Parent Frequently Asked Questions | Surprise Lake Camp

Parent Frequently Asked Questions

Answers To The 26 Most Asked Questions About Camp  


1.  Can you describe a typical day at Surprise Lake Camp?  


7:30 wakeup

8:15 breakfast

9:00 cleanup Question Mark 

9:30 first AM activity

10:30 second AM activity

11:30 third AM activity

1:00 lunch

1:45 hafsakah (rest period)

3:00 first PM activity

4:15 snack

4:30 second PM activity

6:15 dinner

7:15 evening program

8:15 unit time


7:30 wakeup

8:15 breakfast

9:00 cleanup

9:30 first AM activity

10:30 Specialty*

11:30 Specialty*

1:00 lunch

1:45 hafsakah (rest period)

(staff have time off)

3:00 first PM activity

4:15 snack

4:30 second PM activity

6:15 dinner

7:15 evening program

8:30 open curfew

9:30 back to bunks

(schedules vary on Shabbat)

* Teens pick a favorite activity as their Specialty where they spend extra time and learn advanced skills.

2. Are there trips? 
Everyone goes on trips out of camp. The youngest campers, up to age 10, go on one trip in a four week session. As campers get older, the trips get more extensive and more plentiful. Teens go on at least two trips every four weeks: one that is with their brother/sister unit, and another that is a Choice Trip. Our oldest teen units go on a three day trip during our second session, one of the highlights of the camp experience.

3. What kind of Jewish activity do you have?  
Our Jewish program is fabulous!  It is designed to be fun, interesting, child-friendly, and has multiple entry points for campers with little or no Jewish background.  We recite a short blessing before and after each meals.  Camp-style services on Friday evening and Saturday morning are awesome, full of music, singing and spirit.  Optional traditional services are also available for those who feel more comfortable in a traditional setting.  Saturday morning we have Shabbat Walk, an structured time supervised by area when siblings and friends from different parts of camp traditionally visit with one another.  We don’t offer crafts or creative specialties on Saturdays, but we do swim, play ball, and use electricity.  We have an Israeli culture program as well as Yom Yisrael (Israel Day).  We have great Jewish cultural programs: games, songs, skits, etc.  Please see our Jewish Mission Statement for more details. We also offer a unique Bar & Bat Mitzvah Program.

4. What do you do on rainy days? 
In light rain, we often continue with normal program. In heavy rain, there is plenty of indoor space (unit lodges, indoor gym, Alumni Hall, Shmerler Building, craft shacks, dining rooms, etc.) for any type of indoor activity.

5. Is it a structured program? 
Yes. Groups travel together to activities, which are scheduled a week at a time. Mainside exceptions: hobby, three times a week, where groups are broken up and individuals go to the activity of their choice, and choice sports, where an entire unit comes to the field and each camper chooses the sport he/she wants to play. Teens have the freedom to choose a specialty program (see below) each session.  

6. How are activities chosen? 
Programs are pre-set for the first several days of camp to try to give every camper every activity at least once. Then counselors ask the group what it wants to do. Group preferences are balanced with camp’s desire to make sure every camper gets a varied program.

7. What is the Teen Specialty program?  
Campers spend four mornings a week in an activity area of their choice for enriched program and advanced skills. See teen brochure for list of specialties. In addition, they still experience all of the other activity areas regardless of specialty.

8. How often do siblings see one another?  
If they are in the same unit, siblings will see each other several times every day. If they are in different units in the same division (Mainside or Teenside), they will see each other a couple times a day. If they are in separate divisions, they will see each other only a couple of times a week.

9. Can we see the camp?  
An orientation for new families is usually held at camp on the first Sunday in May. We also have a Tour Day in August so that families have an opportunity to see camp while it is in session, and sign up for end of summer programs, such as Get Your Feet Wetsm.  We try to avoid tours in the winter, but if it is important to you, please call the office and we will set something up.  We also have several Open Houses in NYC so that we can meet you and your camper(s) in person!

10. How big are the groups?  
Mountainview, (ages 7 to10 ½) , and Seniors, (ages 10 ½ to 12) have groups of twelve or thirteen campers with two counselors for each group.

The Mini Camp program, (ages 7 to 9) and Teenside, (ages 13 to 15), both have groups of 8 or 9 campers with one counselor for each group.

Work Program has groups of up to ten campers with one counselor for each group.

Each unit (3-7 groups) also has two or three extra relief counselors and/or counselor aides.

11. What are the cabins like? Do staff live with the campers?  
Mountainview: entire group of 12 lives together with counselors and has bathrooms inside the cabin.

Seniors: group of 12 or 13 is either split into two six-person cabins or housed together in a single cabin with three rooms of four or five campers each. Counselors live attached to the camper cabins, but not physically in the same room. Separate nearby washhouses, recently renovated, with hot water showers and flush toilets. Night toilets, with toilet and sink, are attached to one side of the cabin.

Teens: group of 8 or 9 is housed in two single cabins connected by a porch. Four or five campers to a cabin. Counselors live attached to the camper cabins, but not physically in the same room. Separate nearby washhouses, recently renovated, with hot water showers and flush toilets.

Work Program: group of 10 is split into separate cabins with up to four persons each, the counselors live in separate nearby cabins.

