of his lessons at the Mad Science camp."

John Beaumont, 8, from Rhinebeck, who will attend Mad Science Camp for the third time, won't even consider attending another camp, according to Maryann, his mother.

"Mad Science Camp is the best because all of the teachers are really fun," John Beaumont said. "We get to create lots of amazing projects and bring them home. We laugh a lot, play outside, and learn about the world."

Last summer, John made an "awesome rocket" as part of a NASA segment at the camp.

The Cary Institute offers a summer ecology camp for kids between second and seventh grade.

"The main goal of our summer camp is to give kids a positive experience in nature and with science," said Jennifer Rubbo, the camp's education program leader. "We also offer them the opportunity to learn science by exploring nature, making observations, asking questions, and finding ways to answer those questions on their own."

Sofia Mackey, 9, has attended the camp multiple times and loves it. "I have gone to Ecology Camp at Cary IES for the past three years because it is so fun!" Sofia said. "We learn about plants and animals. This year, I knew about the food chain in science class before anyone else because we studied it at Ecology Camp."

Sprout Creek Farm in Poughkeepsie offers a unique camp where kids experience life on a farm.

"We engage children of all ages in age-appropriate ways to learn how the planet works, specifically in relation to growing and raising animals and vegetables," said Margo Morris, executive director of Sprout Creek Farm. "Children learn that there are very special interactions among animal and plant species that benefit us as humans and that the more we understand, the more sustainably we can live."

The kids participate in regular farm chores, such as providing food and water for a variety of farm animals as well as collecting eggs and learning about organic gardening. They even learn how to prepare foods from a chef.

"Sprout Creek summer camp made me into the person I am today," said Julia Fiore, now a counselor. "I am so grateful for all I learned as a camper and all I continue to learn as a farmer and educator. As a camper, I remember thinking that the farmers and the counselors knew everything about the farm. As an employee, I have discovered that I will never know everything, but I look forward to learning something new every day from the animals, the land and the children."

Another former camper that enjoyed her experiences at Sprout Creek Camp so much that she became a counselor is Bonnie Walker. "I first came to Sprout Creek when I was 8 and have been back nearly every year since, which is going on 20 years," Walker said. "Sprout Creek is a place where people come to learn, and that still holds true for me as an adult. The major difference between then and now is that I traded camp songs for increased responsibility and the chance to pass on my knowledge and skills to a younger generation."

Camp Kindness at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary is a "fairly intimate camp," according to Elana Kirshenbaum, the director of programs and communications at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary. "The goal of the camp is to help children explore compassionate choices and help kids understand farm animals better and how they are similar to the dogs and cats that we welcome into our homes," Kirshenbaum said.

Ani Castillo has attended Camp Kindness since it began. Since that time, she has attended for two or three weeks and set aside one week to work as a volunteer with the younger children. "I am very pleased with the things that she learns at Camp Kindness as well as the wonderful people and animals she has developed relationships with," said her grandmother, Barbara E. Chapman. "Ani works in her school and with her family and friends to educate them on a compassionate lifestyle. When she goes to sleepovers, I have moms tell me that her presence makes the other girls more kind."

Chapman believes that the time Ani has spent at the camp has helped her to become more mature and confident.

"Camp Kindness is an amazing experience, and I love teaching the younger children as well as being with the animals," Ani Castillo said. "I have so many special friends like Kathy and Melissa and my animal friends like Miriam (a pig)."

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