Endless Summers

By A. J. Baime | Boston Magazine |

It's just before 10 a.m., and four teenagers are jamming out their second Led Zeppelin tune of the day. On drums, Needham's own Alex Freedman is doing his best John Bonham imitation, beating drums with sticks as thick as his arms. Corey Francer of Sharon provides the backbone on bass, while guitarist Ben Peskoe of Briarcliff, New York, slams power chords, his amplifier turned up as far as it goes. Matt Pollack of Sudbury screeches lyrics into the microphone, his voice rattling the windowpanes of the wooden shack we're standing in.

“A whole lotta lovvve!!!”

At Camps Kenwood-Evergreen in rural Potter Place, New Hampshire-sleep-away camps for boys and girls, respectively-it's a typical morning. The band is practicing for “Hollowpallooza,” a rock show, put on by kids, that will take place in a week in the Hollow, a grassy nook with a hill that creates a natural amphitheater. The show is one of the highlights of the summer. The band finishes the song, and I move in, reporter's pad in hand. “What's the name of the band?” I ask Pollack, the singer.

“What?”

“I said, what's the name of the band!”

“We're called Three Jews and a Pollack. We're the rockers of camp. This is the best part of the summer. It's the greatest idea ever! It's so great. . . . ” He searches the ether for a superlative that could finish the sentence, then says, “What was the question?”

Tuck, a cartoonish 28-year-old music teacher with a shaved head, chimes in: “One more time. Let's give it a little more. . . . “

One! Two! Three! The band kicks in, the windowpanes rattle, my eardrums threaten to burst. One thing is for sure: These kids couldn't get away with this kind of fun at this time of day in their suburban hometowns. Not a chance.

Times have changed since I went to Camp Kenwood for seven summers starting in 1981 at age nine. We didn't have electric guitars and synthesizers. There was no rock concert with digital video cameras to capture the event. Essentially, we had flashlights with batteries. Our guitars were in fact tennis rackets and lacrosse sticks.

The journey back begins with two old camp friends on a hot night at a bar in downtown Boston a few days before my visit. Most people have to dig up childhood friends. These guys? They're on my speed dial.

“Camp was the most gratifying, esteem-building experience of my childhood,” says David Wiener, 33, a lawyer at Palmer & Dodge who spent 12 summers as a camper and a counselor.

Oliver Segal, 32, a teacher at the Solomon Schechter Day School in Newton who spent eight summers at camp, says: “Think about how much fun it was, playing after school with your friends at home. Now imagine having that much fun all the time. Day after day, night after night, for seven straight weeks.”

There's a common theme that runs through camp memories-an innocence, a sense of pleasure and comfort that none of us, we agree, has ever managed to find anywhere else, ever again. But what exactly was it? How to define it?

The American Camping Association has undertaken a study in an attempt to quantify the impact of a camp experience. About 8 percent of America's youth attends some kind of summer camp. “We're trying to provide some credibility to those warm fuzzy stories, some hard data,” says Peg Smith, the ACA's executive director. “These experiences that look like just fun have a profound impact on these kids in terms of their ability to cope with things and to understand who they are in relation to others.”

Smith emphasizes that, while camps these days can be expensive-a summer at Kenwood-Evergreen, for example, goes for up to $7,200, more than double what it cost in the early 1980s-kids benefit from all kinds of camp experiences, including those at the lower end of the price range. There are day camps, sleep-away camps, one-week camps, and four-week camps. There are golf camps, theater camps, and camps for budding young stock analysts or comedians.

As the price of high-end camps has gone up, other things have changed, too. Parents now expect-and get-elaborate facilities, including Little League-sized, lighted replicas of Fenway Park, working Viking ships, radio stations, animation studios, climbing towers, scuba programs, and golf courses. Staff training is intensive, and counselors are closely vetted (by law in Massachusetts). Such demands-and competition from specialty programs like computer camps, football camps, and weight-loss camps-have conspired to put dozens of traditional camps out of business. But, having added all of these amenities, New England's best camps continue to attract the children of America's elite.

Something else has changed, too: the way parents choose a camp. Today, consultants help match campers to summer programs at no cost to the family (they're paid commissions by the camps). And parents are encouraged to visit a camp in person the year before they're ready to ship their kids off for the summer. It's like the college tour for the SpongeBob set.

