Happy campers

Erinn Hutkin

As a mom of two in New York City, Lyss Stern knows many parents who visit summer camps a year in advance to make sure their kid is getting the right fit.

Although there are still a few months left in the school year, Stern, founder of the luxury lifestyle company Divalysscious Moms and author of the book “If You Give A Mom A Martini,” said now is the time to start thinking about camps and activities that will fill the little ones’ summer schedules.

In fact, she said March is “the height of when parents start to get frantic.”

‘Word of mom’

Stern said the best way to start searching for a camp is by asking other parents and friends who have older children. She said parents should talk to moms and dads at their child’s school, day care, building or neighborhood about summer camps that worked for them. “‘Word of mom’ really works the best,” Stern said. After getting recommendations, Stern said, parents should go online to learn more, make a phone call to get information or visit the camp. She said many camps even host parties or weekend events throughout the year so families can get a taste of what the facility offers.

Involve the kids

Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a Pittsburgh-based family practitioner, mom of four and founder of, said parents should remember they need buy-in from their child when they’re making camp plans. During the planning phase, she suggests asking younger kids what they want to do with their summer, then presenting them with a few camp options. She said preteens should be encouraged to recruit friends to go to camp with them, which is more likely to get them excited. For high schoolers, Gilboa said parents should give guidelines -- such as the number of days and hours per week they are expected to be in camp, as well as a budget -- and ask their kids to find a few possibilities.

Focus on development

Because the school year is so busy, Gilboa said, summer is an ideal time for parents to find camps that will help kids focus on personal development. Maybe your child is too bossy or too meek around friends, or needs to be better at working as part of a group. Maybe you feel he needs to learn more about spirituality, or spend more time outside in nature. Gilboa advises parents to use summer camp as a way to help kids learn characteristics that will help their personal development. “This does not have to be anything negative. It can be awesome,” she said. “It’s an amazing opportunity ... to encourage them to be the people we hope they’ll be.”

Respect temperament

Richard Horowitz, a Florida parent and family coach who started the company Growing Great Relationships, said while kids sometimes need a nudge to try something new, parents should be cautious about imposing their own needs on their children at camp. “You have to know and listen to your kids and know what their strengths are,” he said. “It’s in the best interest of their kids to respect their temperament.”

As a father, Horowitz knows the temptation to project your own interests on your kids. For instance, as a football lover, Horowitz pushed one of his sons into summer football camp before high school. At the end, he was crushed when his son told him he didn’t want to continue football, but his son loved music. Today, his son, Benny Horowitz, is touring the country as drummer for the punk band The Gaslight Anthem.

Honor commitment

Even if your child doesn’t end up falling in love with the camp that gets picked, Horowitz feels it’s important to for kids to honor their commitment and not be allowed to quit -- unless there are extreme circumstances. He said parents should remind kids that they made a commitment and focus on the positive -- maybe their child made a new friend at camp or learned a new skill.