Before you know it, it’ll be time to pack the sunscreen, swimsuits and bug spray for summer camp. But how do you pick the right camp for your child? What about safety issues? With so many camps to choose from, where do you start? These questions can help.
What activities does my child enjoy? Summer camp is a great opportunity to focus on what your child likes and to strengthen their skills in those areas. Soccer, art, the outdoors, dance, computers… There’s a camp for just about every interest. But also take the opportunity to broaden your child’s horizons and to help them develop a more well-rounded life. Maybe this is the year your city-bred kid could benefit from some time on a ranch. Or maybe your small-town child would love to attend a camp for the arts in a larger city.
What are my – and my child’s – expectations? Decide what’s important to you before searching for a camp. What’s your budget? How far away are you willing to send your child? What environment do you prefer (traditional vs. specialty programs, rustic vs. luxury, large vs. small, religious affiliation, age focus, etc.). Decide these things up-front and you can greatly reduce the number of camps to look at.
Does the camp communicate well with parents? Pay attention to pre-camp contacts. The brochures may look great, but what kind of service do you get when contacting the camp? If no one returns your calls or emails, or if the camp staff keeps saying, “I don’t know about that,” find another camp. Also, a director should be accessible when parents are dropping off and picking up.
What are the staffing ratios? The ratio of staff to campers can tell you how much individual attention your child will receive at camp. Ask the camp director if their ratios include just counseling staff or if they also include support staff who don’t work directly with campers during the day. Ask what the normal group size is, and how many staff members supervise that group. Finally, find out if these ratios improve during activities such as horseback riding, rock climbing, biking, etc.
What about safety and security issues? Make sure the camp you’re considering does background checks on all staff members. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about safety, security or healthcare. For camps that offer activities such as swimming, boating or diving, make sure all instructors are CPR-certified and that a lifeguard is on duty at all times.
How are camp counselors trained? Most high-quality camps have a training program to give staff the skills they will need to help create a successful experience for your child. Staff members should be trained in more than the technical skills of running a program. They should learn the camp’s philosophy and practice listening to children and managing a group appropriately. Specialized adventure counselors should take the lead in supervising safety, equipment and instruction for the more technical activities. It’s important that these staff have advanced training in their specialty.
What if my child doesn’t know anyone at camp? Many parents are concerned about sending their child to a camp without an existing friend. But that shouldn’t be a problem, because camp counselors are trained to help kids get involved, feel like part of the group and make new friends. One of the great things about camp is that campers have the opportunity to connect socially while participating in activities.
How can my child participate in selecting a camp? Engage your child in the search. Gather multiple brochures and visit camp websites for different types of camps and read through them with your child, writing down the pros and cons of each camp, so you can make an educated choice together.
By the way, mom and dad, don’t forget to have a great time yourselves while the kids are at camp. They’ll be off having fun, and you should be, too!
Kathy is a freelance journalist who frequently covers parenting topics. She and her husband like to sneak off for quick-but-romantic local trips when their son is at summer camp. Visit her blog at www.parenttalktoday.com.
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