Choosing a Summer Camp for Your Child

Choosing the best summer camp for your child is important. The right camp setting will not only increase social skills through interactions with other children, some of whom may be very different from your child, but it will also offer enriching and exciting activities and help to foster self reliance and self esteem. A successful camp experience may also promote your child’s acceptance of new situations in the future.

But with more than 12,000 camps in the United States, choosing a camp can be a daunting task. Some things to consider first are:

  • Residential or day camp: Is your child ready to spend time away from home in an overnight camp? Each child is different, but if he is younger than 8 years old, he may do better in a day camp the first year.
  • Your child’s interests: There is a camp for every interest, from performing arts to wilderness survival. Your child may want to hone her skills in an established sport or activity such as soccer, baseball, or horseback riding-or she may want to learn something new. There are many camps such as church camps or YMCA camps that offer a general camping experience, too, with outdoor activities and exploration, and campfires at night.
  • Special needs: Children with special medical issues such as asthma or overweight/obesity can have an enjoyable yet healthy camp experience in a specialty camp. Weight loss summer camps, for example, combine nutritious eating and fitness with fun and friends. Children and teenagers with special needs such as Autism, Asperger’s, Cognitive Impairment, Developmental Disabilities, ADD/HD, Learning Disabilities and many others can benefit from a specialty camp that caters to their needs, Kids with emotional and social issues, including behavioral problems, drug and alcohol problems, low self-esteem and/or issues steming from abandonment, grief, or loss may benefit from adventure or wilderness camps. In these camps, children can meet personal challenges in a safe and structured setting.
  • Location and cost: You and your child must feel comfortable with the proximity of the camp to home. And while cost is not the most important factor in choosing a camp, it’s wise to look for the greatest value for the tuition.

Once you’ve narrowed things down, you can start searching for potential camps that meet your expectations. There are many online camp search tools such as www.summercampsinfo.com or the American Camp Association (ACA) database at www.acacamps.org. Make a list of those camps you’re interested in and then contact them for brochures and applications.

After you’ve arrived at a working list, look more critically at the camp itself. Some things to consider are:

  • Camp management: Read through the camp rules and regulations. Does there appear to be attention to children’s physical and emotional well-being and safety? Are there appropriately trained staff in waterfront areas, adequate safety equipment for sports and activities, medical staff on the premises? How are medications handled if your child needs to take medication? What are the rules about contact with parents and home?
  • Staff: Those who work and live with your child are caring for the most important person in your life. What are their educational qualifications? How are they screened prior to beginning work? What kind of training do they receive prior to starting their job? And what is the ratio of staff to camper?
  • Facilities: While facilities don’t need to be glamorous, they should be clean, safe and well maintained.
  • Meals: Are healthy foods offered at every meal, along with nutritious snacks? If your child is a picky eater or has special dietary needs, how will this be handled?

By now, you’ve probably decided upon several camps that you and your child would be happy with. It’s wise to apply to several, even if there is an application fee, because many camps fill up early. If you don’t get your first choice, your child may be put on a waiting list. Meanwhile, you can secure a place in another camp.