Finding the Right Summer Camp or Program For Your Child

Choosing the right summer camp experience for your child can be a bit daunting. There’s a ton of variety in the kinds of camps that are offered, from arts camps to outdoor adventure camps, to specialized sports camps. Maybe you’re a seasoned pro or you’re new to this and feeling overwhelmed, either way here is a guide to choosing the right summer camp for your child.

Before we get into specific camps and summer programs in Chicago, we must first look at the different types of camps that are available. There are two types of summer camps: Day Camps and Overnight Camps.

group of kids of various ages biking along the chicago lakefront trail during summer adventure camp with counselors and guides

Day Camps

Summer Day Camps are designed to function Monday through Friday emulating a regular school scheduled, but with a focus on fun. Most of these types of camps offer programming before and after the main activities to accommodate different work schedules. This is not guaranteed and if this is something you will require be sure to check the summer camp’s website or get in touch with facilitators to see if this is offered at your camp of choice.

Day camps, like overnight camps, have an incredible variety of offerings. Is your child the next Stephen Hawking’s? Send him to science camp! Does your child sing Broadway tunes on repeat or dance everywhere they go? Send them to theater camp. You get the gist, there is a camp for every love, passion or interest out there.

"cabins" sign on tree at overnight summer camp

Overnight Camps

Overnight Camps are designed to have your child away from home, living at or traveling with their program, hence the overnight label. The length of these programs varies from type of camp to age of the camper but are typically around a week. Overnight camps come in all shapes and sizes, there are wilderness camps that closely resemble the camp from The Parent Trap, sans all the practical jokes. These are usually outdoor adventure camps that have activities such as archery, swimming, canoeing, etc. It’s a great way to instill a love of nature while also giving your child time to learn to be independent away from home.   

You will also find specialized sports and fine arts camps that let your kid explore their passion and hone their skills. These types of camp usually include multiple daily practices or rehearsals, with a show or a game for their parents culminating their time at camp. These final performances incentivize children and give them tangible goals that they will be able to showcase to you!

The last type of overnight camp I will mention are International Youth Camps, which emphasize leadership, service, and cultural exploration. These can be camps focused on learning other languages or learning more about cultures different from our own. Chicago is the base for a well-known company called The Road Less Traveled, which offers these types of  adventures to youth completing grades 6th – 12th. They focus on making meaningful connections with other cultures, promoting a mindset of service to community, as well as fostering a love of adventure and our natural world.

Overnight camps are wonderful, but they are not for every child and most likely they’re not ideal for the entire summer break. Which brings us back to Day Camps!

Here in Chicago, there are some wonderful adventure summer camps to spark your child’s interest. This concrete jungle is also a City in a Garden, so you can absolutely instill a sense of adventure and love of nature in this Midwestern Mecca, all you need is a little intentionality.

teens tandem kayaking on Lake Michigan during summer camp session

Fostering Adventure in Downtown Chicago with Kayaking, Biking, Swimming and more

Bobby’s Bike Hike offers a Chicagoan Adventure Youth Summer Camp in Downtown Chicago, which is for ages 9-16. Our camp implements our core values of Health, Service, Travel, and Community while also adding in a fifth value, Adventure! Helen Keller said that “life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all” and here at Bobby’s Bike Hike we take that to heart, while of course fostering a sense of responsibility and most importantly safety. Your child will get the chance to adventure around Chicago going on bike rides and hikes while also learning history about the Second City. Have you ever wondered why Chicagoans hate Ketchup? This is a prime example of the knowledge your child can bring home to share with the whole family!

Encouraging Flexibility, Independence, & Creativity

Another Chicago Day Camp in the area is called Steve and Kates Camp and they have a focus on independent learning. This camp started in California but has branched out across the country with multiple locations in Chicago including Lakeview, North Center, Lincoln Park, and the West Loop. The guiding principle at Steve and Kates is that children need a space to explore and take creative risks.

In essence, the kids are large and in charge. Instead of having structured activities that take place at certain times, most of the camp is designed so kids can choose which activity they want to partake in and for how long. This is structured with showcases so the kids can show off what they’ve been working on, silly competitions to ensure a sense of community, and daily reflection time with their age group leader. The adventure here lies within the power to choose, to make mistakes, and then learn from them. This is a great camp for children with creative tendencies. Steve and Kates is also incredibly flexible, instead of purchasing a week of camp, they offer daily passes so you only pay for the days you need your child to be looked after. 

kids playing soccer at summer sports camp

Girls Summer Program Focused on Personal Growth through Activity

The last option I’ll mention is less for the lads but a wholesome bunch of fun for the young ladies. Girls in the Game is a summer program for young ladies that is designed to create an inclusive and safe space for young women to gain confidence, form community, and gain practical life skills facilitated by sports. Their core mission is to nurture the entire well-being of girls, fostering a space that is focused on personal growth rather than athletic prowess. They also put their money where their mouth is and admit young people who are questioning their gender identity to join the program and learn alongside their peers. This camp is perfect for young ladies who like to be active and who require a safe space to better themselves and their community.

With all the different summer camp options in Chicago, how in the world do you choose the right one for your child? The best piece of advice we can give you is to not overthink it and simply talk to your child. What are they interested in learning more of? Do they want to explore pottery making? Would they rather run around playing classics such as capture the flag? Or have you harbored a little monkey who likes to climb all over your nice furniture and therefore maybe it’s time to enroll them in a rock-climbing camp? 

Summer break is most children’s favorite time of year, a time when they can really explore their interests away from the pressures of school and grades. Your goal should be to find a camp that will ignite the spark of play and exploration for your child. Once you have identified your child’s interests, review the safety standards for the applicable camps. These two ingredients are a recipe for success and a joyful summer for you and your child.

Preparing For & Packing For Summer Camp

Most camps, particularly those with an emphasis on adventuring, will provide parents with a packing list and recommendations of things your child will need to succeed during their time there. Making sure your child is equipped with the appropriate gear is vital to a successful week. This doesn’t have to be an expensive commitment either. Make use of your local thrift stores, online equipment resellers or friends/family with older children to procure any items needed. Preparing your child for camp does not have to be a chore either, it can be a great opportunity to bond while also exploring sustainable options and passing on good shopping habits! 

Our last suggestion to prepare your child for summer camp is to have an ongoing and open dialogue with your child about how they’re feeling and what they can expect at camp. For first-time campers this is especially important for them to know they have support at home as they embark on this exciting new opportunity. Find out what excites them most and hype it up. Figure out what things they’re most fearful of and do your best to mitigate those fears. These talks can be essential to creating a culture of ease and preparing them to show up as their best selves. Lastly, talk about how much water they should be drinking throughout their time at camp and encourage them to drink when their camp counselors ask them to. As a long time camper and camp counselor we’ve seen and experienced more dehydration than we’d care to admit and having an open dialogue about how much water consumption is necessary can help prevent any medical issues that can arise from dehydration.

 The Highlight of Summer Break

Summer camps have the potential to be the highlight of any child’s summer break! They can teach your child new skills, foster new passions and bring around friendships that can last a lifetime. Here at Bobby’s Bike Hike we believe that providing fun, safe, and educational adventures are the building blocks that can lead to skyscrapers of success at camp, at school and in life. We hope to see you and your child after April showers have brought May Flowers and Chicago’s favorite season is upon us.