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Ask a Camp Director: Is it too late to get my child into sleepaway camp?

Throughout the year I field many questions from parents about our policies and practices at Camp Walt Whitman. Since so many of my answers could easily apply to other camps, I’ve created this forum to answer the most common questions parents ask about sleepaway camp. Feel free to submit yours here for a future column.

Every fall, we get panicked phone calls from parents who wonder whether we still have room for a new child at camp. The concern comes from a variety of reasons. Maybe they toured camps but didn’t find one they loved. Or they wanted to come to camp, but summer plans got in the way. Others have either recently started their camp search or just heard about our camp.

Now that we’re well past the point when a tour is possible, the next question parents invariably ask is: Is it OK to choose a camp without ever having seen it in person?

Some friends will tell you they couldn’t possibly choose a camp without having seen it first. And there are, admittedly, some benefits to camp tours: You get to see the facility, you get a sense of the types of children who attend, you get a sense for the camp philosophy, and usually you get to meet the camp director. There’s comfort for parents and campers alike in knowing the lay of the land and what the inside of a cabin may look like. However, whenever I am asked whether a tour of camp is necessary, the answer is an unequivocal NO. 

Kids Playing Soccer at Camp

Finding the right camp is all about finding the right fit for your child. While seeing the facilities may help you visualize where your camper will spend his or her summer, camp isn’t about the cabins, the fields, or the cafeteria. Camp is about the people and the culture and both of these attributes start at the top with the camp directors. 

Meeting the camp directors and having an opportunity to learn all about camp in the comfort of your home is often a less stressful way to get a great sense of the camp. In fact, at Camp Walt Whitman, over 70% of our new campers have never toured camp. We are always happy to come to your home and share all that makes our camp so special and unique. And the good news is that most camp directors are happy to make a home visit. There, a director will often show photos or a slideshow of the camp, explain what a typical day looks like, discuss the camp’s philosophy and answer all of your questions. As a camp director, I can attest that while I love showing off Camp Walt Whitman on tours, when I spend time with a family in their home, they are getting my undivided attention in a way that can never occur while camp is in session. 

As a parent, you will have the opportunity to see how the camp director interacts with you and your child in a familiar setting, so that you can really assess if the director is someone you can trust to take care of your child. A home visit is a great way to meet with 2 or 3 camp directors to find the one that is best for your family.

A handful of camps truly do fill up by the end of the summer, and if you haven’t signed up by now, you are not going to be able to enroll. However, the truth is that the majority of sleepaway camps, including the very best ones, still have available places and will likely have them in some age groups through the holiday season. So the good news is that you are definitely not too late to find a great camp that is a perfect fit for your family. Having a camp director visit you in your home is just as, if not more effective as a tour in helping you decide the right camp. Just don’t wait too long to invite them over!