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Experts Help Families Find Camps to Fit Every Child

March 19, 1987|MURIEL SCHLOSS

Summer is months away, and it may seem early to select a summer camp for your child.

Wrong, say camp placement counselors Anne Kogen and Marion Tepper of Encino.

Summer camps--once just a way for city kids to spend a few weeks in the woods--now can provide a wide array of experiences for children, which often makes the selection confusing and time-consuming, they said.

Among the more than 1,300 summer camps in the United States and around the world are ones in which the child can explore China by bike or shoot the rapids on the Snake River. Or hang-glide in North Carolina, study a language, stay with a Portuguese family, dance, earn college credits, lose weight, improve study habits. . . .

Scores of Specialties

"You name the area," Kogen said, "and there is a program for it."

To help parents and children faced with the myriad choices, Kogen and Tepper 10 years ago added camp placement to the services of their firm, American College Placement Service, which matches clients with colleges, private schools and boarding schools.

Saul Rowen, past president of the Western Assn. of Independent Camps, said that independent camp-placement counselors, although well-established in the East, are unusual in California.

In New York, they are so plentiful that they vie for business with newspaper ads, he said. But in the Los Angeles area they are so rare that independent placement agencies must combine camp counseling with college and school placement in order to survive.

"Until recently," Rowen explained, "fewer Southern California youngsters went to camp. When they did, it was casual, outdoorsy and nearby. Often, families scouted local camps on their own. Or they acted on referrals from friends."

But now more California parents want their children to attend specialized camps where they can learn computer science, polish their theatrical skills or participate in sports with athletes from around the globe. Many of these camps are in such far-flung places as Europe, Hawaii or the East Coast, with many concentrated in New Hampshire, Maine and Connecticut.

Mystique of the East

According to Tepper, the East has a "prestigious mystique." She speculated that this may be because of East Coast families moving to the West and retaining the tradition of sending their kids to camps back home, or parental fears about sending their children to camps abroad because of recent terrorist scares in Europe. For whatever reason, she said, "There seems to be more of a demand in the last few years for camps in the East."

As Californians became more camp-conscious, local camp directors and counselors went into the communities to acquaint residents with their programs. Day camps organized open houses. Sleep-away camps rekindled memories with the distribution of yearbooks, and sponsored winter reunions and evenings during which veteran camper families talked about the camps with potential new campers and their parents.

But the newest marketing tool of summer camps is the "camp fair." In its third year, Camp Fair '87 will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at Buckley School, 3990 Stansbury Ave., Sherman Oaks. Fifty camps are expected to participate.

The event is sponsored by the American Camping Assn., Southern California Section, and the Western Assn. of Independent Camps. Admission is free. Last year, between 350 and 500 parents and prospective campers attended to talk with the various camp directors and counselors.

Flat Fee for Advice

Although many schools in the West Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and San Fernando Valley areas have counselors who will help students select an appropriate summer camp, many parents prefer the in-depth evaluation and personal suggestions of specialists--and they are willing to pay for them. Kogen and Tepper charge a flat $35 fee for counseling on camps.

One professional couple said they "would not make an academic or recreational move without consulting Kogen and Tepper." When it came time to find a camp for their 13-year-old son, they wanted one that would help him develop physically and provide him with good role models. Kogen talked with the parents and the son to see what he himself would like.

"Kogen came up with an out-of-state camp," the mother said. "Off went our son, not knowing a soul, but comfortable because of his confidence in Kogen. He had an excellent experience."

There are times though, that placement becomes sticky. When the mother of an overweight, TV-watching youngster insisted on a physically challenging, outdoor program for her daughter, Kogen and Tepper were wary. After talking with the child, the counselors said, they "strongly dissuaded the mother." Forcing the child would have been unfair and unrealistic, they said.

"We suggested something more to the child's liking," Tepper said, "while offering her the opportunity to experience some of the challenging activities her mother required. It worked out very well."

Educating Parents

Kogen said there have been a few other times when they have had to educate a parent.

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