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Frequently Asked Questions About Jewish Camp
We know choosing the right camp is a big decision and gathering information is an important part of the process. It is our goal to answer all your questions and help you make the best choice for your child.
No matter which type you choose, you can’t go wrong with Jewish summer camp! Both experiences provide an opportunity for individual growth, to try new things in a fun and safe environment and to meet new people. Each child’s development is different, so the decision about day camp or overnight camp is very personalized and individual for each child and family. There is no single “right” age to begin either one. Day camps provide different experiences as children get older, often including some overnight trip components. Overnight camp enables a great level of growth in terms of independence, and being part of a unique community 24/7. Camps are expert at determining the right fit and the right time to start for your child, so we recommend that you contact the camps that interest you to learn more. And of course, we are glad to help you choose those camps!
A key service that we offer is personalized guidance for choosing a camp. We will speak with you via phone or in person to learn more about your child, discuss camp options and connect you with the camps to receive full information, all for free. We are available for continued consultation throughout the selection and application process, and we want to hear from you afterwards as well!
Here is info about the overall camp selection process. The key focus will be not on finding “a great camp”, but rather the “great camp/right camp for your child.” There are so many camp options today – from traditional camps to new specialty camps, from full summers to many different session options – there is a camp match for every child!
Every child is different, so think about what is most important, and what you hope for your child to achieve through the camp experience. Allow and take time to do research. It is ideal to start more than a year in advance of the summer you anticipate your child going to camp — though it is certainly feasible to plan in a shorter timeframe, especially with resources like us here to help! Some of the factors to consider are: your child’s interests, more structure vs. less structure, session length, cost, location, where campers come from, size of camp, age range, co-ed vs. boys/girls only, affiliations, ACA accreditation, acclimation process of new campers (especially if your child is starting at an older age). Here are specific recommended steps in the camp selection process:
- You can do a lot of initial research on-line. To get you started, we have created a list of Jewish camps that currently attract the most children from our area, including 40+ overnight camps and seven day camps with links to more info and websites for the camps. Additional resources include the camp finder tool on the Foundation for Jewish Camp website www.jewishcamp.org/campsand the American Camp Association website www.acacamps.org.
- For camps of interest, look on their websites, watch videos, request full info packets.
- Talk to others – friends, neighbors, relatives – not just those in the immediate local area. Camps of interest will be happy to connect you with local camp families.
- After you’ve done some “pre-screening,” involve your child in the process, so that they will have a vested interest in the choice and having a successful camp experience. Enable them to talk with peers and older kids who have attended camps of interest, so that they can hear the perspective of other kids.
- Attending presentations, open-houses, camp visits to meet the director and other key staff, and get first-hand feel for the camp.
- While sometimes a camp is favored because close friends are already going there, keep in mind when exploring other options that camp is a great opportunity to broaden horizons, meet new kids who often become lifetime friends and explore new opportunities.
- Once you’ve narrowed down to key camps of interest, it is ideal to visit camps during the summer, while camp is in session. This really enables you and your child to get a feel for the camp. Be sure to call ahead to find out the best times to visit.
There are no set criteria for determining when your child is ready for the overnight camp experience. Your child will probably love overnight camp if he or she has had some successful experiences with being away from home, even for brief periods (such as sleepovers with relatives or friends). As a way to “test the waters,” many overnight camps offer introductory or “short-stay” programs, as well as different attendance options that may be right for your child.
There are numerous day camp and overnight camp programs that serve children with special needs. These range from inclusive programs to self-contained programs within broader camps, to camps specifically for children and teens with special needs. These programs provide the opportunity to socialize with peers while being immersed in an environment filled with Jewish joy and culture.
Each camp provides a comprehensive list of items needed for camp well in advance, to enable families to secure the necessary items. Some camps offer camp shirts and camp attire. For specialty camps, there may be the option for the child to bring their own equipment as appropriate (such as sports equipment for sports specialty camp programs). Many camps allow, and welcome, children to bring a favorite musical instrument. Most camps discourage (or often prohibit) cell phones and other electronic equipment, so that campers can focus on enjoying the outdoors and great activities at camp. One key piece of advice is to label everything with your child’s name (with nametags or permanent fabric marker).
