April 2012 Archives

6 Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Summer Camp

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Choosing a summer camp program for your child involves some important research. Because the camp experience will have significant impact on your child's life, it's important for parents to consider several things in order to choose a camp wisely.

1) What do you and your children want? 
First of all, include your child in the decision.  It's important for parents to make an effort to understand what their child wants and why. Children will most likely base their decision on the programs available, while as a parent you will need to consider other factors. Finding a good balance is key. Determine whether your child is looking to learn a new skill or become more proficient in a skill they already possess. From there you'll need to decide if there are other factors involved such as any physical, intellectual, or social limitations that should be considered.

Another element to consider is the duration of the program. The length of the camp session can make a big difference in the effectiveness of a camp program. In general, longer sessions mean more skill development. However, some children thrive more in a day camp setting, while others get more out of an overnight camp.

2) What type of programs and activities does the camp offer?
After decided whether you want a day camp or an overnight camp, you'll want to evaluate what type and how many programs each camp offers. 

As you might imagine, camps offer a wide variety of programs. Some camps may emphasize one activity while others will offer a wide array of programs. Camps in which a camper would devote a majority of his or her time to one activity are often referred to as Specialty Camps. In these camps, staff and facilities are geared to provide an intensive experience in a single area such as tennis, horseback riding, gymnastics, sailing or wilderness. Naturally, these camps have other facilities and activities that provide campers with additional experiences. A more traditional camp program tends to be broader in terms of what it offers.

Ask to discuss or review the schedule of a typical day at camp. This can be detrimental in helping you decide if your child will be happy with the camp's offerings. Be sure to ask how much freedom a child has in choosing their activities.

3) What is the Philosophy of the camp? 
Once you've narrowed it down to a handful of choices, you'll want to find out what the camps goals are and how each program offered meets those goals. Are family visits or other communication with campers allowed? How is homesickness handled?

Ask camps for their mission statement and then look at their literature and camp video to see how the mission of the camp is woven into the overall camp philosophy.

The composition of the staff is, for most parents, the most important consideration in choosing a great camp. Find out how long the directors been at the helm and what their priorities are when selecting staff. Factors to consider are whether or not they conduct background checks, what percentage of the staff is foreign, and what the staff-to-camper ratio is. Also evaluate the average age and experience of the staff to determine the right fit for your child. There is no "right" answer to these questions, but the answers you receive might spark a deeper conversation about a camp's staffing philosophy.

4) What is the total cost?
Remember that a good camp experience can be a long-term investment that will affect many other areas of your child's life.  However, don't discount some of the low-cost camps, they are still great options. Many are supported by an organization that supplements camper fees because of the nature of their program offerings.  Some camps offer discounts for families facing financial challenges.

Nonprofit camps, such as "Y" camps and Federation camps, are less expensive than private camps and should also be taken into consideration.

Generally, children will attend sleep away camps from two to eight weeks. Some general camps will offer a 1-2 week trial session for younger children and/or first time campers. Specialty camps may offer a one week session in a particular sport or activity. One week sessions, where available, range from $500-$2000. Two week sessions will range in cost from $1000-$4000. Four weeks will cost from $1700 to $7000. Full season camps, lasting 7-9 weeks will range from $3500 to $11000. The cost ranges shown include both general and specialty camps. Costs for each may vary based on the activities and location of each program.

Other questions that might help: 
Is your deposit refundable? 
Are there extra charges for any activities? 
Are meals and transportation included? 
Is financial aid available?

5) What are the rules?
While most states have regulations for camps, there is no federal oversight of camps' health and safety. There are numerous organizations that grant accreditation to camps- the ACA, AEE, CCA, GSA, BCCA, and the list goes on. 

The ACA, American Camp Association, is by far the largest accrediting organization for camps. Find out what organizations accredit the camps on your list and ask about the accreditation. Many excellent camps are not accredited but should be prepared to tell you how their program is evaluated and improved in an ongoing fashion. The ACA recommends that an overnight camp have a licensed physician or registered nurse on the site every day, and that day camps should have direct phone access. 

Find out what the rules are and how they are enforced. Ask about the camp's insurance coverage. Check the condition and safety of the facilities and equipment.

6) How close to home is the camp?
 If it is too close to home, part of the camp experience may be lost. Too far from home & travel costs can become an issue. Other considerations with location include the temperature during the summer, and activities suitable to the geographic region. Another factor is the age of your child and whether or not they have attended camp in the past. Be sure to find out if the camp provides transportation of that responsibility lies with you. If they do transport campers, ask what vehicles are used and how often they are inspected. Find out who drives them and what training those drivers have.

Finding the right camp for your family can be challenging, but these questions should help you narrow down your choices and provide your child with an unforgettable memory they'll cherish forever.