The ACA's study should be out sometime later this year. I figured I'd do some research on my own, take a trip back in time to try to pinpoint exactly what it was that makes me so nostalgic for those long-ago summers. Ten years had passed since I'd seen the place. I had looked forward to exploring the nuances, but had come seeking something far more particular. What I saw was not what I expected; what I found was exactly what I was looking for.

Maya Perry, 12, is wearing underwear on her head. She and her friends are dancing to a Michael Jackson tune in Spruce Lodge, a creaky wooden bunk built back in 1952. They're twirling and shimmying, practicing for tonight's lip-synch competition. It's not going too well: No one can seem to do the actual lip-synching because they can't stop laughing.

“At school, you have to keep up your social status!” says one girl. “Here, you can be yourself! You can be a freak, and no one cares!” (Yes, everything these kids say is an exclamation. Really!)

Almost every kid who shows up at this camp comes back the next summer. And the one after that. In my time, there were about 200 campers at Kenwood-Evergreen. Now there are close to 300. They hail from all over the country. Most of the counselors are former campers, except for those who come from Europe or Down Under on summer-exchange programs.

I stop off at Eagle Pond to watch a few 11-year-old boys test out a new tube. They're getting dragged behind a boat at 20 miles per hour. Even from the dock, I can spot the whiteness of their teeth. They're laughing so hard, they can't shut their mouths.

“Hey, kid, how's the new tube?” I ask one tuber, Joel Kruger.

“It's so cool!” says Joel, whose mother is one of the camp's two doctors, on call 24-7. “It's like floating on a jelly doughnut that bounces in the water,” says another boy. “You should try it!”

Ask kids what they love about camp, and they all basically echo what 15-year-old Ben Gifford of Newton, a seven-year veteran, tells me: “I don't know what it is. I just like everybody. When you live with kids, you get to know everything about them. The relationships are different than with your home friends. Here, it's just about people having a good time together.”

Beneath some swaying evergreen boughs, Scott Brody sits on a bench, clipboard in hand. When I was a camper here, Scott was a counselor. Now the 38-year-old ex-litigator owns the camp. His face is one of many still familiar to me: Judy Sharenow, Phyllis Dank, Jacki Mitchell. In turn, it's remarkable how they remember my age, my sister's name, and my favorite activities, even though I haven't seen them in more than a decade. As Scott talks about what's involved in running a summer camp, I realize how little I knew about what was going on around me when I was young, how pleasantly oblivious I was.

Creating the camp experience is not unlike making a film. A huge amount of planning, investment, and staffing goes into fashioning this world. If the job is done well, the campers experience the world without recognizing that it's entirely fabricated.

“Every element is designed for kids to grow,” says Brody. “The staff we choose, the actual layout of the camp, the schedules-everything. It takes all year long to plan. And when the kids come, they don't even know it.”

And the goal?

“The number one value here is to be a good friend. That's the essence, the magic. We play a lot of sports. Competition is good. But learning to be supportive of other competitors is good too.”

Though camps are meant to be retreats from the real world, they're not immune from the issues of modernity. The ACA has held forums on terrorism and the safety of children in a world rattled by kidnappings and sexual abuse. Assuring parents that their 8-year-olds are in good hands is a serious issue for camp directors. To help reassure parents, many sleep-away camps have created websites on which snapshots of the kids are posted every day. Parents need a password to get into the site. At Kenwood-Evergreen, the camp's retired director and former owner, Arthur Sharenow, a long-time photographer, wanders the grounds each day shooting new pictures.

Diversity is also an issue, especially at high-end camps. An increasing number of camps offer scholarships to kids from abroad and from inner cities. Last year, directors at Kenwood-Evergreen, which has long had a scholarship program, launched Mickey's Kids, a new program named after the camp's beloved longtime leader, Mickey Dank, who died in 2002. Dank's friends hold a golf tournament every fall to raise money to send inner-city kids to camp. Once a child is selected, he or she is offered a full ride not just for one summer, but for his or her entire youth up to the age of 15.

Tonight's the big night: the lip-synch competition. In the Rec Hall-a little theater with wooden benches, screen windows to keep out the mosquitoes, and a stage-the director of the girls' camp, Phyllis Dank, calls up the first group. “All right girls!” she yells. “Let's start with . . . “

This time around, there's no underwear on heads. These girls mean business. They strut, they spin, they gaffe through song after song, and the entire hall erupts with laughter.

The next group pulls out every move in the book-spinning, high kicking, all of it in unison. An hour later, every girl in the house has stepped onto the stage and given it her all.

