Summer camps can provide children with lifelong memories and skills. They let them roam and play in a way they rarely do in their own neighborhoods these days. It takes them away from computers, TV and other high-tech time-suckers, swapping them for conversation, fun and games in a natural setting.
With spring around the corner, it’s time to start hunting for the perfect summer camp. Some may already be filling up, but don’t worry. If you’re looking to send your kids to a camp where they’ll learn something interesting or go on exciting adventures and entertain them, you have plenty of options.
There are far more options available today than you might remember from your own childhood. From camps that focus on music and theater, to arts and sciences, to sports and recreation, there’s something for just about every interest and child.
While the choices may seem overwhelming, there are easy tips to help narrow down the choices to the best one for your child’s fun, growth and safety.
Whether you’re thinking about sending your child to the little day camp down the street or an overnight outfit a few states away, look for these standard guidelines in the camp you choose to plan a no-regrets summer.
- High return rate: Return rates can differ depending on the type of camp and the program, but a good minimum return rate is 50 percent for campers. A high return rate among staff also suggests a camp is well managed and can help preserve the traditions that create bonding among campers. You may also do a site visit, preferably when it’s in session.
- Designated philosophy: Does the camp focus on sports? Music? Faith? Look for camps where their mission and philosophy are integrated into every part of the program. One strong philosophy might enable kids to apply the deep concepts they learn in the classroom to real-world situations. Make sure kids aren’t just watching the teacher do something, but are actually doing it themselves. You’re looking for something educational, but not merely an extension of school or daycare.
- Emphasis on creating community. Does your child get to work in a group? Collaborate with other kids? Learn how to work with a team? Good camps think about how they place kids together to create the most inclusive experience for everyone.
- Focus on safety: The staff should be background-checked with references, an interview and a criminal-records search. Also, make sure the camp has EMTs nearby, staff trained in CPR and first-aid, and other safety checks that make sense for that particular camp. Ask about your child’s particular needs, whether it’s food allergies, medications or special needs. Also, look for a camp with a well-trained staff and a low campers-to-staffers ratio. ACA day camp guidelines call for 1:8 for children ages 6-8; 1:10 for children ages 9-14; and 1:12 for ages 15-18.
- Element of choice: Your child will feel more independent if he can choose some activities. Ask how much flexibility children have in making their own schedules, how wide the variety of activities is, and how much unstructured social time is available. Have a camp official take you through a typical day.
- Good communication plan: Some limit on communication is good, but you’ll want to speak with your child a few times while they’re at an overnight camp. Ask how parents can communicate with their kids, whether it’s through written letters, email or by phone. What’s the camp’s policy on notifying parents if a child becomes sick or injured? What is the strategy for homesick campers? Look for a camp that views it as a preventable, rather than terminal, illness.
- High standard of accreditation: States’ oversight of children’s summer camps can be spotty at best. So ask camps if they’re accredited by the American Camp Association, which conducts on-site visits and reviews programs, facilities, and hiring and safety policies. If a camp lacks the ACA nod, it may still be a high-quality program, but you’ll need to ask more questions.
© 2014. Article adapted from The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth®. Used under license.