Summer Day Camps Near NYC With Pick-Your-Own Programs

Traditionally there are two types of day camps: Specialty camps that allow kids to focus on one thing (soccer, theater, robotics, art, etc.) and general interest camps, where participants spend their days rotating through a schedule of sports, swimming and arts. Lately, some general programs have started to offer more specialization, allowing kids to pick a "major" of sorts and then spend the rest of the day participating in traditional camp activities.

These kinds of customizable camps are great for kids who are really into a particular activity but don't want to give up traditional day camp fun like swimming, sports and time outdoors. It also gives children more control over their schedules.

"There are so many varied choices in this competitive market," says Laurel Berrie, a camp consultant from Camp Connection. "Summer camps are trying to maximize their marketability by offering alternatives. Elective programming is an alternative to the more traditional camp experience."

Without further ado, here are eight pick-your-own camps sure to provide your independent New Yorker a little more choice in their summer vacation.

Hofstra University Specialty Camps – Hempstead, N.Y.
Kindergarteners-ninth graders
Campers choose a specialty for each two-week session. Half the day is dedicated to their focus; the other half consists of the usual camp fun like swimming and recreational sports, so kids get a good balance of individually-selected and group activities. Specialties are varied and include acting, basketball, ice skating, STEM topics, fine arts, improve and more. The "choice" program is open to children entering second to ninth grades, and there's also Cub Camp for kids entering kindergarten or first grade. A Counselor Apprentice program gives teens a chance to build their leadership skills. Bus service is offered from Manhattan, Queens and Nassau and Suffolk Counties.

Usdan Center for the Creative and Performing Arts – Wheatley Heights, N.Y.
Ages 4-18
This Long Island camp has been around since 1968 and its reputation as a preeminent nonprofit arts spot looms large, with alumni like Mariah Carey and Natalie Portman. Children ages 6 to 18 commute to the spacious Huntington campus to pursue their artistic passions. Campers choose a major and a minor from more than 40 disciplines including orchestra, dance, theater, music, sculpture and ceramics, and there's swimming every day. While Usdan attracts many kids who are seriously talented and super-disciplined, there are plenty of campers who are there to learn and have fun. Bus service is offered from NYC.

Friends Academy – Locust Valley, N.Y.
Ages 3-15
Though Friends Academy has programs for children as young as 3, kids in third to ninth grades select a specialty for every week of enrollment. The flexible schedule allows campers to try many different sports and electives, or focus on a specific activity. Campers receive both a morning and afternoon session in the subject of their choice, along with two daily swims and group recreation time. Specialties include chess, forensic science, sailing, soccer and a variety of academic classes. Bus service is offered from Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn.

Buckley Country Day Camp – Roslyn, N.Y.
Ages 3-15
Buckley offers more than 30 workshops in arts, sports and academics, so even hard-to-please kids should find something of interest. Campers select a specialty or two (for older students) to focus on during each two-week session. They also participate in group activities daily. There are also special weekly events like Olympics week and camper talent shows. Transportation to the Long Island campus is included from eastern Manhattan and Queens.

Mohawk Day Camp – White Plains, N.Y.
Ages 3-13
Campers at Mohawk get to customize part of their day: The older kids gets, the more activities they get to choose. The varied offerings range from sports and drama intensives to classes in life guarding, babysitting, robotics and more. There's also a counselor-in-training option for 14 and 15 year olds. Door-to-door transportation is included.

Gate Hill Day Camp – Stony Point, N.Y.
Ages 3-14
Although campers participate in lots of group activities, they are also allowed independent choices. First and second graders get one elective period per day, while third graders and up get two. Activities include archery, ziplining, cake decorating, martial arts and more. Seventh to ninth graders can try the teen travel program, a combination of day and overnight trips, while 10th-12th graders can be Leaders in Training. Transportation is offered from Manhattan, Westchester, Orange, Rockland and Bergen Counties.

Camp Ramaquois – Pomona, N.Y.
Ages 3-15
This traditional camp in Rockland County offers a Junior Camp for 3- to 6-year-olds, and separate boys' and girls' camps for children ages 7 to 15. Kids entering second grade start with two electives per week, and third graders and up get a daily elective. There are lots of activities to choose from, including a climbing wall, archery and fashion design workshops, plus the camp's lakefront location means there's lots of water fun. Transportation from Manhattan and Brooklyn is available. Four-, six-, seven- and eight-week sessions are available.

LuHi Summer Programs – Brookville, N.Y.
Entering fourth-ninth graders
Campers get to customize their two-week sessions with a variety of offerings, from the usual (dance, visual arts, theater, competitive sports) to more eclectic fare (forensics, fencing, horseback riding.) Door-to-door transportation is included.

For info on other excellent day and sleepaway camps, check out our Camp Guide.

This post originally published in February 2012.

Hofstra University Summer Camps
250 Hofstra University
Hempstead, NY 11549

Friends Academy
250 Duck Pond Road
Locust Valley, NY 11560

Buckley Country Day Camp
2 I U Willets Road
Roslyn, NY 11576

Mohawk Day Camp
200 Old Tarrytown Road
White Plains, NY 10603

Gate Hill Day Camp
750 Gate Hill Road
Stony Point, NY 10980

Camp Ramaquois
30 Mountain Road
Pomona, NY 10970

Usdan Center for the Creative and Performing Arts
185 Colonial Springs Road
Wheatley Heights, NY 11798

LuHi Summer Programs
131 Brookville Road
Brookville, NY 11545
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