At the end of the contest, no particular group wins. Around here, everybody wins. And as is custom at the end of a day, the campers launch into song and start laughing and hugging as if this were the best day they've ever lived. The new campers learn all the camp songs within their first week. They're the same songs I learned that first summer more than 20 years ago. What the hell! Might as well join in.

And just like that, I realize what the magic is. Looking around, it's clear that these girls aren't shy. Around here, the idea of self-consciousness does not exist. It's as if that feeling has been stripped from their vocabulary of emotions. Imagine it: a world without an inner dialogue, devoid of social discomfort, of second-guessing oneself. Where else can a 32-year-old man feel perfectly comfortable clapping his hands with 9-year old girls, singing old showtunes at the top of his lungs, hitting the high notes in two-part harmony?

“Oh, when the saints . . . go marching in . . . oh, when the saints go marching in . . .”

The Best Camps

Research by Shannon Ringvelski.

This is a selective list of traditional summer camps based on interviews with campers, parents, staff, directors, and others who have personal knowledge of camp facilities and programs, and a guide to free area referral services that can help you find the right camp for your child. Many of these camps encourage visits from prospective campers and their families in the summer while they are in session.

Overnight Camps

The aloha Foundation
Okay, we don't get the whole Hawaii motif either, but these three Vermont camps emphasize helping children succeed in an environment that includes traditional camp activities close to nature and surrounded by music and humor. Some of the campers are fifth-generation, and the unusual campus includes 19th-century buildings, a life-sized replica of a medieval castle, and a working Viking sailing ship. [Fairlee, VT, 802-333-3400, www.alohafoundation.org. Founded 1915, 1905, 1922; Aloha Hive: girls, ages 7-12; Aloha Camp: girls, ages 12-17; Lanakila: boys, ages 8-14; 120 campers per camp; 2.5 campers per adult; 80 percent return rate; three and a half and seven weeks; $6,400 for full season.]

Birch Rock Camp
Birch Rock's size allows it to focus a lot of individual attention on each boy. Table etiquette and the proper way to make a bed are taught side by side with wilderness hiking, which takes campers to places like the St. Croix International Waterway at the boundary with Canada. [Waterford, ME, 207-583-4478 (summer), 207-741-2930 (winter), www.birchrock.org. Founded 1926; boys, ages 7-15; 72 campers; 3 campers per adult; 80 percent return rate; three and a half and seven weeks; $4,800 for full season.]

Camp Caribou
Caribou has been run by the same family since 1968, and some things (like archery, waterfront activities, and top-notch coaching) haven't changed. There's also a new, 10,000-square-foot gym and facilities for virtually every kind of sport. [Winslow, ME, 207-872-9313 (summer), 508-358-5050 (winter), www.campcaribou.com. Founded 1922; boys, ages 7-15; 225 campers; 3 campers per adult; 70 percent return rate; three and a half and seven weeks; $7,150 for full season.]

Camp Cedar
Six basketball courts, a nine-hole golf course, and a full-sized, lighted soccer and lacrosse field make Jack a busy boy. Structured, but with some opportunity for choice. Clean, new facilities and, most important of all, involved, hands-on directors. [Casco, ME, 207-627-4266 (summer), 617-277-8080 (winter), www.campcedar.com. Founded 1954; boys, ages 8-15; 290 campers; 2 campers per adult; 95 percent return rate; seven weeks; $7,800.]

Chewonki
On a midcoastal tidal bay, campers learn navigation skills and participate in wilderness trips to the more desolate regions of Maine. Camping skills and appreciation for nature are emphasized. [Wiscasset, ME, 207-882-7323, www.chewonki.org. Founded 1915; boys, ages 8-15; 140 campers; 3 campers per adult; 65 percent return rate; three and a half and seven weeks; $5,400 for full season.]

Camp Cobbossee
A classic Maine sports camp with a heart, not to mention premier facilities, including a 30-foot climbing wall and indoor bouldering cave. Cobbossee's structured day leaves plenty of room for free time. Campers can choose to participate in intercamp sports, but teamwork and improvement are considered more important than beating a rival camp at baseball. [Winthrop, ME, 800-473-6104, www.campcobbossee.com. Founded 1902; boys, ages 7-15; 220 campers; 3 campers per adult; 75 percent return rate; three and a half and seven weeks; $7,450 for full season.]

