courtesy: Seeds of Peace camp

By Lena Inglis

Choosing the right summer camp for kids and teens can be overwhelming. Navigating a world of camp types, themes and locations can be challenging whether you’re looking for something in upstate New York or further west.  Not to mention that camp costs can swell well over budget — that’s why we’ve teamed up with Katherine Firestone, the founder of the Fireborn Institute,  to help parents sift through the many choices. She offers strategies on how to use the upcoming summer vacation to set children up for success in the fall.


Numerous camps specialize in team building, academics and travel, but philosophies and styles vary greatly. Finding a top-notch summer program at home and abroad requires diligent research. While references from other parents are a great way to start your search, Firestone suggests using the American Camp Association as a resource to check accreditations and backgrounds on all reputable camps. Another way to take the hassle out of finding the right camp is by checking its mission statement and philosophy. This will give you a very good overall idea if the camp is a good fit for your child.  Also, look for low camper-to-counselor ratios as it will ensure that your child gets adequate supervision.

Higher Purpose

Sure, games and activities to keep kids engaged and productive over the summer break is important, but many camps help to develop the softer skills like empathy, intellectual curiosity, and communication to foster can-do attitudes in children.

“Many soft skills get overlooked throughout the school year, but they are super important for children’s long term success” Firestone added.

courtesy: Seeds of Peace

One example of a camp with a higher purpose is  Seeds of Peace (Otisfield, Maine) where kids from all over the world and with different backgrounds coalesce.  Even though some come from countries in conflict with one another, they can unite given an opportunity to engage in daily dialogue.

Through this, campers reflect on their own identities and gain insights into the dynamics that perpetuate conflict.

This camp offers a Leadership Development Program for 9th and 10th graders who possess an open-minded attitude, a high level of maturity, and strong leadership potential. There is a $3,000 tuition fee for campers, but scholarship money is available.


“When kids are having fun, that’s when they are doing their best learning” says Firestone. Making sure your camp of choice allots time for unstructured free play lets campers take responsible risks.

Camps that focus on academics are an excellent way to strengthen skills learned during the school year, but be sure campers are granted exploratory play, which gives them time to hone their communication and problem-solving skills as the increased autonomy brings valuable life experiences.

courtesy: French Woods Festival Of The Arts camp

Kid’s Choice

Let’s face it, “It doesn’t really matter how cool the camp is, if you picked it out and your kid is annoyed that you picked it out, they’re not going to like it” says Firestone.

If your child is the shy, introverted type or it’s his or her first time, he or she may do better going to camp with a best friend, even if it’s not really their cup of tea. We want the best for our future leaders, so we often look for camps that focus on academics, but research has found that “people with hobbies win more Nobel prizes” Firestone added.

So consider something like a bike tour in France for your future scientist as opposed to a traditional science camp because it will enhance their lives and make them better at their future jobs.


In Firestone’s view, getting your children to articulate what they want to get out of the experience is important. After following all the tips above, you should ask questions like: What would a typical day at this camp look like?  With so many camp choices focusing on adventure, community service, and leadership, it’s important to narrow down what is most important to you and your child. Getting the young ones involved in the program search helps them mentally commit to the challenge. Personal investment and goal setting is key.

courtesy: Cheley Camps

Katherine’s Top Camp Picks:

(All are ACA accredited)

1. Cheley Colorado Camps Close to Boulder, CO. An outdoorsy camp all about helping kids take on challenges and develop friendships. The full season runs TuesdaySunday from June 13th -August 6th for a total of $11,400 per camper. Parents can save big on a partial term with a price tag of only $5700. Family camp is available $500 for kids 9 and under, and $800 for all ages over 9 years old.

2.French Woods Festival  Just two and a half hours from New York City, in Hancock, NY. Performing and visual arts camp – they have circus camp here! You get to go on a trapeze or do so many other cool performance activities. Single session rates are $1025, and can be combined from June 8th to September 3rd to include  session I, II, III, & IV for a total of $12,600. Ages 7 to 17 years old.

courtesy: Pali Adventures Summer Camp

3. Pali Adventures located in the Southern California mountains – Running Spring, CA.

Plenty of cool specialties like “Hollywood stunts” and “secret agent” camp. One week at Pali Adventures costs $2,145 per camper and a total of $17,395 for nine weeks which includes a $1,910 discount. Ages 8 – 16 years old.

4. Camp Kupugani located in Leaf River, IL.

This camp focuses on diversity, communication skills, character development (and fun!) Camp Kupugani offers family and mother-daughter camp opportunities. A two week session for both boys and girls costs only $1950 and $3650 for a four week long session. Ages 7-15 years old.

5. Sanborn Western Camps Florissant, CO.

Outdoor camp with a focus on a “supportive environment for individual growth in self-confidence, independence, awareness of others, and appreciation of the natural world.”  High Trails & Big Spring camp offers a month-long session, for ages 9 -17 for $5100.  If your kids are a bit younger, you may want to consider the Sanborn Junior Camp, which caters to  7-10 year olds. Fifteen-day sessions go for $2700.

Enjoyed this post? See Lena’s related story on how to turn summer camp into a family vacation.