The Washington Post

CampEasy’s Brooke Salkoff on finding the perfect camp for your kid

Brooke Salkoff Brooke Salkoff

Summer camp, that American tradition, is changing. Gone are the days of sending kids to the woods for six weeks of macrame, cookouts and social awkwardness. Now, there are camps of all kinds to fit any kid’s tastes. Solving the puzzle of keeping your kids occupied over the summer has become more complex than ever.

Enter Founded by former television journalist Brooke Salkoff, a mom of two from McLean, Va., who was frustrated by the camp planning process, CampEasy is a search engine that helps parents and kids find summer fun.

After two years of running CampEasy and years of sending her children to camp, Salkoff has become a bit of an expert on all things camp. So Express sat down with her for an interview.

So, what’s camp like these days?
Camp has changed dramatically. We used to think of camp as this rustic — getting out in the wilderness and spending nights in a cabin. Now, there’s a camp where all you do is travel up and down the East Coast and go on roller coasters. There are trapeze camps, community service camps, camps for little kids. There are camps where you go off and learn how to sail — these kids are going on vacations that are more expensive than what the parents are doing.

Why so many?
Camps are becoming more specialized as a way of differentiating themselves. Instead of baseball camp, there’s third baseman’s camp.

How do I know if my child is ready for camp?
I think the parent is going to know. If the child has expressed interest in a specific activity and would want to be engaged in that for an extended period of time, and can handle being away from the parent for an extended period of time.

What questions should parents think about before beginning the camp search?
Do you want a day camp or a sleepaway camp? How long do you want your kid to be away for? Do you want a general-interest camp, or do you want a camp that is only, like, Web programming and digital arts for the day. Then there are cost considerations. The point of CampEasy was to put all these considerations into one search engine. Because ­— truthfully ­— it makes your head explode to try to juggle all these considerations in your head.

Should the camp be accredited by the American Camp Association?
ACA accreditation, when you’re talking about sleepaway camp, does make a difference. It changes how the counselors are trained. It’s less of a concern when you’re shopping for a day camp.

How much input should kids have in making summer plans?
A lot of parents think they’re the only ones who can make the decision, but we tried to make a site that even kids can use. If they were to land on something they were really excited about that works for the parents, then you have a kid excited to go to camp.

What traps do parents fall into when choosing for their child?
Sometimes, I think parents have strong feelings and memories about their own camp experiences. They want to push that hard-core, sleepaway experience on their kids. But the same experience might not be right for your own child.

You say camp is potentially life-changing. Why is that?
We encounter this over and over again: Richard Engel, who is the foreign correspondent for NBC News, credits sleepaway camp as the thing that changed his life. My husband — he’s not famous — still keeps in touch with the family that runs the sleepaway camp he went to.
Day camps also serve a useful purpose for kids and parents. It’s an opportunity, for a limited period of time, to try a new activity that you could decide you love.

What can I do to get my child ready for camp?
If the kid is going to go away to sleepaway camp, the worst thing you can do as a parent is talk about how much you’re going to miss your child and how hard it’s going to be on you. If you talk about it enthusiastically about what a great time your child is going to have, then the kid is going to feel more excited about going off on his or her own.

Beyond what camps provide on their packing checklist, what are some must-haves to pack?
Pack up your letter-writing stuff. Prestamped, preaddressed envelopes. Some little printed pictures of your family, so they feel like the family is right there and can get that little bit of comfort. And those new misting fans are pretty awesome.



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