It’s that magical time of year when parents start getting inundated with emails and literature about camp; it’s February. There are camp fairs being held and open houses. I, as a parent of a will-be-5-year-old-by-the-summer and a 7 year old, have to, once again, figure out what the secret formula is to keeping my kids engaged, social, active, learning new skills, having fun, while still managing to make the cost, commute and timing not too crazy for us for up to ten weeks.

In the past, we’ve had it a little easier; the pre-school that the kids went to had camp for up to six weeks which we did and then only had to figure out August. But, this year, my son will be entering third grade and my daughter will be entering kindergarten.

One of the things that interested us most about the camp that we sent our son to last year was that it had instructional swim, something that seems remarkably lacking in the New York City day camps. It was also outdoors all the time, the way God intended summer camp to be. Or the way someone intended summer camp to be. This, unfortunately, backfired. We had a roasting hot summer, our son always chose sports and didn’t explore units that might have been in more shade, he didn’t like the style of instructional swim they had (they swam twice a day in some big pools on their campgrounds in Staten Island) and he has declared that he doesn’t want to go back. Still determined for him to learn to swim, we enrolled him in a swim class for the winter time while we figure out the summer.

We had two other failed camps: one that they went to together two years ago and one that my daughter went to last year. We initially liked the first camp because they would be going together (single drop-off, single pick-up! What a dream!), they were sensitive to our son’s food allergies, provided meals and snacks, if we wanted, and had good hours which allowed us to save money on childcare. My son got to go on trips around the city every day. My daughter, being younger was more site-bound, though she got to play in the sprinklers a lot. However, due to a staffing issue during her session, she only went on one trip out. Ultimately, we found them to be chaotic and disorganized.

My daughter’s camp last year was similarly intended for trips out. We weren’t sure how she’d do with this since she gets carsick sometimes. She seemed all right and made a couple friends but, ultimately, she decided she didn’t like it and we decided it was a little too chaotic also.

My son’s second camp last summer was a game camp. He did one week at the beginning of the summer and one week at the end of the summer. He learned strategy games all day and had one hour of outdoor activity. He loved it and has requested to go back. This one, of course, is in an incredibly inconvenient location for commuting.

So we are, startlingly, almost back to square 1. Our spreadsheets from the past two years (yes, we are Type A and keep things in spreadsheets) and our folders of brochures will be updated. We know that coordinating with other parents is an ingredient to a successful camp experience so that the kids can be with their friends. But we also know that we have to continue playing to their interests, to our wallets, and to our schedules. There are so many choices out there that it’s entirely daunting. But, come on, circus camp sounds so cool, doesn’t it?

Elana Gartner

Elana Gartner is a freelance writer and an award-winning playwright. Other articles of hers can be found at, A Child Grows in Brooklyn,, Park Slope Stoop and other publications. She founded the EMG Playwriting Workshop which fosters a supportive community for NYC playwrights. More about her playwriting is available at: Elana lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, son and daughter.