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The (Sometimes) Tricky Business of Selecting Summer Camps and Activities for Gifted Children

By Molly Isaacs-McLeod.

It is that time of year again for making summer plans. (At least for those of us who did not sign on for camps and activities while housebound during the polar vortex.) Here are eight tips on ferreting out options and negotiating appropriate placements for summer camp, as well as two thoughts. I hope you find them helpful!

Eight Tips:

1. What are the needs of your family? Is camp for enrichment, childcare, or deeper pursuit of an area of passion or interest? If the camp is for enrichment, look for opportunities that are new and different, perhaps a little off the beaten path for your child. If your camper has a specific area of passion or interest, seek out opportunities to delve deeper into that area. You might check university lectures, speakers coming to local groups that focus on the area of interest, or specialized camps. If you are looking primarily for childcare (you need a break after homeschooling or advocating all year, you have paid work obligations, etc.) consider hiring a caretaker or enlisting the assistance of a relative or close family friend to provide the necessary care and escort your child(ren) to various activities (pool, park, play dates, etc.) throughout the summer.

2. Importance of getting the “buy-in” from your camper. It is crucial to have the buy-in of your child or teen. Nothing will make your summer more “un” relaxing than sending your campers off to a camp they have decided not to like! Find out what your child wants to do for the summer. See what programs are available and consider developing your own. Depending on the age of your children get their input when exploring options or encourage them to structure their own plan. Find out what their friends are doing this summer.

3. What type of camp? Are you looking for a day camp or sleep-away camp? Are you looking for a summer-long program or a week-long program? Issues of “fitting in” with older campers are minimized with day camps for a few reasons. First, it is easier to determine if there are indeed issues. Second, day camps provide less “social” time than overnight camps, making it easier for younger campers to benefit from interaction with the older campers and the material being offered.

4. What is the focus of the camp? Is the camp academic or physical? Or, as I heard one child ask, “Is this one a brain thing or a body thing?” Is placement accommodation necessary? If a lot of physical activities are involved, placement according to the child’s age is well advised in most cases. While a gifted middle school student may be doing advanced high school math, she might be more comfortable with age mates for field hockey camp.

5. Call ahead to see if there is flexibility as to age/grade. It can be fruitful to call and speak with the director to see if they might be open to placement on the basis of ability rather than age or grade. Unless there is an insurance/liability reason, many directors are happy to consider non-chronological placement. Some directors have never been asked. It is worth a try.

6. Advocate for higher-level placement. Explain why your child should be considered for higher-level placement if you think it is needed. Provide examples of what your child is working on currently. Offer test scores if applicable. Offer to have his instructor (tutor, teacher, or parent) write a letter supporting the request.

7. Negotiate a trial day or two at the appropriate level. Ask if the director might consider a trial placement to see how it goes. This provides an opportunity for the director not to feel locked in, for your student to see if it is a good fit, and for the instructor to see how the dynamic of the younger student plays out.

8. Create your own activities. Join with other families with gifted children. Decide on some mutually desirable activities throughout the summer. These could range from purely social outings (ball games, amusements parks, open gym time, swimming, etc.) to more enriching activities (outings to specific museums, cities, zoos, lectures, etc.).

Two Thoughts

Downtime: Be sure to include some downtime, preferably screen free, for your child each day during the summer. This could be time for reading books of choice, playing outside, or enjoying time with siblings. Time to “do nothing” is especially crucial today with the “busy-ness” that seems to have taken over the lives of so many families.

Physical Activity: Camps that appeal to gifted children (and parents!) often focus on the academic. Make sure your child has some time for physical activity each day. This might take the form of playing a sport, going to the pool, or playing at the park. It could also include attending a yoga class, group exercise at the “Y” or similar venue, geocaching, or a regular evening walk through the neighborhood. Bottom line: we all need to be physically engaged but that does not necessarily translate into participating in a team sport!


Molly A. Isaacs-McLeod, JD, LLM is an attorney, mediator, educator, and mother of three gifted children. She provides advocacy, mediation, and educational planning services to families seeking appropriate accommodation for their gifted children. She is co-founder and president of Parents of Gifted Students Inc., a support and resource group for families of gifted children, and is a SENG Model Parent Group facilitator. Her areas of practice included estate planning, disability, and mediation. Prior to law school, she worked in public health where she gained experience in program development and management.

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