In short, “no” – because there are so many choices, you will be able to choose a camp offering the type and level of Jewish programming and philosophy that is comfortable for your child and family. There is a very wide array of Jewish camps, offering many different levels and types of Jewish programming – ranging from those with a more cultural focus to those with higher level of prayer and learning, with many in between. The shared qualities across all Jewish camps is that they are built on Jewish values and have a special feeling of community and “ruach” (spirit) that you just can’t find in other camps. As part of the guidance we provide, we will work with your family to connect you with a camp with the Jewish programming that is right for your child.
The costs differ by camp. The tuition for most Jewish non-profit overnights camps averages between $500-$1000 per week. Generally, the cost per week decreases the longer the time attended. Jewish non-profit camps generally cost less than private camps. Some camps may offer special pricing for new campers and/or sibling discounts, as well as discounts for early enrollment, affiliation with their sponsoring organization, or others discounts. The tuition costs can generally be found on the camps’ websites.
Your child may be eligible for a $1,000 incentive grant if they will be attending Jewish overnight camp for the first time for 19 days or more
Camp session options have evolved immensely over the past 5-10 years. While some camps still primarily offer a “traditional” 7-8 week summer session, the majority of camps offer 2 sessions of 3-4 weeks in duration, with the option of attending the first and/or second session. For most camps, the full summer season is closer to 7 weeks than 8 weeks. Numerous camps offer additional session options (such as 2, 4 or 6 weeks). There are new specialty camp programs, such as sports and outdoor adventure, that offer 2 or 3 week sessions. For new/prospective campers, many camps have introductory or short-stay programs ranging from overnight up to 2 weeks, depending on the camp; they are sometimes during the camp season, at the end of the summer following the camp season, or at another time during the year. We encourage you to find out from camps of interest what their session options are, and which options most campers attend, so that you can ensure a fit with your family’s anticipated schedule for this year and future years.
Each camp has its own policies and procedures regarding visits and communications that they have found works best for their program and families based on their many years of experience with thousands of campers. We encourage you to check with the camp on their specific policies. Communication options may include mail, email and/or fax. Camps sometimes allow a scheduled phone call, especially for birthdays. Most camps prohibit cell phones.
Policies differ about whether packages may be sent to campers, though camps almost always prohibit sending food into camp. Many camps post photos on-line via a secure process, so that you may view photos of your children and other campers. Many (but not all) camps with longer sessions usually have a scheduled visiting day. During the camp season, you may call the camp summer office with specific questions. Some camps have a specific parent liaison. A suggestion for new campers is to mail a letter before camp starts so that your child will have mail waiting for them at camp (keeping in mind some extra time for delivery and distribution).
Enrollment timing differs by camp. It will be important to check with camps of interest what the process and timing is. Enrollment generally begins during the prior summer first for existing campers and their families, and then opens up for new families. This is why it is ideal to start exploring camps more than a year in advance of when you anticipate your child starting. There are camps that continue to get filled each summer, where enrollment timing is critical. Keep in mind that at many camps first session tends to fill up more quickly than second session.
While the exact facilities differ by camp, any camp that we refer you to will offer your child a great, safe and comfortable summer experience. To get a feel for what a particular camp is like, you should ask questions, view websites and other materials and ideally visit the camps to get a first-hand view of the facilities. Pay particular attention to the bunks, dining hall/kitchen, gym and/or other indoor spaces, bathrooms/showers, other venues such as sports fields, lake and/or pool, arts venues etc. Virtually all camps offer swimming, in a pool and/or lake. For those camps with lakes, they often offer water trampoline, boating and other waterfront activities as well. Many camps have special elements such as a climbing tower, ropes course, theater space, studio space and more. Specialty camps will have special facilities and venues related to their specialty activities.
ACA accreditation is a true “seal of approval” signifying that a camp meets up to 300 health, safety and program quality standards established by the American Camp Association. It is the key measure for all types of camps, not only Jewish camps. When you view our list of camps or search on the Foundation for Jewish Camp website, the profile page about each camp will denote whether the camp is ACA accredited. The camp’s Web site will often display information about ACA accreditation if they are accredited. You can visit www.acacamps.org for more info about accreditation and to check if a specific camp is ACA-accredited.