How to Pick the Right Summer Camp

Selecting a summer camp in the middle of winter always seems a bit surreal. But camps are popular; they fill up fast - often by early spring. Having a few months to pore over camp materials, contact camp directors or even arrange a tour makes the whole process more planful and less stressful.

With so many different kinds of camps out there, the biggest challenge is finding the right one for your child. Ann Sheets, president of the American Camping Association, urges parents and children to make decisions about summer camp together.

"There are lots of important questions to ask, and both parent and child need to be very comfortable with the decision that's made," she says. "If children have a part in it, they're certainly going to have a better experience."

With that in mind, here's a guide to the available camp programs, and the questions to ask when trying to choose one for your child.

Types of Camps
Think about your child's particular needs and ask what he or she wants from a camp experience. Determine whether your child is ready for a sleep-away program or better suited for day camp (some residential camps accept children as young as 7). Talk about the following camp options together:

  • Traditional camps offer a wide range of activities, from athletics to crafts to confidence-building skills.
  • Specialty camps are designed to meet a child's particular interest, such as drama, music or sports.
  • Travel camps take campers on hikes, bikes, horseback or canoe rides in parks or other outdoor sites; some that are particularly popular among teenagers tour destinations abroad.
  • Preschool camps are day programs for children ages 2.9 to 4-1/2. Since kids this age need more supervision, these usually have a small staff-to-camper ratio.
  • Special-needs camps are designed to meet the needs of children with physical, mental or learning disabilities. Some camps combine children with and without special needs for all or part of the day, providing extra support to the kids with disabilities. Other camps focus on kids with a specific disability or disorder.

Visit Camps, Talk with Other Families
Once you have a good idea of what you and your child want from a summer camp, research what's out there. Most camps have an active parents' group, but friends and neighbors are also valuable resources. Send for camp literature, attend open houses, arrange to speak with the director and take a tour of the camp.

The ACA recommends that both parent and child visit a camp when it's in session, even though that may require planning a year ahead of time. You'll get a good look at how the camp operates, and the interaction between the staff and kids. If you're unable to visit, talking to families whose children have attended the camp in the past is a good idea. Some camps may even give you the names of parents to contact.

Ask the Right Questions
These questions will help you learn more about the camp staff, facilities and programs:

  • What is the background and experience of the director? Was the director once a camper or counselor at the camp? How long has he or she been director?
  • What are the criteria for hiring staff? Ask about the staff's average age, experiences and familiarity with the camp. Ask whether and how counselors and other staff are screened for criminal records and other background information (this often varies by state).
  • What is the ratio of staff to campers? Are staff members ever alone with a child for any specific camp activities? The ACA accreditation requires ratios that vary depending on the age of the campers. Generally, these range from one staff member for every six campers ages 7 and 8, one for every eight campers ages 9 to 14, and one for every 10 campers ages 15 to 17. Day camp ratios range from one staff member for every eight campers ages 6 to 8, one for every 10 campers ages 9 to 14, and one for every 12 campers ages 15 to 17. The ratios are significantly less for children with special needs, including a one-to-one ratio for children who need constant aid and supervision.
  • At a specialty camp, what level of expertise does the staff have in the specialty? For example, a music camp should have professional music teachers instructing campers.
  • What will it cost? What is the tuition? Are there other expenses? Is financial aid available? Will a trip outside the camp cost extra? Is there a refund policy?
  • What are the condition and safety of the facilities and equipment? The camp site should be free of hazards, such as unprotected cliffs, swamps and dangerous water areas. The waterfront should be roped off in separate sections for beginner, intermediate and advanced swimmers. Does the camp provide all the necessary equipment, and is it in good condition? As for safety and security in general, ask about the camp's policies - everything from rules about swimming to how the campsite is monitored at night.
  • How is medical care handled? Is there an on-site nurse or nearby doctor on call? Where is the nearest hospital located? Does the camp staff know CPR and first aid?
  • What is the camp philosophy? The camp should have clear, expressed goals and a program designed to meet those goals.
  • Is there a variety of activities planned? Ask for a typical schedule. What activities are planned for rainy days, and at night?
  • What is the pace of the day? Are there free periods for downtime or rest?
  • What is the age range of the campers? Will your child be the youngest or oldest camper in a group? Can your child be moved to another group? If your child is going to camp with a friend, can they be in the same group or bunk?
  • What kind of food is served? Do kids have a choice of items at each meal? Is good nutrition emphasized? How are children's food allergies accommodated? Are snacks provided between meals?

Picking a Day Camp

  • What are the camp hours? Many camps offer extended hours for working parents, both before and after camp. Inquire about activities during this time.
  • Does the camp provide transportation? Ask about costs, whether vans or buses have seat belts and the experience of the drivers.
  • Is lunch provided? If so, does it cost extra? Can the camp accommodate food allergies? If children must bring their own lunches, are they refrigerated until lunch time? Does the camp provide snacks?

Picking an Overnight Camp

  • What is the director's availability? Can your child go to the director with a problem? Find out when you can call the director to inquire about difficulties your child may be having or to find out how your child is doing.
  • Is there someone responsible for campers at all times? Make sure that your child's whereabouts are monitored. Find out how counselors handle problems such as homesickness or conflicts with other campers.
  • Are the living quarters comfortable and sanitary? Are there bathroom facilities and electricity in the bunks? Determine your child's level of comfort. Will she be happier camping out in a tent or sleeping in a bunk?

©, used with permission.

Related Life123 Articles
How can a parent determine if a summer camp is safe? The chance of harm is always a risk, even at the safest summer camp. Most camps are extremely safety conscious, and a parent can choose one that is especially vigilant.
Going to overnight camp is an enriching experience for many kids. Certainly, your child's camp will send a packing list for what to pack for camp, but you can expect some of the following essentials to be on it.
Frequently Asked Questions on
More Related Life123 Articles
Camp care packages would be nice to send, but what should you put in it? What kinds of things would a kid who's already going to be pretty busy need or want?
How do you compare summer basketball camps to know which is best for your child? Much of your decision should be based on whether your kid wants some fun and exercise or if she wants serious training for high school, college or even professional play.
Teens looking for summer employment can apply for a host of summer camp jobs for teens. Most camps are looking for teens to be counselors, serving as role models to the younger campers and junior staff members.
© 2015 Life123, Inc. All rights reserved. An IAC Company