The past two summers have been challenging for parents as the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancelation or modification of many local summer camps. However, this summer is shaping up to be optimistic, with many familiar favorites back on the summer camp schedule. Some local businesses and organizations are even posting camp dates and opening registration earlier than ever due to demand and robust interest.
“Honestly, it feels a little bit crazy,” said Jennifer Gee, founder of Island Art Spot in Middletown. “I am heading into my fifth year of summer camp and I have never seen so much interest to register quite so early.”
Earlier this week, Gee posted Island Art Spot’s summer camp schedule and registration online for 10 camps, and some have already sold out. But parents should not give up if they see a local camp has reached capacity.
“It is absolutely worth it to add your name to a waitlist if there is one available,” said Gee. “As a parent myself, I try to be as flexible as I can with families. Sometimes, that means moving a camper to another week at the last minute, and having that waitlist means I get to make two families happy and not lose out on business.”
Libby Stackhouse, director of Newport Academy of Ballet, said waitlists are also a way that organizations can track interest and potentially add another session. She said inquiries about NAB summer camps began the first week of February and typically, if they run out of space in a program, they add an additional course.
“There is room for all,” she said. “Spots have been filling up and we have been noticing a nice return of our youngest students.”
Registration for Sail Newport’s wildly popular Youth Summer Recreational programs opened in January, and many local families mark their calendars annually as a reminder to submit applications early. Although demand exceeds capacity, program director Kim Hapgood encourages anyone interested to send in an application.
“We’re still accepting applications and placing kids in classes,” she said. “Stuff happens and spots open up periodically…We’ll still be placing here and there throughout the season.”
Sail Newport’s summer programs welcome children with little to no sailing experience to advanced sailors up to age 17, and financial aid is available. “We have a robust financial program and we would never want to see someone not participate for financial reasons,” she said.
Summer Bike Camp, hosted by Bike Newport, focuses on helping young people incorporate fun and safe bicycling into their daily lives.
“Campers ride trails, practice bike mechanics, and learn the rules of the road, applying it all to fun group outings every day,” said Bike Newport’s director of education, Clare Woodhead.
Attendees need to know how to ride a bike, but Bike Newport provides the bikes and helmets. The organization runs a variety of camps, including a two-week session in collaboration with FABNewport, a LGBTQ+/Trans/Non-Binary Camp for youth ages 11-18, and a camp exclusively for girls/female-identifying youth.
Unlike most local camps, Summer Bike Camp is free for youth in Newport with a focus on children from families with financial challenges. “We welcome all participants to contribute what they can,” Woodhead said. “All donations help offset the costs of camp and our other programs.”
Norman Bird Sanctuary hosts summer camp the entire season, welcoming children as young as three and a half years. The organization’s half-day Fledglings program is an ideal introduction to camp for younger learners. Each of the eight weeks of the season has a different theme, so families can pick and choose based on interests.
On the other end of the spectrum is NBS’s Summer Challenge Camp for students entering grades five through eight. Children experience two nights of overnight camping, plus hikes and outdoor adventures. They also cook their food.
There are many camps locally, serving a variety of interests, so where to start? Gee said to look for an environment where you feel your child is going to be most comfortable.
“I get lots of kids who might have been put off by camps in the past that were too large or had too much or too little structure,” she said. “Look for programs where you feel confident that the staff is going to do everything possible to make camp a positive, fun and nurturing experience.”
Added Stackhouse, “Parents looking at camps should note the length of day it covers, if food is provided, and research a camp that best suits their needs. Our camps offer children a dance education, exercise, (a chance to) develop creativity and musicality, and they provide socialization. Some camps have more time for children to relax, play, [and] learn a skill. Find one that matches your child’s interest, energy level, and size for the best summer.
— Andrea McHugh