Ten Tips to Help Find the Best Camp for Your Child 

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Before you know it, it’ll be time to pack the sunscreen, swimsuits and bug spray for summer camp. Last summer, an estimated 10 million kids across the country went to summer camp, according to the American Camp Association (ACA). But how do you pick the right camp for your child? What about accreditation and safety issues? With so many camps to choose from, where do you start? Our experts suggest that you ask the following questions:

What activities does my child enjoy? 

Summer camp is a great opportunity to focus on what your child likes and to strengthen her skills in those areas. Soccer, art, the outdoors, dance, computers … there’s a camp for just about every interest. But also take the opportunity to broaden your child’s horizons and to help her develop a more well-rounded life. Maybe this is the year your technically orientated child could benefit from some time on a ranch. Or maybe your sports-orientated child will discover a love for theater by attending a camp for the arts.

What are my — and my child’s — expectations? 

Decide what’s important to you before searching for a camp. What’s your budget? How far away are you willing to send your child? What environment do you prefer (traditional or specialty programs, rustic or luxury, large or small, religious affiliation, age focus, etc.)? Decide these things up front and you can narrow down your choices.

What summer-camp environment is right for my child with special needs? 

Up to 15 percent of summer camps in the U.S. are now dedicated to meeting the special needs of campers with physical, emotional or mental challenges, according to the ACA. Contact the ACA at (765) 342-8456 to learn more and for a list of camps.

Is the camp accredited by the American Camp Association? 

The ACA has accredited more than 2,400 camps across the U.S. This is an independent organization and not a referral service. These camps must meet up to 300 standards for health, safety and program quality. To find an ACA-accredited camp, visit www.acacamps.org.

Is the camp licensed by your state?

Most overnight camps working with school-aged children are required to be licensed by the state in which they operate. Childcare licensing mandates that camps meet specific health and safety standards. Whether a day camp or overnight camp, ask how the camp upholds state standards.

Does the camp communicate well with parents? 

Pay attention to pre-camp contacts, suggests Silvana Clark, a former camp director and a professional speaker on parenting topics. “The brochures may look great, but what kind of service do you get when contacting the camp? If no one returns your calls or e-mails, or if the camp staff keeps saying ‘I don’t know about that,’ find another camp.”

What are the staffing ratios? 

The ratio of staff to campers can tell you how much individual attention your child will receive at camp. Ask the camp director if their ratios include just counseling staff or if they also include support staff who don’t work directly with campers during the day. Ask what the normal group size is, and how many staff members supervise that group. Finally, find out if these ratios improve during activities such as horseback riding, rock climbing, biking, etc. 

What about safety and security issues?

Make sure the camp you’re considering does background checks on all staff members, and don’t be afraid to ask questions about safety, security or healthcare. For camps that offer activities such as swimming, boating or diving, make sure all instructors are CPR-certified and that a lifeguard is on duty at all times, suggests Britt Michaelian, author of Secrets of the Safety Goddess:  A Modern Safety Guide for Busy Parents.

How are camp counselors trained? 

Most high-quality camps have a three- to five-day training program to give staff the skills they will need to help create a successful experience for your child. Staff members should be trained in more than the technical skills of running a program. They should learn the camp’s philosophy and practice listening to children and managing a group appropriately. Specialized adventure counselors should have advanced training in their specialty. 

How can my child participate in selecting a camp? 

Engage your child in the search. Gather information about different types of camps and read through the information with your child, writing down the pros and cons of each camp, so you can make an educated choice together.

By the way, Mom and Dad, don’t forget to have a great time yourselves, says Ben Cober, who grew up as a summer camper and then worked for five years at various camps. He’s seen his share of frazzled parents on drop-off and pick-up days. “Let loose,” he advises. “Re-live your honeymooning days. The rascals are out … celebrate!”  

Kathy Sena
About Kathy Sena

Kathy Sena is a journalist specializing in parenting topics. She and her husband like to sneak off for quick-but-romantic local trips when their son is at summer camp.

Comments

  1. I agree that considering your expectations before you choose a summer camp would be helpful. I would imagine that you would want to find somewhere that will probably live up to your, and your kids expectations. I’m looking for a camp for my kids this summer so we’ll have to find somewhere that they will enjoy.

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