Originally posted here.
If you went to summer camp, you have a million amazing memories. Where else can you make friendship bracelets and lifelong friends? But with so many options these days, which one is the best for your child?
Is it day camp or sleepover? With friends or without? And which interests should you focus on?
Here are the six factors you should focus on when choosing the best camp for your child.
1) Talk about Expectations
Before you even start your research, discuss the idea of camp with your child. What does he want to do this summer? Who would he want to go with? What new things would she like to accomplish? This will help you start a nice search. However, always factor in your Dad-intuition: if you know he could use a chance to meet new friends, or focus on her swimming skills as well as her love of animals, don’t rule things out just because your child has a strong opinion. Balance will be key to challenging kids while giving them the summer of their lives.
2) Decide on Day or Overnight
Day camp is a great way to keep kids active and social all summer long while staying local. And you have more insight into what is going on each day. And it’s great if your child is just warming up to camp.
Overnight camp typically starts at age 7. For kids who have outgrown the local camp experience and are looking for a new adventure, this could be an easy choice. If your child does well at sleepovers, follows directions at school and isn’t afraid to be independent in new activities, they are good candidates. The only question is – are you ready for them to be away for a week or more?
3) Choose with Friends or Without?
Clearly, the more local, the more people they’ll know. So, if one of your goals for camp is for your child to meet new people and challenge her own social strengths, look outside your town. On the flip side, you’ll want to factor in the commute. If the camp doesn’t bus kids, you might want to rely on those BFF’s parents to create a carpool.
4) Consider the Camp’s Focus
General camps offer a variety of activities, including swimming, archery, team sports, arts and crafts, ropes courses, music and team building activities. So kids experience new interests. But if your child wants to focus on certain skill-building and meet like-minded people, consider a specialty camp. Just remember that three weeks of back-to-back art classes could curb interest in the activity. Adding a week or two at specialty camp after a general camp might be your best way to create balance.
Once you know the style of camp you want, decide if it needs to be gender-specific. Most day camps are unisex, so narrowing your list to a specialty and gender will leave you with fewer options (perhaps making this even easier!).
5) Do Research
Now you’re ready to look into reviews and prices. If going local and interested in joining friends, send an email to certain parents asking what their summer plans are. They might have favorite camps they rave about, to make your decision easy. Once you have a few choices, call the staff and ask some of these relevant questions:
- How is staff hired, screened and trained?
- What is the camper to counselor ratio?
- What is your return rate?
- How old are the counselors?
- How do you handle conflicts between campers, or discipline?
- What type of child best succeeds at this camp?
- What is a sample daily schedule?
- What happens if my child takes medication?
- How do you handle separation anxiety?
- What are your safety and medical procedures?
Extra questions for Overnight Camps:
- How do you do laundry?
- What is a sample menu?
- Can I send my child care packages?
- Do kids keep their cell phones?
- Should I send my child with money?
- If my child needs to talk to a parent, is that allowed?
6) Meet the Camp Family
Get to know the people who run the show. Introduce yourself and your child to the director and counselors on the first day. It will let them know you’re committed to the camp, and in turn, they will be committed to your child’s happiness. Make sure the counselors are aware of any of your child’s needs or concerns. This will help you all feel like you’re part of a team focused on giving your kid the best camp experience.