Most parents will, at some time or another, be faced with a child who wants to go to summer camp. When carefully chosen, camps can be enriching for both parents and children.
What Type of Camp?
Once you have made the choice to send your child to camp, you will need to make some decisions about the type, duration, and location of camp. Camps run the gamut from one or two nights to eight weeks. Some camps are traditional in nature, while others specialize in a particular skill, religion, or disability. Here are some questions to help you narrow your focus:
- How far away will you allow your child to travel for camp?
- How long can your child be away? Days or weeks?
- Does your child have a disability, illness, or special need?
- Does your child have a talent, hobby, interest, or skill that you would like to nurture?
- Would you like your child to attend a religious camp?
- Do you need a camp that is academic, artistic, or athletic in nature?
- What type of activities does your child enjoy?
- Would your child be happier in a competitive or a non-competitive environment?
- Does your child need a structured or informal camp?
Finding a Summer Camp
After you have made some preliminary decisions about the type of camp you would like, you can begin your search for a specific camp. To find an appropriate facility, you can:
- Ask friends and family. Recommendations from trusted, like-minded individuals are often the best way to find an overnight summer camp.
- Ask coaches, teachers, tutors, and instructors. This is especially effective if you are looking for specialty camps.
- Check with your local YMCA. The YMCA typically offers day and overnight traditional camps for kids and teens.
Online Camp Resources
Several websites specialize in helping parents find high-quality camps for their children. The following sites will provide a good starting point in your research:
Research the Camps
Now that you've chosen a few overnight camp candidates, the real research begins. You will need to get a feel for the camp atmosphere and its policies. To do this, you can:
- Visit the camp's website.
- Call the camp and speak to the director or a counselor.
- If possible, visit the camp.
- Speak to others who have attended the camp.
- Request camp brochures.
Questions to Ask
While it is important to know what type of camp your child will attend, there are some less obvious factors that are every bit as important. For each camp you are considering, you should find out the following:
- What is the camp's discipline policy?
- What is the ratio of campers to counselors?
- Is the camp co-ed?
- How often are parent visits allowed?
- Are campers allowed to receive letters and care-packages?
- Are campers allowed to phone home? How often?
- What items should campers bring to camp?
Helpful Tips for Choosing a Summer Camp
Ready to seek a summer camp for your child? These tips will help you make an informed decision.
Consider Your Child's Interests
If your child is already involved in a particular sport or activity, then consider a summer camp that focuses on him or her. You can also consider one that gives your child new challenges. Part of the fun of going to camp is trying new things, and you want to make sure that your child has this opportunity.
Ask Your Child for Ideas
Since your child is the one who will be going to camp, it makes sense to ask him or her for some ideas about the kind of camp and activities he or she would enjoy.
Get Your Child Involved
When you are reviewing websites or brochures from summer camps, let your child look at them too. Give him the chance to talk about what he likes about the camp, as well as, the things that he doesn't find appealing. This information will help you narrow down the choices to a short list that you can use to make the final decision.
Some children adjust readily to being at camp from a young age, while others are not ready until the tween or teen years. There is no "right" age to send a child to camp, and even children in the same family mature at different rates. If you feel that your child would have trouble being away from home for an extended stay at camp, then find a camp that offers sessions that are relatively short. You can always arrange for a longer stay the following summer or whenever your child seems ready to do so.
Check Certification Status
The American Camp Association is one organization that rates camps. You can find a list of approved ones on the ACA web site. There are good quality camps that don't have this accreditation, too. If you are considering one of them, be sure to ask how the camp's programs have developed over time and what improvements have been made to the camp over the years.
Learn Hiring Practices and Staff Ratios
The camp administrators are responsible for hiring counselors and other staff members, and you need to know about the process they use to screen applicants. Does the camp perform background checks?
Once you have a short list of camps, contact each one directly to ask whether you can contact families that have sent children there in the past. This is an opportunity to find out what made them choose the camp and whether they had any concerns or issues with the program or the staff. You will also want to ask about the food served and whether they would choose that camp again.
Visiting websites and looking at brochures are helpful when you are considering how to choose a summer camp, but a personal visit will give you a better idea of whether you are making the right choice for your child. If possible, visit the camp while it's in session. You may want to take your child with you, since you are looking for a good camp for him or her.
If a personal visit is not practical, contact the camp administrator or a senior staff member by phone. Since your goal is to get a "feel" for the camp, make a point of asking open-ended questions and really listen to the way the other person answers. Take notes during the conversation so that you can refer to them later on.
A Great Experience
Summer camp can be a wonderfully enriching experience for your child. With careful thought and research, you can find the ideal facility for your child that he or she will want to return to time and time again.