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How to Choose the Best Summer Camp for Your Child: 10 Questions to Ask

Hispanic father and son hiking on trail in woodsI am a huge proponent of summer camps.  I started at summer camp when I was 8 years old, and my gym teacher, who was also the camp program director, gave me a scholarship to attend.  After that week (despite the bouts of homesickness and a few bug bites), I was hooked, and continued to attend camp each summer as a camp, then a junior counselor, and a counselor.  In fact, my first “real” job out of college was as a camp director, and I still have very good relationships with (and many, many very fond memories of) both camps that I worked at and attended.   One of the reasons I even agreed to go on the first date with my husband was because he too had attended and worked at summer camps.  The experiences at camp can be life affirming, life changing, and, well, just plain fun!

But, how do you choose the best camp for your child?  Elizabeth Gehrman, a contributor to the Globe Magazine, suggests key questions to consider in her article “10 questions to ask when choosing a summer camp”, listed below:

  1. Is my child ready for camp?  Consider your child’s maturity level and social skills.  According to Arnie Gerson, director of Camp Bournedale, “the biggest indictor of success with kids is if they have reasonable social skills.  Do they relate well, have good friends?  Are they amenable, agreeable, that type of thing?  If so, they’re going to do well at camp.”  Depending on the camp, you may also need to assess your child’s current skill level, as well as basic requirements of the camp.  (You wouldn’t want to sign your child up for an advanced horseback riding camp if they’d never been on a horse.)  If you are considering a sleepover or resident camp, think back to how your child has done at sleepovers with friends or relatives, as well as their excitement level about spending the nights away, suggests Bette Russel, executive director of American Camp Association (ACA), New England.

2.    How much does it matter what camp I choose?   It actually may matter a lot. There are more and more camps being introduced all the time, and there is a camp for every child.  The trick is finding a camp program that is suited to both you and your child.  Kris Ebner-Martin, director of Camp Awosting for boys and Camp Chinqueka for girls in Litchfield County, CT says “You want to have a program where the child is extremely comfortable and has something they’re interested in.  And the parents need to feel comfortable with the camp philosophy and know their child is going to be safe, is going to be happy.”

3.   Single sex or coed?   Each choice has its advantages and disadvantages.  According to Gehrman, “Advocates of single-sex camps say they give children more opportunity to be themselves without the pressure of having the opposite sex around, and also that, especially for older children, many petty rivalries are avoided.”  But Gregg Parker, owner and director of coed Camp Waziyatah in Waterford, Maine, says that having both sexes in the same camp helps to increase compassion, friendship, and a sense of equality, as well as challenges the children individually and as a group to get along and work as a team in ways that are not presented in a typical school environment.

4.   What about cost?  Costs of camp can vary greatly, and amenities that may be included, such as transportation and meals, may vary greatly as well.  Dorothy Antczak, program director of SummerQuest day camp suggests that the best way to compare camp costs is to figure the program cost per hour, and then consider the value: what will my child be doing during these hours, and what will my child come away with after a week at this camp.  Also be sure to check into financial aid, scholarships, deferred payment plans, sliding scale tuition, and discounts for bringing a friend.  Most camps have at least one of these options in place and strive to make camp an affordable experience for every child, but the sooner you ask the better, because these funds can run out early in the season.

5.   What is the camp philosophy?  What kind of experience do you want your child to have?  Do you want your child to be in a specialty camp or get a general overview of traditional camp activities?  Do you want a more outdoor focused camp, or one that is in a more urban setting?  Does your child get to work in a group and collaborate with other children?  How much flexibility will your child have in making their own schedule?

6.    What are the qualifications of the director and staff, and the ratio of staff to children?  Counselor qualifications can range from high school or college students to those with college degrees or advanced experience.  The most important factor is to make sure that the staff is engaged and interacting with the kids.  As for the camp leadership, check out their background and years of experience.   Also take into account the communication of the camp staff or director, such as timeliness and professionalism.  The staff-to-child ratio may vary, depending on the type of camp and the age of the child, but the American Camping Association accreditation requirements range from 1-to-5 for overnight campers aged 4 and 5 to 1-to-12 for day campers aged 15 to 17.

7.   What procedures are in place to keep my child safe?  Safety first!  Make sure the camp does background checks on all employees, and has access to EMTs, staff who are trained in CPR and first aid, and any extra certifications that make sense for the type of camp (i.e. certified lifeguards if there will be swimming).  If transportation is provided by the camp, ask about the licensing and training of drivers, insurance carried, and how often the vehicles are inspected.

8.    What’s your approach to conflicts between campers? According to Kobe Biederman, director of Adventure Camp Sargent Center in Hancock, New Hampshire, good program design, scheduling, and staff training is the best way for camps to stay ahead of any potential camper conflicts.  However, should conflicts occur, counselors should use the situation as a “growth opportunity” and have the group learn from the conflict in a positive way.

9.    What about the things that are important to me personally?   Don’t be afraid to ask any question about things that matter to you, such as sleeping facilities, showers, religious services, your child’s specific medical or behavioral needs, and parent-camper communication.

10. What do others say about your camp?  Gehrman suggests checking three things to find out what kind of reputation a particular camp has: its return rate, accreditation status, and references.  Return rates can vary for a variety of reasons, but a good minimum return rate is 50% for campers.  Also look for a high return rate among camp staff.  ACA accreditation is also important, and is standardized across the country.  Ask others who you personally know whose children have attended the camp for their experiences.  If you don’t know anyone personally, ask the camp director to provide you with some references you could check.  Finally, do a site visit to the camp, preferably when the camp is in session to get the best sense of the camp and whether it will be a good fit for your family.  Seeing a camp in action can give the best feedback of all.

Would you like additional guidance on how to pick a camp specific to your child’s interests and personality?  Check out Kidtelligent!  The Kidtelligent Assessment is a unique tool that gives you indispensable insight into your children’s personality, learning style, and interests, and can be very helpful when applied to choosing a summer camp.  To learn more about Kidtelligent, go to www.kidtelligent.com, and make sure to follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Kidtelligent!

 

Sarah is a guest blogger for Kidtelligent.  She is an introverted soccer-playing, travel-loving, poetry-writing wife to an extroverted “go-getter” husband and mother to two high-spirited, sweet, and enthusiastic boys.  Without her alone time to recharge, she may self-destruct.