There still quite a few days before the spring season begins in the northern hemisphere. But parents in the United States are already fretting about summer. Or more correctly, they're already beginning to worry about finding the right summer camp to send their kids during the coming school break.
To help harried parents, The American Camp Association is offering a free online search engine at its Web site: AmericanCampAssociation.com
Tom Schenck, director information systems with the ACA, says parents can narrow their search using various criteria, including: "By activities, if your child has special needs, and one of the most popular ways of searching, of course, is by ZIP code [so they] can find a camp close to [home]."
Many of the camps listed in the directory include links to official Web sites, so parents can take virtual tours of campgrounds, e-mail camp directors, or even download official registration forms for their kids.
Developing a search engine for summer camps is just the latest example of how Net technology is making in-roads in an institution that traditionally invokes "non-techie" images. Schenck says many of the more than 2,400 ACA-accredited camps have found a good balance between technology and the great outdoors over the years.
Some camps, for example, allow parents to send e-mails to their kids attending camp. But "the camp will then print out the e-mail and give it to the camper," says Schenck. Since kids won't, in many cases, have direct access to a computer to reply, they're free to have fun exploring the great outdoors.
And to assuage parents suffering from separation anxiety, Schenck says some overnight camps have even set up a virtual visit system on their Web sites.
Once they enter their personal password at the site, "Parents can go and not only see photos of the camp, but are sometimes guaranteed to see photos of their own child each day," says Schenck.
However, summer camps haven't yet been able to digitally recreate and transmit over the Web the smells of s'mores around the campfire.
-- Cheri Preston, ABC News
Cybershake is produced for ABC News Radio by Andrea J. Smith.