Summer is fast approaching and now is the time for parents to research summer camps for their children. With so many options to choose from, where should parents start? Here are some tips to keep in mind during the summer camp decision-making process.
Philosophy and Program Emphasis – Each camp is unique with its own programming and approach. Families need to consider whether or not the camp’s philosophy matches their own. Asking questions about learning approaches, how behavioral and disciplinary problems are handled, and how adjustment issues are addressed will give families a better understanding of the camp’s position. Don’t be afraid to ask about policies regarding discipline and communication.
Camp Director – Parents want to make sure they click with the camp director. Speaking with the camp director and asking some key questions is a good way for families to find out about a camp’s philosophy and program. Get to know the camp director through phone calls, correspondence, and in person.
Training and Education – Don’t be shy about asking for the education and background of the camp director and staff. The American Camp Association of NY and NJ recommends directors possess a bachelor’s degree, have completed in-service training within the past three years, and have camp administrative experience before assuming the responsibilities of director. At a minimum, camp staff should be trained in safety regulations, emergency procedures and communication, behavior management techniques, appropriate staff and camper behavior, and specific procedures for supervision.
Involve the Camper – It’s crucial for families to involve the camper in decisions about camp. Search camps online together and take a tour of the camp with your child. The more involved children are in the process, the more ownership they feel. This helps ease concerns about camp, and can help make a child’s camp experience more successful.
Day or Sleepaway – Consider the child’s age when determining if a day camp or sleepaway camps is best. Children can go to day camp at age 3, and experiences at day camp are often a child’s first experience away from home thus bringing them a step towards independence. Children can go to sleepaway camp at age 7. If parents are considering an overnight camp, make sure the child has had good overnight experiences away from home. Also ensure the child is mature enough to go away for an extended period of time and that that he or she can do certain things independently like showering, getting dressed, and brushing her teeth.
Coed/Single Sex/Brother-Sister Camps – If the child plans to stay at a sleepaway camp, parents need to decide whether to send him or her to a coed, brother-sister or single sex camp. Find out what the differences between these types of camps and decide which is right for the individual child. One type of camp is not necessarily better than the other — it is simply a matter of where the child will be more successful.
Traditional Camp or Specialty camp – Traditional summer camps offer children a varied camp experience with many different activities such as swimming, ropes course, soccer, boating and drama, among many others. Specialty camps focus on a specific activity or related camp activities for a given period of time. There are many different types of specialty camps available for children for just about every interest such as horseback riding, tennis, drama, gymnastics or soccer. Parents need to consider their child’s interests and decide which type of camp program their child will be most successful at.
Session Length – No matter what the child’s summer schedule is, there is a day or sleepaway camp program available. There are camps that are 7 weeks, 6 weeks, 4 weeks, or 3 weeks as well as other session lengths. There are also full session camps that offer shorter sessions for the younger campers. Many shorter session camps offer a beginning, middle, and end to the program so campers don’t feel like they are missing any of the culminating activities offered at longer session camps.
Special Needs - If a child has a special need such as ADD, ADHD, food allergies or food sensitivities, discuss these up front with the camp director. Ask about the camp’s ability to meet the child’s specific needs.
References – Parents shouldn’t be afraid to ask for references. This is generally one of the best ways to check a camp’s reputation and service record. Ask if the camp is accredited or has been reviewed by the Department of Health. ACA Accreditation is a parent’s best evidence of a camp’s commitment to safety.
Need assistance in finding a camp or narrowing down the choices? Contact the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey’s Camper Placement Specialist Renee Flax at 212-391-5208. She offers free, one-on-one advice in finding the right camp for children. Please also visit www.searchforacamp.org and register for a free, customized list of ACA Accredited summer camps based on the child’s needs or to search for an accredited camp.
By Maria Adcock
Tips courtesy of the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey.