Right Kid, Right Camp

Advice for finding the best summer camp for your child

click to enlarge Heritage Village
Heritage Village


hat memories do you have from summer camp — maybe swimming in the lake, hiking in the woods or paddling a canoe? Think again. How about memories of playing chess, redecorating rooms, honing skills in sports, music or art or even swinging from a trapeze? Today’s summer camps are as diverse as the children themselves, specializing in almost every possible interest. Organizers offer both day and residential camps with a variety of locations and prices. With literally hundreds of camps to choose from, how do parents decide which camp is right for their kid?

As part of the more traditional camp experience, YMCA Camp Ernst (www.ymcacampernst.org) offers a six-night residential camp serving up all the traditional camp fare along with other engaging activities including a zip line, a banana boat, 100-foot water slide and horseback riding, according to Executive Director Elizabeth “Eli” Cochran. Each year, the camp plays host to more than 3,000 kids from ages 6 to 15. Cochran says that when choosing a camp, parents should always look for accreditation by the American Camp Association (ACA), a standard in the camping industry for safety and health practices. To help both parents and children feel comfortable about the camp, she also recommends the family visit the camp before making a commitment.

“A lot of camps have open houses where you can see the property and try out some of the activities or meet the people,” she says. “I think that helps a child be more successful when they go away to camp if they kind of have a picture of what exactly is it going to look like.”

For kids who might be going away for the first time, she recommends parents practice positive reinforcement by telling them it’s going to be fun and exciting. She says parents often set children up for failure when they set a “pickup deal” that allows kids to bail before the week’s end. She says being away at camp helps kids with their independence as well as team building with other kids.

“If you feel your kid is tied to a screen too much during the day — send them to camp for a week where they discover the beauty of the outdoors and get to have some natural fun,” she says.

For parents on the fence about sending their kid away for a week, try a sample version, advises Camp Kern (campkern.org) Executive Director Jeff Merhige. He says the camp offers the Taste of Kern for ages 7-9 and First Camp for ages 5-7, where kids spend just two nights away from home. Both programs begin with day camp then introduce campers to spending the last two nights away. Merhige says it’s often more a case of parents experiencing separation anxiety than their kids actually feeling it. He compares the programs to a child easing into a pool instead of just jumping into the deep end. 

“You get to know the counselors, the other kids, and then it’s a lot easier to say, ‘OK, the rest of the week I’m going to spend the days and the nights here,’ ” he says. “For parents, it’s a lot easier than sending a kid off to camp for one or two weeks with no experience other than day camp. So a parent can get through their first two nights without having their kid around — which is actually kind of hard.”

To keep kids active and outdoors during the summer, Hamilton County Park District Communications Specialist Kimberly Whitton advises parents to peruse the district’s list of summer day camps at www.greatparks.org or call 513-521-7275, ext. 240. Camps range from ages 3 to 17, teaching children everything from learning about park animals and nature to survival skills in the wilderness. Besides being great fun, the camps generally have an educational spin as well, she says. For instance, during the extremely popular equestrian camps, children not only ride, but they learn about the anatomy of the horse, care, grooming, different breeds and safety. Whitton says all camps fill up quickly, so parents interested in sending their children should register as soon as possible. 

“Summer’s great because kids love being off school, but they do get bored and camps are a really great way to keep them active and keep them energized,” she says. “It keeps them from sitting inside and playing video games all day.”

So your kid’s just not that into the great outdoors? Not a problem. Choose from a litany of other special interest camps that may peak your child’s interest, such as Circus Camp at Newport on the Levee, (www.cincinnaticircus.com). The Cincinnati Circus Company offers the week-long day camp that introduces kids to circus skills including juggling, aerial skills, tight rope walking, unicycle riding, balloon making, performing and a trapeze lesson, according to Lindsey Spendlove, aerial fitness instructor and coordinator. She says kids don’t need any special skill, as all kids end up finding some circus skill in which they excel. And specialty camps are a great change from the traditional camps because they introduce kids to new experiences. Spendlove says she garnered her love of performing from visiting circus camp as a child in Louisville.

“This is why I love circus camp, because I went and I did not think I’d like it,” she says. “My parents sent me because they wanted me to make friends. I didn’t want to go — then I started and I just fell in love with it.”