Camp Emerson
For the independent, mature child, there may be no better place to spend a summer. Step Beyond classes offer in-depth instruction in science, moviemaking, board game development, and wilderness survival. But, as the directors are fond of saying, it's summer! So after using their noggins all morning, children can spend their afternoons rejuvenating in the private, six-acre lake. [Hinsdale, 413-655-8123 (summer), 203-894-9663 (winter), www.campemerson.com. Founded 1968; coed, ages 8-15; 220 campers; 2 campers per adult; 95 percent return rate; four weeks; $4,300.]

Camp Fernwood
A close-knit uniform camp with structure, but also a variety of electives, and, for older campers, white-water canoeing, mountain hiking, and rock climbing. A typical Maine camping experience with a mature staff, friendly atmosphere, and one of the best sandy beaches in the Northeast. [Poland, ME, 207-998-4346 (summer), 610-695-0169 (winter), www.campfernwood.com. Founded 1921; girls, ages 8-15; 180 campers; 1.5 campers per adult; 98 percent return rate; seven and a half weeks; $7,700.]

Camp Greylock
Top-notch sports instruction for the competitive boy, with facilities to back it up, including 5 baseball fields, 16 tennis courts, 4 soccer fields, and a hockey rink, on 400 acres. [Becket, 413-623-8921 (summer), 212-582-1042 (winter), www.campgreylock.com. Founded 1916; boys, ages 6-16; 350 campers; 2 campers per adult; 90 percent return rate; seven weeks; $7,950.]

Hidden Valley Camp
If we had to send an intellectually curious, animal-loving 10-year-old gourmand to camp, this would be the one. Hidden Valley keeps its own llama herd and a barnyard full of rabbits, pigs, and lambs. Four stained-glass studios are only the beginning of the arts and crafts options. The food is among the best in camping. [Freedom, ME, 800-922-6737, www.hiddenvalleycamp.com. Founded 1947; coed, ages 8-13; 280 campers; 3 campers per adult; 68 percent return rate; four and eight weeks; $6,190 for full season.]

Indian Acres and Forest Acres
These brother and sister camps should get more attention than they do: Both are great examples of traditional Maine camping. They're also small and nurturing, for the first-time camper who needs a little more attention. Facilities include a full-sized indoor basketball court, an Olympic-sized pool, a driving range, and a 23-horse stable. [Fryeburg, ME, 207-935-2300 (summer), 954-385-3545 (winter), www.indianacres.com. Founded 1924 and 1927; Indian Acres: boys, ages 7-16; Forest Acres: girls, ages 6-16; 150 campers per camp; 2.5 campers per adult; 75 percent return rate; seven weeks; $7,200.]

Kenwood and Evergreen
Unique adjacent brother-sister overnight camps. Boys and girls spend most evening activities and weekend events together, and the two camps share facilities including the dining hall. But each has its own style and traditions, and daily activities are divided by gender. This gives kids both a coed experience and the separate camaraderie of a single-sex camp. [Potter Place, NH, 603-735-5189 (summer), 781-793-0091 (winter), www.kenwood-evergreen.com. Founded 1930; Kenwood: boys, ages 7-15; Evergreen: girls, ages 7-15; 300 campers; 2 adults per camper; 95 percent return rate; seven weeks; $7,200.]

Kingsley Pines Camp
Originally a resort for Boston women, this is now a sports and arts camp with plenty of unstructured free time for the independent-minded; the only mandatory activity is swimming. High marks in our book for a population not imported from Manhattan and Long Island. [Raymond, ME, 800-480-1533, www.kingsleypines.com. Founded 1983; coed, ages 8-15; 200 campers; 3 campers per adult; 60 percent return rate; two, three, five, and six weeks; $5,998 for six weeks.]

Camp Laurel South
Laurel South strives to fit a full summer into four weeks. All the kids arrive and leave together, preventing cliques from forming before the second-session kids arrive. New facilities and down-to-earth, hands-on directors. Arts, sports, and a little something for every camper. [Casco, ME, 207-627-4334 (summer), 800-327-3506 (winter), www.camplaurelsouth.com. Founded 1921; coed, ages 7-15; 320 campers; 3 campers per adult; 80 percent return rate; four weeks; $4,750.]

Lochearn Camp for Girls
With dozens of activities, a manicured lakefront, and ancient traditions, Lochearn is just plain fun. An eclectic mix of children from around the country and, for the little girl in everyone, a full 16-horse stable run by the former equestrian director at Smith and Dartmouth. [Post Mills, VT, 877-649-4151, www.camplochearn.com. Founded 1916; girls, ages 7-16; 175 campers; 4 campers per adult; 75 percent return rate; four and eight weeks; $7,800 for full season.]

