Choosing a summer camp for your child is a big decision, and speaking to the director can help you make your choice.
Many parents select a camp based on a friend or relative’s rave reviews, but choosing your child’s summer experience based on hearsay or personal anecdotes is often problematic, according to the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey. Instead, it’s important to thoroughly research a camp in order to determine if it’s a good fit for your kid. The ACA suggests making an appointment with the camp’s director and asking the following 10 questions. Figuring out if your family’s values mesh with those of the camp, and whether the camp can accommodate your child, can go a long way in solidifying your child’s summer choice.
What is this camp’s mission or philosophy?
Each camp has its own. Make sure this particular camp’s mission matches your own family’s values.
What is the director’s background and experience?
Ask the camp director about his experience, years at the camp, and previous jobs. You want to make sure you find a commonality here. When you send your child to camp, you are forming a partnership with the director to ensure your child has a successful camp experience.
What type of child is successful at this camp?
Does it sound like she is describing your child? If not, this isn’t the camp for your child.
What kinds of programs does this camp offer?
Find out if the program is structured (has a set schedule) or elective (children choose their activities). Also inquire about how the program changes for older kids. For example: Do the elective choices increase with age?
What are the camp’s safety procedures?
It’s important to know about emergency action plans, water safety, medical staff, and camper-to-staff ratios.
How does this camp train staff?
Ask about the ages and backgrounds of staff members. Find out how they were hired and what kind of training and background checks they went through.
Is this camp able to accommodate my child’s special needs?
If your child has any special considerations, such as having food allergies or ADHD, or is wheelchair-bound, be completely upfront about her needs and make sure the camp is able to accommodate them.
What makes this camp unique?
After pouring over websites and marketing materials, parents often start to feel like all camps look alike. Find out what makes this camp stand out from the others.
How are conflicts between campers handled?
While camps work hard to build a caring community, fights among campers can occur. Ask the camp director how the camp handles these types of conflicts.
Can you speak to parents whose kids are currently enrolled in this camp?
Ask if you can call parents of campers currently enrolled at the camp, especially ones with kids who are the same ages as your children. They will be your next valuable source of information.
Other Factors in Determining Which Camp to Pick
There are hundreds of day camps and sleepaway camps in the New York area, which can make determining the just-right spot for your child overwhelming. Here’s advice from camp directors on how to create the perfect summer for your kid:
Know What You—and Your Child—Want
Consult with your child (it’s her summer after all!) but also consider what you want her to gain, whether that’s learning how to swim, making friends, or STEM skills.
Look into the Camp’s Accreditation
It’s important that prospective camps are accredited by the American Camp Association—it’s a sign of approval that isn’t easy to achieve.
Keep Your Budget in Mind
Look at the total all-in cost for each camp—including transportation, clothing, gear, etc. Then take all the camps that are over-budget off your list.
Don’t Forget About Day-to-Day Logistics
Think about the location of pickup and drop-off. And, ask about whether the camp has flexibility if you want to take a family vacation.
Do Your Research
Browse through websites—and involve your child, too. Same goes for when you visit camp fairs. As you research, pay attention to interactions with the staff, and the facilities, activities, and counselor-to-camper ratio.
Call or Visit the Camps on Your Shortlist
Most directors recommend visiting your two to three finalist camps. Bring your child and make sure the camp seems clean and well-maintained. Calling the camp director is your next best option—try to dig into factors that aren’t mentioned on the website. The camp should be one your child can enjoy this summer, and for many summers to come.
Jess Michaels is the director of communications for the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey. She believes every child should have a summer camp experience.
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