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Chester Elementary held a New Family Night at Camp Hazen with dinner, cookies, and fun games for the family at Camp Hazen YMCA on Sept. 29, 2016. (Photo by Kelley Fryer )
Sam and Eddie Gonzalez enjoyed their first session of resident camp at Camp Hazen in Chester in the summer of 2017. (Photo courtesy of Emily Gonzalez )
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We may be in the depths of wintry weather, but it's time to start thinking about summer camps and what your children will spend their days doing once school lets out. Along the shoreline, there are many options appealing to a wide variety of interests from nature and outdoors to arts and crafts; from sports and animals to acting and gymnastics and everything in between.
"A lot of parents need daycare for when they're at work in the summer, but they want their kids to have a great summer," says Johanna Krebs of Northford, who enrolled her kids at Deer Lake where she went as a child.
What better way to get a read on camps than to get kids to share their opinions? No matter what the area of interest of the camp, though, there seems to be a constant theme to what they enjoy most about their days at camp spending time with friends.
"You get to make new friends and see old friends," says Molly Romero, 10, of Branford, who attends a craft camp at Eli Whitney Museum in Hamden, sailing camp through Guilford Yacht Club, and overnight camp at Camp Hazen in Chester. "All of the camps I've been to are really fun."
Tradition Continues through Generations
101 Paper Mill Rd., Killingworth
Johanna Dath Krebs has fond memories of her summers spent at Deer Lake from age 5 to 24. She began as a camper, moved up to a counselor, and eventually became the waterfront director. When she had kids, she couldn't wait for them to have the same experiences.
"What's funny is it hasn't changed–they do all the same traditional camp things and sing updated versions of the same songs," says Krebs, a Northford resident. "It's about the excitement of being that traditional outdoor summer camp experience where they're completely offline and there's nothing to disrupt them from enjoying nature."
Her daughter Marley, 10, has been attending for the past five years and her son Trey, 6, began last year. Marley Krebs has enjoyed many of the same activities that her mom remembers like hiking, singing songs, boating, swimming, and a midweek sleepover.
"It's really fun and it's my favorite camp because I've been going so long," says Krebs, whose favorite activity is boating. "I get excited I get to see my camp friends because I don't get to see them a lot."
Johanna Krebs echoes the fact that the friendships she formed during her days at camps are some of her most treasured.
"I had summer friends and they came from all different towns and we've managed to stay friends for 30 some-odd years and now we're all over country and doing different things," she says. "We have an alumni Facebook page to check in and make announcements and it's nice to see that it holds a big place in our hearts."
Immerse Yourself with Sleepaway Camp
Camp Hazen YMCA
204 W. Main St., Chester
For those looking to fully immerse themselves in a camp experience, there is Camp Hazen, an overnight camp run by the YMCA that has been in operation for nearly a century. It also has an option for day camp.
Eddie, and Sam Gonzalez of Clinton, aged 12 and10, respectively, began as day campers for three years before making the leap to the two-week resident camp in 2017. Both boys were excited to take part in the many activities the camp offered.
"I love all the different variety of activities, the grown-up feeling, and the breakfast food," says Eddie Gonzalez. "Kids who are shy should go because you're able to make friends and have fun."
Sam Gonzalez's favorite things about Camp Hazen were the skate park, alpine tower and water activities, playing gaga, and eating meals like a family.
"It's awesome and you do a lot of things you can't do at home," he says.
While their mom, Emily Gonzalez of Clinton, was happy they had fun, the most important thing to her was her confidence in her children's safety while they were at camp as both boys have medical issues that need to be attended to. She loved seeing the daily updates and photos that were posted to a private Facebook page.
"You get a glimpse of what goes on day to day and every picture I saw my boys were smiling," says Gonzalez. "The staff know them well and the camp gives them a lot of personal accountability and improved self esteem. When I picked them up, they were beaming ear to ear."
Molly and Alex Romero, 10 year-old twins from Branford, also attend Camp Hazen. Some of Molly Romero's favorite activities are the water trampoline, archery, rock climbing, paddle boarding, and spending time with friends; while Alex Romero loves sailing and being able to sleep in a cabin with friends.
"You get to meet new friends and see friends that you've met before," says Romero. "It's fun and you don't have to be nervous because everyone is really nice."
Bang for Your Buck and Lots of Local Friends
Check with your town's recreation department or local YMCA for camp information and offerings.
Most towns offer a day camp with many held at schools, local parks, or beaches. Some recreation departments also offer camps focusing on a certain area like teen travel, nature, or sports.