Camp Mah-Kee-Nac
Sports and specialty programs including tennis, soccer, sailing, and swimming in the two-mile-wide lake and Olympic-sized pool, but also drama, photography, a radio station, and a wood shop. A structured program for younger kids, and lots of choice for the older ones. [Lenox, 413-637-0781 (summer), 800-309-4332 (winter), www.campmkn.com. Founded 1929; boys, ages 8-15; 375 campers; 3 campers per adult; 90 percent return rate; seven weeks; $7,700.]

Maine Teen Camp
Designed for the older child who didn't have the traditional camping experience at seven or eight, this camp is anything but traditional in practice. A mature staff caters to a crowd of independent thinkers (all free-choice scheduling here). The whole place is geared toward the campers and what they want out of their summers. This shouldn't be unique, but it is. [Porter, ME, 800-752-2267, www .teencamp.com. Founded 1984; coed, ages 13-17; 250 campers; 3 campers per adult; 35 percent return rate; four and eight weeks; $5,495 for full season.]

Camp Manitou for Boys
With a lighted, Little League-sized replica of Fenway Park and a Claymation studio, how could you go wrong? A camp for just about any boy with any set of interests, Manitou has a private island, a 450-seat theater with its own costume shop, a driving range and miniature golf course, and a 50-foot climbing tower, among other facilities. Competitive, but not merciless. [Oakland, ME, 800-326-1916, www.campmanitou.com. Founded 1947; boys, ages 7-15; 300 campers; 2.5 campers per adult; 80 percent return rate; three and a half and seven weeks; $7,450 for full season.]

Camp Matoaka
The second-generation owners emphasize participation in sports and teamwork, but Matoaka works equally hard for competitive and not-so-competitive girls on a campus that stretches along a mile of lakefront. Individually tailored schedules can be modified every week and viewed by parents on the website. [Smithfield, ME, 207-362-2500 (summer), 800-628-6252 (winter), www.matoaka.com. Founded 1951; girls, ages 8-15; 285 campers; 2.5 campers per adult; 88 percent return rate; three and a half and seven weeks; $7,675 for full season.]

Med-o-lark
The founder of OMNI Camp, Maine Teen Camp, and Hidden Valley Camp has made an effort here to capture the best of each and add something a little different. The result is a camp that feels like an artist colony in the backwoods with options ranging from batik to calligraphy to cooking and an all-free-choice schedule. There are lots of the traditional Maine camp sports, too, for when your child wants to put the easel away for the afternoon. [Washington, ME, 800-292-7757, www.medolark.com. Founded 1967; coed, ages 11-15; 250 campers; 3 campers per adult; 50 percent return rate; four and eight weeks; $5,995 for full season.]

Omni Camp
At the former Samantha Smith World Peace Camp are workshops on such topics as environmental awareness, diversity, world issues, and community service. But there's also plenty of hiking, water-skiing, and high ropes to almost convince you that you're at a run-of-the-mill New England summer camp. A great place for open-minded, mature kids. [Poland Springs, ME, 207-998-4777 (summer), 888-417-6664 (winter), www.omnicamp.com. Founded 1989; coed, ages 9-15; 200 campers; 3 campers per adult; 50 percent return rate; two, four, six, and eight weeks; $6,000 for full season.]

Camp Pinecliffe
Girls travel from all over the world to participate in Pinecliffe's mostly elective program in which younger girls are given greater structure, but older ones explore on their own. The fourth-generation director emphasizes tradition, something helped by a low turnover among key staff. [Harrison, ME, 207-583-2201 (summer), 614-236-5698 (winter), www.pinecliffe.com. Founded 1917; girls, ages 8-15; 200 campers; 2.2 campers per adult; 95 percent return rate; seven weeks; $8,100.]

Camp Skylemar
With its location on a three-mile-long lake, you might expect that swimming, water-skiing, canoeing, snorkeling, and kayaking would be a big part of life at Skylemar. But most campers remember more about the atmosphere: friendly, nurturing, and, yes, a bit insular. The six-hole golf course and view of Mount Washington brought L. L. Bean here to shoot a catalog. [Naples, ME, 207-693-6414 (summer), 410-329-3775 (winter), www.campskylemar.com. Founded 1949; boys, ages 7-15; 170 campers; 2.5 campers per adult; 90 percent return rate; three and a half and seven weeks; $8,050 for full season.]

