By Alandra Johnson • The Bulletin

Despite the chill in the air, summer is fast approaching. And for many parents with school age children, that means figuring out what their children should do during summer break.

Right now families have hundreds of options from which to choose. Some camps essentially serve as full-day summer-long child care. Others are short overnight camps. Then there are the specialty camps aimed at kids interested in karate, cooking, music, rafting, crafting, soccer, painting and so much more.

Figuring out the right fit for kids, while balancing each family’s schedule and budget, can be tricky. The best advice for parents is to start planning early to make sure they have the most options from which to choose.

We gathered tips for parents from local camp organizers and the American Camp Association to try to make the process a bit easier.

Picking a camp

The summer guide for Bend Park & Recreation District, which contains all of the district’s camp offerings, was recently published. New this year: Eric Denzler, the outdoor programs coordinator for the district, is officially offering his services to help parents determine which camp option would be the best fit for their children. Denzler says he has provided this service unofficially for years, but this year decided to include a blurb inside the camp guide to alert parents to the help he could offer.

When taking with parents, Denzler takes a few factors into consideration:

• How old is the child?

• What kind of activities has the child been involved with previously?

• Has the child ever spent a night away from home before?

• What interests the child?

• How emotionally mature is the child?

Contact him at 541-706-6116.

Overnight choices

Is your child ready for an overnight camp experience? The best way to know is to start off slow. “Start with something that is safe and familiar, maybe just over one single night,” said Sue Jorgenson, recreation enrichment manager for Bend Park & Recreation District. “Take baby steps and be close enough to home if you just need you reconnect, you can.”

Cougar Camp: This is one of the most popular offerings through Bend Park & Recreation District. Aimed at kids in grades 3-6, the program based in Shevlin Park is an outdoor day camp that includes one overnight stay. Denzler says it’s an excellent choice for children to try an overnight camp experience. If children feel uncomfortable and decide to go home, they can. For the first time this year, the district also added a Cougar Camp for older children to continue their experience, but in a more wild setting outside of Shevlin Park. This camp is one that fills up fast.

Once children have some experience staying away from parents overnight, there are an array of options both local and far-flung from which to choose. Some through Bend Parks & Rec include a popular overnight beach trip and river rafting camping trips. New this year are offerings through Camp Tamarack near Suttle Lake. Jorgenson said for the first time, this camp is partnering with Bend Parks to focus on offering camps for local kids, rather than trying to attract individuals from around the state and country. The camp is offering full week options, partial weeks and a special family camp choice for parents and children to attend together.

Off-beat choices

Zombie Camp: This is the second year for the day camp, put on by Bend Parks and Rec. It’s a camp that teaches survival skills, but with a fun zombie theme. (

RAD camps: This local business (RAD stands for “Recreation, Adventure, Development”) offers camps that are one-day, all day excursions to outdoor locations throughout the region, rotating each day, from Salt Creek Falls to Fort Rock to Paulina Lake. (

Culinary camps: The Well Traveled Fork’s chef Bette Fraser is offering three week-long culinary camps which include four days of cooking and one field trip to a local farm, bakery or other culinary spot. (

Minecrafter Camp: Cascades Academy is hosting a two-day camp based on the video game “Minecraft.” ( (This is one of several offerings at Cascades Academy, which is offering its first series of summer programs including camps devoted to chess, kayaking, musical theater and more. ( — click on “summer program courses”)


Looking for camp choices? Here are a few spots to look (although some do not yet have their list of summer camps available).

Bend Park & Recreation District (

Camp Fire Central Oregon (

Redmond Area Park & Recreation District (

Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Oregon (

Crook County Parks and Recreation District (

Cascade School of Music (

American Camp Association also has a searchable database (

General camp tips

• Make sure the camp is something the kid is interested in, not just something the parent think sounds cool. Jorgenson knows of many children who end up unhappy at a camp that sounded exciting to parents, but was a bad fit for the kids.

• Stick to what the kid likes or what he or she is excited about. “Summer, sometimes isn’t the best time to make your kid go learn lots of new things,” said Denzler. He can tell when kids don’t want to be there and they can end up having behavior problems. This can be particularly problematic when the child is on, say, a rafting trip and doesn’t have the option of leaving.

• Summer should feel like summer. “Keep it fun and light,” said Denzler, and the child will be more likely to participate.

• Don’t delay. While some programs are beginning to fill up (like the popular Cougar Camp), Denzler says most still have plenty of room now. But about two weeks before school ends, the district will see a “big bump” in summer camp signs ups, as parents panic about what to do. Denzler encourages parents to make plans early on to avoid the rush and ensure the kids get into the programs they are interested in.

• Sign up with buddies. Yes, children often make friends during camp. But Denzler points out that kids who sign up with their friends can end up having wonderful collective experiences with their buddies. “It makes it a really great experience,” said Denzler, encouraging families to check in with friends and neighbors before signing up.

• Make sure the child wears good sunscreen, leaves the flip-flops at home.

• Look for variety. Jorgenson says when picking a camp, parents should think about the range of activities the child will be involved in. Are there outings or field trips? If one camp doesn’t offer that, consider breaking the summer into chunks and signing up for one or two specialty camps.

• Prepare your child. What should they expect at camp? What is the environment like? If possible, parents may want to consider checking out the location with children in advance so they can feel comfortable, says Jorgenson.

Questions to ask potential camps

• Do staff members receive background checks?

• What is the student to staff ratio?

• What kind of training/background do staff members have?

• Do you offer scholarships? (Many programs do.)

— Reporter: 541-617-7860,