You are considering a summer camp, but how to choose? There’s a camp that is ideally suited for every child, providing a summer of growth and fun whether your child attends a day or overnight camp, a specialized or traditional camp. With spring’s arrival, parents and children can look forward to planning for the future—a future that includes the opportunities for exploration and discovery that arrives with summer camp.
How to Decide When Your Child is Ready
Children are ready for new experiences at different stages. Parents know their children best and these questions can help gauge whether this is the summer your child will start camp.
• What is your child’s age? Children under age seven may not adjust easily to being away from home. Consider the day camp experience to prepare them for future overnight camp.
• Has your child had positive overnight experiences away from home? Visiting relatives or friends? Were these separations easy or difficult?
• What does your child expect to do at camp? Learning about the camp experience ahead of time allows you to create positive expectations.
• Are you able to share consistent and positive messages about camp? Your confidence in a positive experience will be contagious.
Near or Far?
Camp can last for just a few days or stretch to all summer long. It’s well worth the trouble to investigate the variety of choices offered by camps before your child packs a backpack. These questions help you consider the options.
Where do you want your child to go to camp? Locally or far away? While each camp experience has something unique to offer your child, this is an opportunity for families to assess what they value for their campers.
Benefits of Camp Nearby
– Easier to evaluate and visit
– Friends and family are likely familiar with camp
– Minimal travel costs
– Likely contact with classmates or children from same region
Benefits of Camp Far Away
– More choices
– Different experiences, different geography, e.g., mountains or oceans—even different languages
– Promotes independence, particularly for early and late adolescent campers
– Diversity of campers
– Chance for family to visit and vacation at close of camp
Session Length Offers Another Choice
Camps offer widely varying options to help parents and children reach their goals for summer fun and exploration. Talking with your child about the goals you both share helps determine which choice is right for you.
Benefits of Short Sessions (one-three weeks)
– First-time or younger campers have a chance to learn new skills
– Bonds develop with other campers and staff
– Great exposure to camp experience with less expense
– Minimizes homesickness
Benefits of Longer Sessions (four-twelve weeks)
– Strong sense of belonging to camp community
– Chance to learn new skills
– Development of specialized skills
– Multiple opportunities for learning and enrichment
– Lifelong friendships
– Opportunities to contribute to camp culture
Boys Only, Girls Only, or Co-ed?
Now may be the opportunity to explore the choices and benefits of all boys, all girls or co-ed camps.
Benefits of Single Sex Camps
– More opportunities to “be yourself” without impressing or competing with the opposite sex
– Camp philosophy may be tuned into gender strengths and weaknesses
– Brother or sister camps may share activities
Benefits of Co-ed Camps
– Mirrors and prepares campers for everyday living in a co-ed world
– Allows families with a boy and a girl to attend the same camp
– Offers diverse points of view
– Breaks through rigid divisions set up in school when campers participate in equal footing
A Camp for Every Child—Traditional, Specialty, and Special Needs
Choices abound when it comes to camp programs. One may highlight a wide variety of activities geared to campers of all ages and skill levels, others, because of their setting and expertise, may concentrate on one or two activities while providing traditional activities as well. Parents of children with special needs may be pleased to learn about the range of camp activities that help kids be kids first.
Benefits of Traditional Camps
– Wide variety of activities
– Chance for campers to try new activities
– Exposure to more campers and staff at varying activities
Benefits of Specialty Camps
– One or two specialized activities (often combined with traditional offerings)
– Expectation for increased proficiency during camping session
– Deepens knowledge and skill in particular area of interest or ability
Benefits of Special Needs Camps
– Activities geared to campers’ abilities
– Knowledgeable staff with expertise to understand campers’ strengths and challenges
– Supportive and fun atmosphere to share with others
The Value of Camp for Every Child
What happens when you make the decision to choose camp? You open up a world of discovery and learning for your child, a world that values children for who they are and who they will become. Camp gives each child a world of good.
Questions To Ask Camp Directors
When you receive a camp’s brochure, you will invariably have questions for the camp director. Get to know the camp director as a person through telephone conversations, correspondence, and a personal visit. Have the director describe the camp’s philosophy and how the staff implements it.
• What is the camp’s philosophy and program emphasis? Does it complement your own parenting philosophy?
• What is the camp director’s background? American Camp Association (ACA) minimum standards recommend 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.
• What training do counselors receive? At a minimum, camp staff should be trained in safety regulations, emergency procedures and communication, behavior management techniques, child abuse prevention, appropriate staff and camper behavior, and specific procedures for supervision.
• What is the counselor-to-camper ratio? ACA standards require different ratios for varying ages and special needs.
• What are the ages of the counselors? ACA standards recommend that 80 percent or more of the counseling/program staff be at least 18 years old. Staff must be at least sixteen years old and be at least two years older than the campers with whom they work.
• What are desired qualities in camp staff? The same qualities of trustworthiness and dependability sought by any employer are valued commodities in camp employees.
• How are behavioral and disciplinary problems handled? Positive reinforcement, assertive role modeling and a sense of fair play are generally regarded as key components of camp counseling and leadership.
• How does the camp handle special needs? If your child has special requirements, ask the camp director about needed provisions and facilities.
• How does the camp handle homesickness and other adjustment issues? Again, the camp’s philosophy on helping children adjust is important. Be sure you are comfortable with the camp’s guidelines on parent/child contact.
Marla Coleman is the parent liaison at Camp Echo in Burlingham, New York. Adapted from CAMP Magazine, reprinted by permission of the American Camp Association ©2006 American Camping Association, Inc.