Camp Takajo
There's not much turnover here, and the consistency shows. Takajo focuses on providing a values-oriented education for boys, a philosophy set before a backdrop of one of the most lavishly equipped camps in New England. So elite is its clientele that Takajo made it into a script of the Fox TV hit The O.C. [Naples, ME, 207-693-6675 (summer), 914-273-5020 (winter), www.takajo.com. Founded 1947; boys, ages 7-15; 400 campers; 3 campers per adult; 90 percent return rate; seven weeks; $8,100.]

Tripp Lake Camp
Tripp Lake's emphasis on tradition attracts third- and fourth-generation campers by the droves. But even if your great-grandmother didn't attend, there are plenty of reasons to start a new legacy here, including a friendly staff and a pine lodge that screams New England summer camp. [Poland, ME, 207-998-4347 (summer), 914-273-4065 (winter), www.tripplakecamp.com. Founded 1911; girls, ages 8-16; 350 campers; 2.5 campers per adult; 98 percent return rate; seven weeks; $8,200.]

Camp Vega
All-around sumptuous facilities (12 tennis courts, a sparkling lakefront, state-of-the-art theater and arts buildings) have kept Vega in demand, but it's the high level of instruction that keeps the campers coming back. A former Rockette, for instance, teaches dance. [Kents Hill, ME, 207-685-3707 (summer), 781-934-6536 (winter), www.campvega.com. Founded 1936; girls, ages 7-15; 325 campers; 3 campers per adult; 90 percent return rate; seven and a half weeks; $8,400.]

Camp Walden
If this camp looks familiar, that's because you saw it in Disney's remake of The Parent Trap, whose producer and director modeled the sets after it (their daughters went here). From rustic but comfortable cabins, girls operate a minidemocracy in the woods, with their own honor system. General camp activities (trips, hiking, theater, riding, tennis) with a real feeling of camaraderie. [Denmark, ME, 207-452-2901 (summer), 434-293-3730 (winter), www.campwalden.com. Founded 1916; girls, ages 9-15; 150 campers; 3 campers per adult; 94 percent return rate; seven and a half weeks; $7,000.]

Camp Walt Whitman
Children choose a weekly special interest from among such choices as cooking, photography, or a particular sport. In addition to a mature staff, this camp has excellent coaching; the tennis instructor, for example, is head coach at Brigham Young University. [Piermont, NH, 603-764-5521 (summer), 800-657-8282 (winter), www.campwalt.com. Founded 1948; coed, ages 7.5-15; 390 campers; 2 campers per adult; 90 percent return rate; three, four, and seven weeks; $7,500-$7,900 for full season, depending on the child's age.]

Camp Watitoh
This camp has been in the same family for two generations, and while the facilities have been updated, the philosophy is unchanged: to provide a comfortable place for down-to-earth kids with spirit and an interest (but not necessarily a proficiency) in sports. [Becket, 413-623-8951 (summer), 914-428-1894 (winter), www.campwatitoh.com. Founded 1937; coed, ages 7-16; 200 campers; 4 campers per adult; 80 percent return rate; seven and a half weeks; $5,600.]

Camp Wicosuta
In its variety of offerings and the enthusiasm of its staff, this camp is more like a vacation with horses, ice-skating, and watersports than a stodgy home-away-from-home for the elite. It's low pressure all around, with plenty of opportunity to try new things: Older girls have complete choice in scheduling their days. [Hebron, NH, 800-846-9426, www.campwicosuta.com. Founded 1920; girls, ages 6-15; 270 campers first session, 175 second session; 3 campers per adult; 80 percent return rate; four weeks; $4,750.]

Camp Winaukee
The same family has run Winaukee, on Lake Winnipesaukee, since 1934. Older boys spend their time on the camp's private island, but no matter what side of the lake you're on, this much is clear: Winaukee is one of the premier New England summer camps for boys, something reinforced by recent renovations. [Center Harbor, NH, 603-253-9272 (summer), 800-487-9157 (winter), www.winaukee.com. Founded 1920; boys, ages 7-15; 370 campers; 3 campers per adult; 70 percent return rate; seven weeks; $7,900.]

