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Choosing a summer camp program for your school-aged child

By April 24, 2023No Comments4 min read
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In spring, busy parents are often wondering how to ensure a worthwhile summer for their school-age child.

The Milwaukee area offers a plethora of options for summer day camp, and it could easily be overwhelming. Local directories showcase numerous specialty programs. Arts camp? Nature camp? Computer camp? Theater camp? Sports camp? Dance camp? Or maybe combine them: two weeks of math camp and three of music camp?

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One smart strategy is to pick a general program focusing more on the child’s overall experience, that provides a focus on learning through a wide variety of experiences.

“The purpose of summer camp is not care – it’s exploration,” said Teila Safforld, director of childcare at St. Ann Center’s Bucyrus Campus.

Jennifer Carcanague, summer camp director at St. Ann Center’s Stein Campus for the past threeyears, agreed. She noted that exploration has very real benefits.

Active brain, active body

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“It’s about keeping their brain active, so you don’t have that summer drop-off,” she said. ”You want your kid to be learning, whether through reading, drawing, puzzles, cool science projects, games, etcetera, for those three months.”

Summer drop-off – also known as summer learning loss or summer slide – is the widespread phenomenon of children starting the academic year with achievement levels lower than where they were at the beginning of summer break.

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Of course, a good, well-rounded program exercises not just their minds, but their bodies as well, she said. At St. Ann Center, that would include organized team sports like volleyball, the classic summer childhood activity of running through the sprinkler on a hot day, or time in the center’s warm-water, indoor pool.

Parents should ask what a typical day or week at the camp would involve, she advised, and ensure that staff have experience not just working with children, but in knowing the specific needs of children at different ages, and how that plays into the shaping of the day.

“The younger ones really need the structure,” she said, while “the older ones can get bored easily – they’d like to play video games all day.”

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Sometimes, she says, the St. Ann Center camp brings the older and younger together, for instance, having an older child read a story to the younger ones. Or there might be a Movie Day, with popcorn all around, offering some quiet time, or a cooking project, another fun learning opportunity.

Because the center also provides daytime care for frail elders and adults with disabilities, it also offers a unique opportunity for supervised intergenerational activities and friendships. Campers may work side-by-side with the adult clients on art projects or play board games.

Adventures and friendships

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Children thrive on adventures, like field trips – and Milwaukee offers plenty of opportunities, like Discovery World, the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, the zoo, Bounce America, a baseball game or maybe mini-golf. A general-interest program may be better able to incorporate those opportunities.

Because children are still learning about interpersonal relationships, it’s worth asking how a camp handles the disputes that inevitably arise when groups of children are together.

“We talk it out, and maybe give each child a breather by separating them for a bit if we need to,” Carcanague says, explaining, “it’s not a time-out – it’s not punishment. It’s redirecting. They will just be in different areas, getting absorbed in working different puzzles to allow them to cool off.”

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If that doesn’t solve the problem, they go over the class rules together and discuss “why we have rules and how it would feel if we didn’t have those rules.” The children, she noted, helped craft the rules at the onset, giving them more ownership in them and making them more likely to abide by them.

The Nitty Gritty

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While the purpose of camp is not strictly care, parents also need to consider whether the camp’s schedule fits with their own. Some families need a camp program that can work with their child’s morning summer school program, or need days off to accommodate family time.

Also check to see whether the staff prioritizes parent communication, and whether by phone, email or app. “The kids are my priority, but parents can always ask me questions,” Carcanague said. “I check regularly for messages during the day, and I also update parents daily through our Procare app, taking pictures and letting parents know when children are doing kindnesses for others.”

You’ll also want to ask about cost, any discounts available and perhaps whether the program participates in Wisconsin Shares.

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Take a few moments to investigate your summer camp options, and you’ll feel confident in your choice, knowing this will be a summer your child will remember, for all the right reasons.

St. Ann Center’s summer camp program is now accepting enrollment at both campuses for children aged 5-13, for weeklong sessions beginning June 19 and running through September 1.

Activities may vary by location. For more information, a tour or an enrollment packet, please call:

Stein Campus, 2801 E. Morgan Ave., Milwaukee: (414) 977-5000

Bucyrus Campus, 2450 W. North Ave., Milwaukee: (414) 210-2450

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