Ready, Set, Camp

Finding the right camp for your child.

You are considering a summer camp for your child, but how do you 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 a little help from the camp professionals at the American Camp Association, here’s some sound advice to help parents sort through the choices and benefits that camps deliver.

First, it’s important to determine if your child is ready for camp. 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 should start camp.

  • What is your child’s age? Children under age 7 may not adjust easily to being away from home. Consider the day camp experience as preparation for future overnight camp.
  • How did your child become interested in camp? Does your child talk about camp on a sustained basis? How much persuasion is necessary from you?
  • Has your child had positive overnight experiences away from home, such as 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.

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.

And the choices are many. Camp can last for just a few days or stretch to all summer long; it can be a day camp or a resident camp. It’s well worth the trouble to investigate the variety of choices offered by camps before your child packs a duffel bag.

Day camp can be the perfect fit if your child is ready for camp, but maybe not prepared for nights away from home. There are likely wonderful day camps in your area that your child’s school friends have been enjoying for years— a great camp could be in a park near your home. And day camp can be the perfect first camp experience for the young child— preparing him for an overnight camp when he’s a bit older.

If your family decides on a resident camp, the next question is where do you want your child to attend camp— locally or far away? A local camp is easier to evaluate and visit, friends and family are likely to be familiar with the camp, there are minimal travel costs, and your child will likely have contact with classmates or children from the same region. A far away camp opens up more possibilities and more choices; offers the opportunity for different experiences, geography and even languages; promotes independence— particularly for early and late adolescent campers; and provides your child with the chance to interact with a diversity of campers.

There are other things to consider as a family, like short or long sessions that run from one week to all summer. Does your child prefer a single-gender camp or a co-ed camp? Choices also 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 are pleased to learn about the range of camp activities that help kids be kids first.

And, of course, look for a camp that has been accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA). ACA accreditation means that the camp you are considering cares enough to undergo a thorough (over 300 standards) review of its operation— from staff qualifications and training to emergency management.

After finding a camp, meet with the camp director and ask important questions:

  • Is the camp ACA-accredited?
  • What is the camp’s philosophy or program emphasis?
  • What is the camp director’s background?
  • What training do counselor’s receive?
  • What is the counselor-to-camper ratio?
  • What are the ages of the counselors?
  • How does the camp handle homesick- ness and other adjustment issues?

The American Camp Association is the only national association that accredits camps. With up to 300 safety and regulation standards, ACA promotes a safe and fun camp experience with developmental benefits backed by independent research. To learn more about the American Camp Association, please visit www.CampParents.org or www.ACAcamps.org.