You are beginning to search for a summer camp for your child, but with all the options, how do you choose? The good news is there is a camp for every child with any interest. This year marks the 150th anniversary of summer camp. For generations, camp has been providing children with the opportunity to learn life skills such as self esteem, leadership and confidence, take part in new activities and participate in hands on learning.
The American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey recommends that families consider the following when sorting through the many summer camp choices:
- Philosophy and Program Emphasis – Each camp is unique, and provides unique programming and approaches. Families need to consider carefully 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. The more open families are with camp directors, the better informed they will be when it comes to making a decision.
- There is a camp for every child but not every camp is for every child – Know your child’s interests. There are so many camps to choose from but it is important to match your child with a camp that has programs that interest him or her.
- 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.
- Training and Education – Don’t be shy about asking for the education and background for the camp director and staff. The American Camp Association recommends directors possess a bachelor's degree, have completed in-service training within the past three years, and have at least sixteen weeks of 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, child abuse prevention, appropriate staff and camper behavior, and specific procedures for supervision. Families should ask about camper-to-staff ratios, and supervision in cabins and for various activities, like swimming and athletics.
- Day camp or resident camp? – Consider your child’s age and if your child has had good overnight experiences away from home. This can help you make an informed decision.
- Cost – It’s hard to put a price tag on children's learning and growth, but parents certainly have their family budgets to think about when considering camp. The good news is that there is a camp program to fit nearly every budget. Parents can search the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey’s camp database www.campwizard.org to search camps by cost. Some camps offer early bird specials for registering early, payment plans and sibling discounts.
- 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. If not, ask why. ACA accreditation is the best evidence parents have of a camp's commitment to providing a safe and nurturing environment for their children.