When sending kids to a specialty camp, Regina Siegrist, education director at Behringer-Crawford Museum, advises parents to make sure the camp is the proper fit. The museum offers several day camps including Grand Discovery Camp for grandparents and other adults to bond with their kids, Camp Claymation where kids create their own claymation film and Archaeology Camp at which kids go out and experience an actual dig at Big Bone Lick State Park. Siegrist says because specialty camps like Archaeology and Claymation require focus, a child must really enjoy that specific activity. She says in previous years at Archaeology Camp they’ve unearthed mastodon bones as well as Native American Indian artifacts, but there’s no guarantee.

“Kids have to be patient and have an interest because you don’t always find everything,” she explains. “We go out and we survey and we hope to choose a good spot, but that doesn’t mean we’re actually going to find anything because it’s not seeded. It’s an actual dig. But if your kid’s interested in that area, it’s just such a great experience.” 



Ballet Theatre Midwest 

This local ballet school offers Children’s Dance Workshops that involve children ages 4-8 crafting costumes and sets, learning about rhythm and music and developing a performance. There are three classes in June: Disney Friends, Peter Pan and Stars on Broadway. $200. 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. 3833 Eastern Ave., East End, 513-520-2334, ballettheatremidwest.com.

Coney Island

Camp Coney offers a series of day camps for children ages 4 and older. The single-day experiences focuses on fishing, lifeguarding, science and more. $38. Coney also has a variety of multi-day camps. $80-$140. Camps run in June and July. Coney Island, East End, 513-232-8230 or coneyislandpark.com/camp_coney.php.

Cincinnati Ballet’s Kids’ Dance Camp

Ballet camp for children ages 4-8. Themes include Alice in Wonderland, Aladdin, Princess and the Pea and Beatrix Potter. $175-$520. One-week classes start June 11 and 18; July 23 and 30. Locations Downtown and in Blue Ash. 513-562-1111, cballet.org/academy/summer/kdc.

Cincinnati Gymnastics

Mini Camps for children ages 3 and up. Mini Camps introduce kids to gymnastics through games, crafts and educational activities. $60 per week. Many sessions are available throughout the summer 12:30-3:30 p.m. weekdays. 3635 Woodridge Blvd., Fairfield, 513-860-3082, cincinnatigymnastics.com

Gallop Again

Children ages 4-12 learn equestrian basics and crafts. $35 for the single day class or $225 for the weeklong camp. Single day camp is May 6; Summer camps offered June 18-22, July 23-27 and August 6-10. 513-312-5419 or gallopagain.com.

Gorman Heritage Farm

Farm camps for children ages 4-18. Kids get involved in hiking, caring for farm animals, crafts, games and more. $85-$220. Discounts for members. Weeklong day camps run 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and are available in many sessions June-August. 10052 Reading Road, Evendale, 513-563-6663, gormanfarm.org/camp.shtml.

Heritage Village Museum 

History camps for kids 6-12 years of age focus on pioneer life and doll making. $150 per week for Heritage Village members or $175 for everyone else. Camps last all day. Pioneer Camp runs June 18-22 and July 23-27; Doll camp is July 9-13. All activities take place at the Heritage Village at Sharon Woods, Sharonville, 513-563-9484 or heritagevillagecincinnati.org. 

YMCA of Greater Cincinnati

The Y offers day camps for kids of all ages with a variety of themes including athletic and artistic. Check it out online at myy.org/programs/camps.


YMCA Camp Campbell Gard

Traditional camp activities including canoeing, archery, hikes, creek exploration and sports are available for kids of various ages. A day camp for children ages 5-7 is offered for $250 per week. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (8 a.m-6 p.m. is an option and includes lunch and dinner.) Two overnights are optional and included in the price. There are also residential camps for children ages 7-15. For $475, kids stay from Sunday through Friday and get to use ziplines, ride horses, hike, boat and more. 4803 Augspurger Road, Hamilton, 513-867-0600, ccgymca.org.

YMCA Camp Ernst of Cincinnati

Children ages 6 to 15 try their hands at the zipline, horseback riding, water slides, hiking and more. All sessions are weeklong residential camps and are $585 per week. One-week sessions are available June-August. 7615 Camp Ernst Road, Burlington, 859-586-6181, myycamp.org.

Camp Kern

Camp Kern offers a wide variety of camp experiences including traditional camp and camps that are set up for Star Wars and Harry Potter fans. A day camp for children ages 5-7 with two optional overnights is available and weeklong residential camps are open for older kids. See www.campkern.org/summer-camp/main-camp/ for more details. $265-570. Sessions available June-August. 5291 State Route 350, Oregonia, 513-932-3756 or campkern.org.

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