12. How old are the counselors?  
The youngest must be both 17 and a high school graduate. The minimum age for Teenside is 19 (occasionally a mature 18 year old will work with younger teens). Most are college students. 25-30% come from abroad, including Europe and Israel. All are personally interviewed, references are checked, and there is a one week orientation prior to camp. Eighty to ninety percent are Jewish. Supervisors are mature adults with supervisory experience and special training.

13. What activities does camp offer?  
Click here for a list of activities.  

For the record, we don’t have horses, computers, motorbikes, riflery, go-carts, or motorboats. This is probably the biggest difference between Surprise Lake Camp and private camps.  They spend more money on expensive programs; our emphasis is on spirit and creative programs instead.

14. Can I request to be bunked with someone?  
Yes. No guarantees, but almost always honored. There is a limit of two requests per camper. Requests not to be with someone are guaranteed.A request is for the group and NOT the sleeping arrangements.

15. Will my child be with all new campers?  
No. Groups are balanced to include both new and returning campers. Groups and counselor assignments are completely rearranged for the second session to avoid any disadvantage to newly arriving campers.

16. How do you handle homesickness?  
Homesickness is natural and does occur in most new campers. We are experts at handling it. Staff is trained during orientation, and Support Supervisors, who are essentially camp guidance counselors, provide professional care if needed. A seminar on “Sending A Child To Camp For The First Time” is presented at the orientation at camp in May. It includes tips for parents on preventing/dealing with homesickness. Please contact us for a copy of the handout for this presentation.

17. Do you have a nurse?  
Yes.  Seven nurses!  At least four of them are RNs.  We have a fully equipped Health Center, plus a satellite Health Center on Teenside.  A doctor visits several times a week to see campers as needed.

18. What about Lyme Disease?  

Staff and campers are given Lyme Disease Prevention Orientations upon their arrival in camp. Staff are also taught how to detect and identify symptoms of Lyme disease and the staff check the campers and remind the campers to check themselves daily. Medically approved repellents which we provide are applied prior to hikes and overnights. Upon returning to camp, everyone is required to shower. If a tick is discovered, campers are immediately brought to the Health Center where the tick is removed and the area of the bite is monitored for Lyme Disease symptoms.

19. What do we do with laundry?  
We have a commercial laundry service once a week that washes, dries and folds. It is usually returned in two to three days. This service is not recommended for delicates, colors that have never been washed and may bleed, or very expensive items.

20. Can I call or visit my child?  
No, except for Visiting Days. We feel that calls and visits can be disruptive of our program and the spirit of camp as an experience away from home. Many camps have the same policy. We encourage parents to write frequent letters or emails, and to send packages. Also, parents can always call and speak to their child’s unit supervisor. Since supervisors work in the field, the switchboard will usually take a message and have them return the call as soon as possible.

21. Are care packages allowed?  
Food is forbidden on Mainside and discouraged on Teenside. Food in the bunk attracts insects and animals. Non-food packages are always welcome. For more information on care packages we recommend the websites or  

22. Which session is better, July or August?  
July is usually more popular throughout the Northeast because August is preferred for family vacations. However, our August session usually has as many campers as July, sometimes more. The bottom line is that neither session is better than the other—both are terrific!

23. Should I sign up for one or two sessions?  
If in doubt, rule of thumb is one session for kids under 10, two for kids 10 and older. If any child, however, balks at two sessions, don’t force it. Campers who choose first session can re-register for second session on Visiting Day only if space is available.

24. How much spending money will my child need in camp?  
There are no additional charges for canteen or trips, except for the upper teen trip second session ($300) and any teens who exhaust their initial canteen credit of $15 per session.  All other canteen/trip fees have been rolled into the regular camp fee.

Camp does not provide spending money for trips.  All activity fees, transportation and food are covered, so spending money is not required, but many campers do bring some cash for souvenirs or snacks. If you would like your child to have spending money, you should give it to him/her before camp. On the first day, the supervisors will collect any money the campers wish to keep in the safe, and you should encourage your child to take advantage of this. We regret that we are not able to accept spending money directly from parents on Arrival Day since it slows down the process and pulls focus away from where it needs to be - on the campers.

Recommended amounts per session are: $5 for Mountainview, $10 for Lower Seniors, $20 for Upper Seniors and $30 for Teens, although you may wish to provide more for second session Upper Teens and Work Program campers who go on the extended trip.

25. Is tipping allowed?  
Surprise Lake Camp has a no-tipping policy. This is because many of our children come on a scholarship and have limited financial means. We do not want one child to be given preferential treatment because of their ability to tip more than another. Instead, we encourage parents to recognize staff members by making a contribution to our scholarship fund in honor of those individuals. A letter will be sent to the staff member advising them of your thoughtfulness, and your contribution is tax deductible!

26.  What is the food like? 

A few years ago, we got tired of eating“camp food.”  So we retooled our menus and hired talented professional chefs to prepare our meals.  Now eating at SLC is one of the highlights of the day!  Delicious, healthy, and kid friendly, we offer breakfast bars, salad bars, themed dinners, barbeques, and delicious, vegetarian options.  For the picky eaters, we have plain (whole wheat) pasta and peanut butter & jelly available at most meals, in additional to fresh fruit available throughout the day.  The camp food is kosher and supervised by a mashgiach.  We can accommodate special diets with advanced notice and preparation.  Please contact our camp director if your child requires a special diet.   


Want to speak to someone live?  Please call 212-924-3131 and we will be happy to help you!

To request a packet of information, click here.
If you prefer to email our Camp Registrar, click here