As the summer draws near, families have options when it comes to camps. Some will opt to go to sleepaway camp for an extended period of time, while others might feel more comfortable at a day camp where they can come home every night.
Maureen Eppich, founder of Jump Start Gymnastics in Beachwood, and Abbey Phillips, director of day camps and youth services at the Mandel Jewish Community Center in Beachwood, said day camps provide unique opportunities for kids to socialize and learn new skills.
The Mandel JCC has standard camp activities like swimming lessons, sports, and arts and crafts. But it also provides “chugs,”which is the Hebrew word for elective. Campers can try more specific things they’re interested in like theater, creative arts or pottery.
“Day camp is for everyone,” Phillips said. “I can’t think of a single child who wouldn’t benefit from attending a day camp. The camp experience that we provide is very low barrier. We let kids do challenges by choice. They’re trying new things as they desire in an area where they’re comfortable. They’re building relationships with peers and people who are close by to them. And they get to go home at the end of the day. So if a child is going through anxiety, they’re not ready to be away from home, or they are just sort of a homebody, but they want a social experience, day camp is really the perfect opportunity to do that.”
Eppich said the COVID-19 pandemic has also caused children to lose certain social skills, and going to camp this summer can help reintroduce them to a social environment around strangers.
“They haven’t been around other kids, with the exception of a small bubble and their family,” Eppich said. “Some skills have been lost. Following directions, understanding a routine and a schedule. Those things have been skewed a bit, because they don’t have their normal at-home schedule or their school schedule. So I think it’s a nice jumping off point to really prepare for September.”
Eppich added summer camps are a good opportunity to meet kids that you wouldn’t normally see in school, thereby expanding your friendship circle.
“When you go to school, you pretty much know everybody in your class, whether you’re friends with them or not,” Eppich said. “They’re going to be around kids that they don’t know, learning how to make new friendships and get along with people that are different from them. Normally in school, you’d have a couple of new kids that come into your grade. Now, everybody’s new in the group, so we’re relearning how to be social, get along, and all those rules that they didn’t have to follow at home.”
Eppich also said day camps can give parents peace of mind knowing they will see their children at the end of each day.
“With a sleepaway camp, parents are not there,” Eppich said. “They can talk to their kids on a daily basis, on the phone and all that, but they don’t have that interaction with the camp counselors on a day-to-day basis, or the reassurance knowing that all the safety protocols have been followed.”
As for the campers’ experience, Phillps said she hopes campers walk away at the end of summer feeling good to be Jewish, to be themselves and to be kind.
“The skills that they walk away with, like being able to shoot a goal, or being able to create a pot from clay, those are secondary,” Phillips said. “And they will walk away with some things like that, and we’re proud of that too. But the thing that I think is the most impactful is that, whoever they are, for the time that they spent with us, they were accepted, they felt confident, they were comfortable, and they felt good about themselves.”