Choosing a summer camp

Now is the time to start thinking about registering your child for their first summer camp experience. For most camps, registration begins in the fall and continues through winter and spring.

The process of choosing the right camp for your child can be simple, or more complicated. One family set a budget, charged their son with finding a camp online to suit his interests, then contacted his chosen camp.
When they received satisfactory answers to their key questions, they registered.

Other parents started more than a year in advance. They researched many camps, chose one and with their young daughter, spent a weekend camping on the lake opposite the camp’s location. They observed the camp from a distance as prearranged, touring the property and talking to the director, counsellors, campers, nurse and cook. After mulling over the decision through the winter, they registered their daughter the following spring. 

Both scenarios resulted in a happy camp experience.

There are three steps to the process: talk with your child, do your research, then contact the camp.

Considering the great variety and number of camps (hundreds in Ontario alone) talking with your potential camper helps to narrow the field. What are their interests, desires and expectations? What activities would they like to do? What skills would they like to learn? The list of available programs runs the gamut, from archery to zip lines, with dozens of choices in between.

Does your child have special physical, emotional or dietary needs? Some camps are dedicated to children with special needs, while others integrate special needs campers. Do you want a camp near home, or is distance not a factor?

Are you looking for a small (under 100 campers) or large (over 300 campers) camp? Do you want a religiously affiliated camp or a non-denominational one? Are you looking for a single-sex or co-ed camp? How long a session is appropriate: a three-day introductory session or one, two, four or more weeks? 

Is your child willing to go to camp alone, or is the company of a friend preferable? The security of arriving with a friend eases the initial apprehension, but be assured camps know how to integrate new campers quickly. Going alone encourages the camper to make new friends, which is an important part of the whole experience.

Is cost a barrier? There are charities such as Kids in Camp and Amici that financially support campers. Many camps operate their own subsidy programs.

Once you have considered your options, it is time to start your research.

Ask friends, family, neighbours, and colleagues for personal recommendations. Check if there is a camp fair convenient to your location. Dates and locations will be posted on provincial camping association websites, as well as directories listing all member camps.
The Canadian Camping Association
website provides links to the camping associations in each province.     

Make a short list and contact the camps. No question is too direct or unsuitable to satisfy yourself that this is the right choice for your child and that this camp provides a safe, caring, nurturing environment where your child will be healthy, happy and can learn and grow.

How your initial phone call is received will give you a feel for the camp. Are they helpful, friendly and willing and able to answer all your questions completely? On invitation, some directors will visit potential campers in their own homes if distance permits. 

Ask about the qualifications and experience of the director and the staff. Ask about the health care and food service. Ask if the fee includes all costs, or if there are extra charges for transportation or other items.

Question the director about how homesickness is managed, should it occur. Ask about visiting policies. Enquire if their provincial association accredits the camp. At your request, some camps will provide the names of a few current parents whom you may contact.

It is well worth the time and effort to make the right choice with and for your child. The camp you choose could become his summer home, where the skills he learns and the friends he makes will last a lifetime.

Catherine Ross, retired camp director; author of several books and many articles on camping, Canadian Camping Association volunteer; Board Member Kids in Camp Charity.