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Choosing a sleepaway camp

It's not easy to be away from home, but there are ways to make it easier.

Selecting a summer camp can be almost as challenging as choosing a college: Does distance matter? What are the camp’s philosophies? Does it offer activities my kid will enjoy? How idyllic is the setting?

It can be even more daunting when it’s a child’s first time. Luckily, there are professionals to help you pick the perfect summer camp. At free camp advisory programs such as Camp Experts (campexperts.com), consultants like Renee Morris narrow down your search for the ideal camp by taking into consideration all of your child’s interests.

“I try to get kids away from things they can do all year long,” Morris says. “Parents are now focusing more on traditional camps instead of specialty camps.” Morris recognizes the importance of having children experience overnight camps. “First-time campers develop independence. They learn how to live with others. It gives them amazing opportunities.” The experts offer up these Midwestern getaways for rookie campers.

If you’re worried about your roommate…

Camp Tuckabatchee (815-433-2984, camptuckabatchee.org) is a short 90-mile drive from Chicago. Camp director Kelly Bunnell offers tours and open houses for families with first-time campers. Also, kids attending with their BFF can request to live in the same cabin. About 50 percent of Camp Tuck’s campers are first timers, so there will be plenty of kids wanting to make new friends.

If you want a gorgeous campus…

On 200 wooded acres of trails and pastures in Oregon (the small town on the Rock River west of Chicago, not the state), Camp White Pines Dude Ranch (815-732-7923, whitepinesranch.com) offers week- or month-long sessions. Homesick kids who stay longer than one week are allowed family visits on the weekends, too.

If you’re undecided on your major…

Just east of Benton Harbor in Michigan, Lake of the Woods and Greenwoods Camps (847-242-0009, lwcgwc.com) offer separate boys’ and girls’ camps where campers can individualize their day with more than 40 (!) electives on land and water—from computers and rocketry to knee-boarding and canoeing. Its camper-to-counselor ratio of 3:1 ensures kids won’t be unsupervised.

If you want a cool mascot…

At Cub Creek Camp in Rolla, Missouri (573-458-2125, bearriverranch.com), six hours from Chicago, kids can do traditional camp activities while also taking care of zoo animals. Where else can a kid make s’mores, go swimming and pet a kangaroo all in the same day?

RECOMMENDED: Chicago summer camp guide

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