Through Clinton Parks & Recreation
"My favorite thing is finding crabs and other marine life that live in the water," says Joey O'Brien, 10, of Clinton. "It's really cool and fun because you can find animals you can't find in your backyard like turtles, geckos, and salamanders and you can hold them."
"I like seeing friends from school and meeting new people, especially the older kids who are counselors," says Meredith O'Brien, 10, of Clinton. "You get to meet a lot of people and find cool plants and animals at the beach and the woods in your own town."
Parks and Rec Summer Camp
Through Old Saybrook Parks & Recreation
"It's very fun – we do these cool activities and you go on field trips," says Colbie Ryan, 9, of Old Saybrook. "My personal favorite was bowling because it had glow in the dark. We go to the beach, play games, and have free time. All of the counselors are really, really nice."
"There is a room with games and Legos and I loved the Spongebob Operation game," says Zandra Golkowski, 6, of Old Saybrook. "You could make things like slime and my favorite field trip was to the science center because there was a bubble machine. Everyone at camp was my friend."
Power Half Wrestling Camp
Through Branford Parks & Recreation
"This is a great camp for someone who wants to try wrestling and see if they like it," says Dylan Warner, 10, of Branford. "It's good for advanced wrestlers because it keeps you thinking about wrestling and working on your skills in the off-season. You also get to work with the best coach ever."
Summer Day Camp
Through Westbrook Parks & Recreation
"It's much more fun than staying at home all day and the snacks are good, too," says Micayla Malchiodi, 15, of Westbrook. "I liked going on field trips to Quassy Amusement Park, Mystic Aquarium, and the zoo."
Summer Playground Camps
Through Branford Parks & Recreation
"You can have a lot of fun there, have lots of your friends there, and meet a lot of new friends," says Aryana Wilson, 12, of Branford, who attends the Veterans Park location. "We go to field trips like bowling, the movies, and Lake Compounce. My friends and I like to play card games or play in the sprinklers."
"You have a lot of time to play," says Cheyenne Wilson, 10, of Branford. "My favorite thing is hanging out with friends and going on field trips. You get to make new friends and have new experiences."
Through Branford Parks & Recreation
"We went to really cool laces like New York City for a play and Boston for a Red Sox game, plus awesome places in Connecticut like Brownstone and ziplining," says Colin Donahoe, 12, of Branford. "I have never gone white-water rafting and I got to try that this summer. You get to spend time with friends and classmates going places you've probably never gone before. It's fun to be on your own and try new things."
More Kids' Opinions on Other Local Camps
Eli Whitney Summer Programs
915 Whitney Ave., Hamden
"There are so many different crafts – sometimes there's a different craft each day and other times you work on one big craft for a whole week," says Molly Romero, 10, of Branford. "It's really fun and I also like that my friend's mom works there so I always hang out with them."
Fox Field Farm Summer Camp
103 Cherry Hill Rd., Branford
"Fox Field is like my second home in the summer and everyone is so welcoming and kind," says Lily Penner, 12, of Branford. "It was totally the best place to get my start in riding and basic horse care. Taylor [Chambers-Scussel] is my idol and her girls are so adorable. The first day when I got on Norman, it was the greatest thing, a pleasure I haven't received until that moment. I met the most amazing people in my life there and learned so much. It is an experience of a lifetime, something you will never see at any other place, no matter where you look."
Guilford Yacht Club Sailing Program
379 New Whitfield St., Guilford
"Sailing camp is my favorite because you can make new friends, plus my brother is a junior sailing instructor and is so kind to me and helps me if I mess up," says Alex Romero, 10, of Branford. "I like to relax and to be able to sail."
Happy Family Day Camp
Held at local schools in New Haven
"I love making new friends and swimming," says Afiya Muhammad, 9, of East Haven. "We spend lots of time outside and go swimming every day. We play a lot and at the end of each day, we do a circle and a 'shakedown' and other cool things."
"Football week is the best and so is getting to swim every day," says Enaji Muhammad, 11, of East Haven.
Killam's Point Day Camp
131 Killams Point Rd., Branford
"You get to explore and learn about nature, the Long Island Sound, and the woods," says Anthony Klos, 12, of Branford. "We get to go to the beach every day. I love the location on its own private beach and how peaceful it is."
Yale Junior Sailing Program
179 Clark Ave., Branford
"I like sailing fast in the wind," says Ryan Voets, 12, of Branford. "It's fun, you go fast, and if you get good, you can be on the sailing team."
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