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Summer camps for kids: Your questions answered by experts

Navigating the land of summer camps for kids isn’t easy, so we asked the experts for some help with frequently asked questions.

Illustration: Nicole Kenney

Q What happens if my kid sends me a letter from sleepaway camp saying that he’s miserable and wants me to come pick him up?
There’s a reason most camps limit communication to snail mail rather than phone or e-mail for the first week, or even all summer, says Laurel Barrie, founder of the Camp Connection, a free referral service: “The U.S. Postal Service takes two or three days to get to you, and by then whatever the kid is upset about has probably been resolved!” It always takes a few days to get used to strange new things, like sharing a bunk with kids who won’t stop talking about the Red Sox, or being expected to jump in a cold lake first thing in the morning. As for missing Mom, Dad and the dog, Michael Thompson,  Ph.D., author of Homesick and Happy: How Time Away From Parents Can Help a Child Grow, points out that 97 percent of campers experience some homesickness, though it almost always works itself out in a couple of days. “It just means they have a home worth missing and people they love—all good things!” he says. If you do get one of those letters, the best thing to do is to write back and say, “We know it’s tough, but we’re so proud of you for sticking it out,” says Thompson. Besides, if the situation gets so dire that your kid really needs to be rescued, the camp director will let you know. No one wants a sobbing kid to impinge on everyone else’s fun.

Q Yikes—I see that a full summer of camp can cost $10,000 or more! Are there any less expensive options?
Sticker stock is hardly unusual the first time a parent is shopping for summer camp (“What?? I paid less than that for my last year of college!”). It’s certainly possible to drop ten grand or more, yet there are plenty of camps, both day and sleepaway, that give you a lot of bang for a much smaller buck. In the city, the nonprofits Oasis and Children’s Aid Society run relatively affordable camps—and offer need-based scholarships. And if you jump online as soon as registration opens (hint: This year it’s March 7 at 9am), you might snag a spot in the NYC Parks Experience Summer Day Camp, which offers kids ages 6 to 13 seven weeks of swimming and frolicking in city parks for about $500. If you’re coming up short, though, here’s a suggestion from Susie Lupert: “Some families ask relatives to put money in a camp fund instead of buying birthday and holiday presents. It can definitely add up.”

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