If you work with children and families in Jewish settings – whether a synagogue, a Hebrew school or a youth group – you know that families depend on you for expertise. At this time of year, family talk turns to summer camps: Where should we go? Why should we consider a Jewish camp? How should we choose? Here at the Cohen Camps, we have encountered just about every question imaginable, so please allow us to share some of that experience.
As you may be aware, research done by Brandeis University (recently revisited too) has measured the positive impact of Jewish camps on the children who attended camp (something many of us knew intuitively from our own experiences). Bottom line: Jewish camp strengthens children’s lifelong connection to Judaism and Jewish institutions, which strengthens the community as a whole.
Knowing this, your institution may already invest in the resources, with staff or volunteers, to help direct families to Jewish overnight camps. Some synagogue youth programs staff even make it a priority to visit camps and blog about their visits to educate their families. Try it, if you can: it’s like going back to your own camp memories – or creating some!
Even without onsite visits, you can help families think through this decision, find the right fit, and give each child great, fun summers with lasting Jewish impact. Here are six EASY tools you can use right now to support your families – and strengthen your own work.
Keep a running list
Keep a running list of where each of your young people attends camp, and ask the kids for their points of view on what makes their camp great. Refer to this list to help families learn from each other.
It is never too early to think about camp – or too late
Tell/remind your students’ parents that it is never too early to think about camp – or too late. Enrollment typically starts in the fall, but many camps still have some spaces into the spring and early summer, especially for second session. Many, like the Cohen Camps, offer tours and information sessions all year, so families can jump into the process at any time.
Encourage parents of young children to think about summer camp
Invite camps to visit YOU
Each camp is special, and no camp is one-size-fits-all
When talking about specific camp choices, it may be helpful to suggest that parents begin their search by thinking through some of the larger camp decisions, and then narrow it down from there. The common big decisions that parents face:
Co-ed or single-sex?
Co-ed camps offer wonderful communities; single-sex camps give children the freedom to be and express themselves in dedicated environments. Camp Pembroke is the only all-girls trans-denominational Jewish camp in the Northeastern US. Boys-only camps exist, too.
Affiliated or trans-denominational?
Sporty or arty?
Camp provides a “reset” button for many children, an opportunity to try their favorite activities and also discover new ones. Consider the mix of activities available and the amount of choice a child will have. Do you want to specialize or offer lots of options?
Small or big?
Please share these strategies with your colleagues – and let me know if you would like further ideas. By collaborating we can engage your young people in their Judaism year-round – and life-long!