Preparation, attitude make summer camp more fun

Featured in OCRegister, Miami Herald, Rocky Mountain News, sacbee.com, and Press of Atlantic City

Sending kids off to camp is as sure a sign of summer as flip-flops, frying temperatures and frozen desserts that melt faster than you can eat 'em.

This summer, an estimated 10 million American kids will go to camp, according to the American Camp Association, a nonprofit group.

About 12,000 camps in the United States are getting ready for all those campers, according to the ACA, which has accredited about one-quarter of them.

A little preparation -- from picking the right camp to packing -- can help kids come home from camp with happy memories, along with really, really dirty clothes.

When it comes to selecting a camp, it's important that kids participate because there are so many choices, advises Nancy LaPook Diamond, who in 1995 started www.kidscamps.com, an online listing of about 20,000 camps worldwide.

"There's a camp for every child," Diamond says, speaking by phone from Boca Raton, Fla.

Once upon a time, summer camp was all about a fairly narrow range of outdoorsy activities. Now there are camps for every interest and theme, from archaeology to robotics.

Once you've settled on a camp, kids need parents to set the tone with positive expectations.

"Watch out for the 'I'm going to miss you so much,' " Diamond says. "Kids are sponges, and they'll sop up the energy and enthusiasm if you're excited about it. If you're ironing on the name-tape labels and you're crying ..."

Besides autographs and other souvenirs, summer camp is about learning, too. Knot-tying and archery are fine, but the most valuable skills kids acquire at camp are social, according to Andrew Townsend, president of the Northern California section of the American Camp Association.

"We don't have as much chance to connect as community as we used to," he says. "Camp is a chance to live together and figure out, 'What do I need to do to be friends with someone?' " Townsend says.

For more information:

- The Web site for the American Camp Association (www.acacamps.org), a nonprofit organization that accredits camps. Many camps are listed and there are lots of useful tips for families.

- KidsCamps.com (www.kidscamps.com) lists about 20,000 camps worldwide for children.

- GrownUpCamps.com (www.grownupcamps.com) lists about 7,000 camps for adults.