You are beginning to search for a summer camp for your child, but with all the options, how do you choose? The good news: there is a camp for every child with any interest.
For generations, summer camp has been providing children with the opportunity to learn life skills such as self-esteem, leadership and confidence, take part in new activities and participate in hands-on learning.
When sorting through the many summer camp day and overnight choices, we recommend families consider the following:
Philosophy and program emphasis
Each camp is unique, and provides different programming and approaches. Families need to consider carefully whether the camp’s philosophy matches their own.
Asking questions about learning approaches, how behavioural and disciplinary problems are handled, and how adjustment issues are addressed will give families a better understanding of the camp’s position.
Don’t be afraid to ask about policies regarding discipline and communication. The more open families are with camp directors, the better informed they will be when it comes to making a decision.
There is a camp for every child, but not every camp is for every child
Know your child’s interests. There are so many camp options to choose from, but it is important to match your child with a camp with programs that interest him or her.
Involve the camper
It’s crucial for families to involve the camper in decisions about camp. Search camp options in magazines and online together and, if possible, take a tour of the camp with your child.
The more involved children are in the selection process, the more ownership they feel. This helps ease concerns about camp, and can help make a child’s camp experience more successful.
Training and education
Don’t be shy about asking about the education and background of the camp director and staff. We recommend that directors possess a bachelor’s degree, have completed in-service training within the past three years, and have at least 16 weeks of camp administrative experience before assuming the responsibilities of director.
At a minimum, camp staff should be trained in safety regulations, emergency procedures and communication, behaviour management techniques, child abuse prevention, appropriate staff and camper behaviour, and specific procedures for supervision.
Families should ask about camper-to-staff ratios, and supervision in cabins and for various activities, like swimming and athletics.
It’s hard to put a price tag on children’s learning and growth, but parents certainly have their family budgets to think about when considering camp.
Day camp or residential camp?
Consider your child’s age and whether your child has had good overnight experiences away from home. This can help you make an informed decision.
The good news is that there is a camp program to fit nearly every budget. Some camps offer early-bird specials for registering early, payment plans and sibling discounts.
Parents shouldn’t be afraid to ask for references. This is generally one of the best ways to check a camp’s reputation and service record. Ask if the camp is accredited. If not, ask why.
Accreditation is the best evidence parents have of a camp’s commitment to providing a safe and nurturing environment for their children.
Renee Flax is the director of camper placement for the American Camp Association. She has been helping area families find the right camp experience for their children since 1998. Renee has an extensive knowledge of camp programs and philosophies. She is recognized as an authority on camping and has been featured in The Associated Press, The New York Times, The New York Post, Newsday, The Journal News, Parent Guide and New York Family. Renee attended summer camp for 15 years as a camper, counsellor, and group leader. She is the mother of two daughters who were also longtime campers, and grandmother to four grandchildren.