What to look for in a summer day camp

The top five things to consider when choosing your child’s camp – and some important warning signs that should give you pause

Young Boys And Girls In Football Team  With Coach

You know it when you see it: the little things that make you cringe and afraid to leave your child in someone else’s care.

Actions speak louder than words, and many parents don’t have much to work with when choosing summer care for their children. Advertising and the reputation of the organizations they are considering are strong factors in decision making.

There are various guides to choosing a camp, but many of them suggest calling and speaking to the camp director with a long list of questions.

So how does a parent choose?

Look for something of interest to your child

You may need child care, and you want a safe place, but you also need to sell your child on why it is going to be fun if you want to get them happily out the door each morning.


Ask other parents about their camp experiences and consider calling the director of the camp you are considering if you need more assurance – ask about ratios, training, and scheduled activities. Keep in mind: the answers are not as important as the reception you get and the comfort you feel.

Now let’s look at those cringe-worthy factors that really demonstrate the ability of the camp to be a safe and positive experience for your child. Here are five things that should give any parent pause for thought as they consider day camps for their prince or princess.

A cup of joe in one hand and a
cell phone in the other

Nothing says “I think this job is easy and requires nothing more than my presence” than sipping a cup of coffee and texting. Anyone who has children wishes it were – but it is not!

Fail to plan, plan to fail

It’s a business truth that is magnified when it comes to child care! There must be a plan; if there is no minute-
by-minute schedule, then you know the staff is pulling activities out of their____, and we all know how well that works for an eight-hour day!

What makes it ‘wow’?

Theme parks do this well, and day camps are no different. What is the theme and are there any special attractions that bring the theme to life? Without these attractions, the camp will be boring, and bored kids either create their own excitement or simply refuse to go to camp.

Where two or three are gathered

It should be easy to pick out the staff members – most will be dressed in uniforms and about two feet taller than the kids.

But when it is easy to find staff because two, three or more of them are gathered together, then the staff-to-child supervision ratio the management is so proud of  means nothing!

The boss is in the office

Camp staff members usually include youth and this does not mean that they are not good at looking after children, but adult eyes and experience provide wisdom and judgement for these “greenhorns.”

An adult need not be the counsellor, but there should be some supervision, and the best way to do that is to get out of the office and see what is going on.

In the end, if you walk in on the first day and see anything that makes you cringe, ask to speak to the adult in charge and demand better.

Stephen Nason is a father of two boys, senior director of programs at Dovercourt Recreation Centre, and teaches part-time in the recreation program at Algonquin College.

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