Camp Winnebago
Winnebago emphasizes the kinder, gentler side of team sports: values, sportsmanship, and skill-building. A diverse population, a variety of water-sports, and New England's best camp library add to typical activities including archery, photography, and, of course, swimming. [Fayette, ME, 800-932-1646, www.campwinnebago.com. Founded 1919; boys, ages 8-15; 160 campers; 3 campers per adult; 85 percent return rate; four and eight weeks; $8,000 for full season.]

Day Camps

Beaver Summer Programs
Beaver Summer emphasizes breadth and depth, with many activities and quality instruction. In addition to a traditional day camp, Beaver offers one-week specialty programs in sports, nature, and the visual arts. [Chestnut Hill, 617-738-2750, www.beavercds.org/summer/programs. Founded 1920; coed, ages 3-15; 650 campers; 4 campers per adult; 65 percent return rate; one, two, four, six, or eight weeks; $2,800-$3,250 for eight weeks, depending on the child's age.]

Brooks School Day Camp
Brooks School Day Camp fills up fast, just like the private school on whose grounds it's located. Entertainers, carnivals, and visits from rainforest reptiles add to the fun of two swimming pools, a lake, five squash courts, and an arts, music, and drama center. [North Andover, 978-725-6253, www.brooksschool.org/pages/summer.cfm. Founded 1971; coed, ages 4-12; 385 campers; 4 campers per adult; 75 percent return rate; two, four, six, and eight weeks; $2,190 for eight weeks.]

Cambridge School of Weston Summer Day Camp
Weston gets high marks for its talented and enthusiastic staff. A college graduate, a college student, and a high school student lead each group of campers, while experts in their fields teach art and drama. [Weston, 781-642-8666, www.csw.org/summer. Founded 1951; coed, ages 4.5-14; 250 campers; 6 campers per adult for older children, 2 for younger; 60 percent return rate; two, four, six, or eight weeks; $2,960 for eight weeks.]

Concord Academy Summer Camp
All of the traditional day camp balance between sports and arts, but with a focus on building self-esteem and lots of choices for the older kids. [Concord, 978-402-2284, www.concordacademysummercamp.org. Founded 1970; coed, ages 3.5-14; 250 campers; 3 campers per adult; 65 percent return rate; one to eight weeks; $3,500 for eight weeks.]

Fessenden Day Camp
The Fessenden School's 13 tennis courts, hockey rink, and 41 acres support the day camp and its offshoots, which include an art camp and a baseball camp. [West Newton, 617-630-2373, www.fessenden.org/summer/index.asp. Founded 1947; coed, ages 4-12; 350+ campers; 3.5 campers per adult; 90 percent return rate; four and eight weeks; $2,650 for eight weeks.]

Camp Sewataro
Only 20 miles from Boston, Sewataro feels like an overnight camp, but without the separation pangs. Four swimming pools give mandatory swim a little variety. Popular events include scavenger hunts, Olympic games, and carnivals. A good place for kids not ready for overnight camp. [Sudbury, 978-443-3100, www.sewataro.com. Founded 1960; coed, ages 4-13; 550 campers; 4 campers per adult; 80 percent return rate; four and eight weeks; $4,000 for eight weeks.]

Tenacre Day Camp
Tenacre has a little of everything for any age, thanks to the amenities at Tenacre Country Day School. A tidal pool gives older kids a chance to study ecology, while the younger campers practice archery, climbing, and swimming in two heated pools and a wading pool. Excellent art and music facilities. [Wellesley, 781-235-3238, www.tenacrecds.org. Founded 1960; coed, ages 4-12; 600 campers; 5 campers per adult; 75 percent return rate; two, four, six, and eight weeks; $3,265 for eight weeks.]

Camp Consultants

American Camping Association of New England
A membership association that includes many day and overnight camps.
[214 North Main St., Natick, 508-647-2267, www.acane-camps.org.]

The Camp Experts
Represents more than 700 camps, academic programs, and teen travel.
[35 Guzzlebrook Dr.,Sudbury, 978-443-9778, www.campexperts.com.]

CampSource
Represents more than 500 camps and other summer programs.
[92 Deborah Rd., Newton, 617-244-3316,www.campsourcenet.com.]

Student Camp & Trip Advisors
Represents more than 700 camps and other summer programs.
[181 Wells Ave., Newton Centre, 617-558-7005,www.campadvisors.com.]

Summer Camp & Trip Resources
Represents more than 300 camps and other summer programs.
[45 Sloane Dr., Framingham, 508-877-3648,www.summercampsandtrips.com.]