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5 things to know if you’re sending your kids to camp for the first time

Girl Scout campersat Camp Edey in Bayport, Aug.

Girl Scout campersat Camp Edey in Bayport, Aug. 23, 2017. Photo Credit: David L. Pokress

Summer may seem like a long way off, but Long Island’s camps have already begun preparing for the upcoming season. Parents can, too, by researching programs that are a good fit for their kids.

We spoke to local camp directors and experts to find out the five things to know about the Long Island camp scene, which is a mix of traditional day camps and camps that specialize in STEM, sports or the performing arts, as well as sleepaway camps. (Parents can search for programs at newsday.com/campfinder.)

1. Open houses

Many camps start holding open houses now and continue in spring, allowing parents and kids to tour the space and perhaps even participate in common camp activities.

Shibley Day Camp in Roslyn Heights has already begun holding weekend fun days with organized activities, including relay races, an arts and craft project and free play in the camp’s indoor playroom on weekends, and in April the camp will hold them on weekdays during the school break. Families can also make appointments to tour the camp privately.

“Once it starts to get nice outside, that’s when people love to see camp,” says Rachel Lewis, the director of Shibley Day Camp.

During a camp visit, make sure to meet the directors and find out what their philosophy is. It is also recommended to meet the year-round staff.

It is important to check out the facilities, ask about where campers go when it rains and whether those facilities have bathrooms attached, says Mark Transport, the owner and director of Crestwood Country Day Camp in Melville. Parents should also ask about the makeup of the staff, and whether the majority is made up of high school or college students or older adults.

2. Narrow it down

While most day camps on Long Island offer a variety of activities, quite a few offer specialized programs. The Madison Theatre at Molloy College, for example, has a Broadway Boot Camp for budding actors and actresses, while I.FLY Trapeze has a summer program at Eisenhower Park. Future Stars Summer Camps in Farmingdale, Old Westbury and Patchogue have programs in 3-D printing, robotics and the video game Minecraft.

Swimming programs vary among camps. Some camps will teach swimming based on ability, while others may have more generalized sessions, Transport says.

If you want your child to learn how to swim, “look for a program that individualizes the lessons,” Transport says.

3. Scheduling

All camps handle things like scheduling and transportation differently.

Parents who are looking for flexibility in scheduling due to work or family vacations can inquire about how camps handle this.

“We are very flexible in our programming,” says Carin Stone, the assistant camp director at Twin Oaks Day Camp in Freeport. “We’ll work with you. If someone wants to come four days a week, we can do that. We like to see a group of weeks together, but if they’re planning a vacation and want their child to come for five weeks and the vacation comes in the middle of that, that’s OK.”

Many camps offer door-to-door bus service. Ask the camp if they are flexible about transportation to lower costs. “If you’re willing to drive your child, most will reduce the price,” says Renee Flax, a camper placement specialist with the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey, a Manhattan-based industry organization that accredits camps.

4. Food allergies

All ACA-accredited camps are well-equipped to deal with food allergies, Flax says.

“The idea of having a child with severe food allergies is a relatively common issue,” Flax says. “Almost all camps are nut-free and have a doctor or nurse on staff in the infirmary and people trained to use EpiPens.”

At the Quinipet Camp & Retreat Center in Shelter Island, which has overnight and day programs, the head food manager and kitchen staff are made aware of any food allergies and make purchases based on them and are aware of cross-contamination issues, says Megan Schmidt, development manager and camp registrar. A full-time nurse lives at the camp. Parents check in EpiPens with the nurse and counselors keep them in their backpacks.

It is still important, however, for parents to communicate with the camp director and staff about their child’s needs and ask questions, Flax says.

5. Deposits and deadlines

Camps have different deposit schedules and deadlines, though many don’t necessarily have a cutoff. Shibley Day Camp, for example, asks for a deposit upon enrollment and a final payment on April 1 or before camp starts. At Twin Oaks, children can enroll until the first day of camp.

Prices for camps vary widely, with nonprofit and for-profit day camps that range from $500 to $1,000 and up per one-week session, according to the American Camp Association.

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