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The Upside

Virtual camp fairs make it possible for families to explore options from the comfort of home

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In a usual year, the first quarter is typically when schools and communities host summer camp fairs, offering parents and guardians a way to meet day and overnight camp directors, learn about their summer programs, and take advantage of early registration discounts. For nearly 25 years the Bucks County Camp Expo has been this region’s camp fair, providing a valuable community service by connecting families in greater Philadelphia and nearby New Jersey counties with local day camps, plus overnight camps from across the country and around the world.

The world knows this is not a usual year. Like so many organizations that found creative ways to continue their services during the pandemic, in 2021 the Bucks Camp Expo pivoted to a virtual platform, partnering with the Bucks County Herald to present this online summer camp directory at UltimateSummerCampGuide.com.

A new community partnership

“Parents have long trusted the Expo to introduce them to good summer programs, just as they trust the Bucks County Herald for reliable news and community information. Our partnership enables families to learn about participating camps and summer programs using our new virtual camp fair UltimateSummerCampGuide.com, from the comfort of home,” said Joe Wingert, publisher of the Bucks County Herald. He noted that while some other online camp fairs platforms are available for only one or a few days, parents can view our camps and click through to their websites all year long.  

Virtual camp fairs like UltimateSummerCampGuide.com allow families to pop some popcorn, snuggle up on the couch, and have fun exploring the broad range of camps and summer programs for ages 3-17. Dr. Christopher Thurber, a child psychologist and co-author of The Summer Camp Handbook, advises parents to engage their children in the research and process of choosing a camp. “Children who feel forced to go to camp are much more likely to experience intense homesickness than those who feel a sense of agency,” says Dr. Thurber. “Involve your child in all of the big and small decisions about how he or she spends the summer.”

Browsing virtual camp fairs and camp websites together with children is a great way to build excitement for a summer camp experience, particularly with first-time campers. Even the youngest children enjoy watching happy kids doing fun things in camp videos, while older kids may get intrigued by the many activities available to them and the opportunities to form new camp friendships. Of the many valuable youth development benefits associated with a good summer camp experience, two of the most often cited are making human (instead of online) connections and trying new things in a supportive environment, which helps children build self-confidence, resilience, and independence.

Camps have kept up with children’s broadening interests by expanding their specialty programs and electives to include such diverse programs as high ropes and Ninja Warrior courses, cooking, gardening, game modding, yoga, scuba diving, digital photography, circus arts, and retro games. In an extensive research study on the camp experience, the nonprofit American Camp Association (ACA) found that nationwide, 74% of campers said they tried new things that they were afraid to do at first, and 63% of parents said their child continued to stick with new activities after camp. 96% of campers said that camp helped them make new friends.

And just as camp programs have evolved, so have their websites. Thanks to 360-degree videos, drones, and sophisticated technologies, many camps have captured their spirit and activities to make a virtual visit almost as exciting as the real thing (especially helpful during a pandemic), so families can stay safe at home and journey virtually to camps near and far.

Barrie Saias, Youth Programs Coordinator at Delaware Valley University, says: “Camp fairs, whether in-person events or online platforms, connect parents to camp professionals who can assist with matching and placing your child or teen with the most suitable camp or program. Camp directors are a valuable resource because they can see camp through the lens of a child or an instructor or a parent. We are an integral part of the process because of our interconnectivity. Summer camp contributes to the overall well-being of children, teens and young adult staff. Good summer camps provide experiences that foster team building, strengthen social skills, teach something new, develop confidence, build independence, and develop emerging leaders. When you think about the positive impact of summer camp, now more than ever, it’s ‘yes’ to summer camp, and there is something for everyone.”

Start exploring camps for your kids here at UltimateSummerCampGuide.com.

Ellen Warren is Coordinator of the Bucks Camp Expo.


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