Summer day camp is a place where children can stretch their minds, exercise their bodies, and develop new friendships and interests. Here are tips to choosing the best camp for your kid.
Look, listen and learn
Talk with your child to find out what his interests are. As you do, get a list of camps, show him what the options are and ask if any of these interest him. If there is a camp fair, take your child along and visit the tabletop displays. Talk with people whose children previously went to that to see if they had a good experience.
Variety or not
Ask your child if he wants to do one activity or have a variety of experiences. A lot of parents think they have to be tied down to one camp, but it is okay to send your child to different places. Enroll him in a traditional camp for several weeks then a specialized camp for a week or two then maybe a STEM or performing arts camp.
Your family’s needs
If you have two working parents with set schedules, check to see if the program you are considering has before care and after care. Also ask friends in similar situations if they want to put their kids in the same program so you can coordinate rides.
Friendships are an important part of camp so factor that into your decision. The focus of day camp is to have fun and teach skills, and a lot of that is done through face-to-face interaction with peers. Have your child go with a friend but encourage your child to make new friends there.
Most families want a camp close to home or work or one somewhere along the way, but convenience shouldn’t be the only consideration. If your child has a specific interest and there isn’t a program close by, it may be worth driving five to 10 miles out of the way,
Length of program
Day camps run from several hours to a full day, so consider your child’s participation level considering age and developmental level, as well as experience in a previous camp or group setting. Find out how many activities he will be doing in a day and determine if he can keep up the pace. If you still have reservations, ask the camp director what he suggests.
Safety is a top priority, so find out what the counselors-to-camper ratio is. The American Camping Association suggests 1 to 8 for ages 6 to 8; 1 to 10 for ages 9 to 14; and 1 to 12 for ages 15 to 18. How old are the staff? What kind of background checks have been done on them? How many hours of camp training do they have? And how many are CPR and safety certified? Also, what are their Covid protocols.
Comparing apples to apples. Some day camps have a base price but charge extra for field trips, special activities, materials, registration, and food. Ask about a refund policy or transfer of weeks if there is an unforeseen illness or emergency. If the camp is costly, find out if there is a scholarship program.
Check it out earlier
If an open house is available try to attend, even if your child previously went to this camp. It’s a great opportunity to meet and discuss things with counselors. If that’s not possible, give yourself a few extra minutes at the start of camp to meet the staff and share information you think is important. This establishes a good relationship and increases the chance of open communication if a problem crops up
Policies and procedures
Most camps have a parent handbook or policies and procedures manual. If you are undecided on a camp, ask for a copy to see if you agree with the rules and regulations set forth. Equally important, go over this information with your child so he knows and agrees to the expectations.
If you feel comfortable with the information you have received, the staff meets your expectations and your child is enthusiastic, chances are it’s the right program and your camper will have a wonderful experience.
Denise Morrison Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines, a mother and grandmother.