Summer camps can be a lot of fun, add enjoyment, and new learning experiences to the summer for your child. But you want to make sure you choose the right summer camp. When you choose the right one, you and your child will come away with a fantastic experience; pick the wrong one and you have a recipe for disaster. You also do not want to wait until the last minute to decide. Summer camps fill up fast! The winter and early spring months are the best time to start looking at camps. Here are some tips to help you choose a summer camp that is right for your child.
Day Camp or Away From Home?
There are so many summer camps available that the whole process can seem overwhelming. But you definitely want to take into consideration the type of camp it is. There are day camps as well as camps where the child spends the whole week away from home. The first step is deciding which one your child is ready for. Now that doesn’t mean a child who easily goes away cannot attend a day camp, but you sure don’t want to send a child six hours away who is not ready for that.
If you are not sure if your child is ready for overnight camp, do a test run. Have him stay overnight at a friend’s house if he has never done so, and then try to make arrangements for him to spend a weekend with someone. If everything goes smoothly, he is probably ready for overnight camping. If not, consider a day camp.
Picking a Day Camp
Next you want to take a look at the different kinds of camps there are available. There are traditional camps such as 4-H camp and church camps that offer a wide variety of activities for kids. These are geared toward various ages and include things like crafts, swimming, hiking and even music competition.
Specialty camps are geared toward learning a specific skill such as drama, science, music, baseball or some other sport. You do not want to send a kid who has no interest in sports to a baseball camp, so keep your child’s interests in mind. But this is also a good way to see if something, such as drama, is what they really want to do in school next year. It allows them to try a new skill without long-term commitment or to improve a skill they are working on.
Other Camp Options
There are many other camp options as well, including preschool camps, community camps and special camps for children with disabilities or special needs. There are some camps that will combine children without disabilities with those who have special needs. Many camps that provide for kids with special needs often deal with children with a particular need such as those with muscular dystrophy.
Check Out the Camps
Once you and your child have some camps in mind that you think he will enjoy, you want to start doing some checking. Visit the camp and talk to the people who will be dealing with your children. Learn to ask the right questions. Who can be a counselor? How old are the counselors and what is their experience? What medical facilities or staff is in attendance? Are there background checks on staff? How many staff members to campers? Make sure you totally understand what facilities they have and what is being offered your child. Know what the camp philosophy is and how they handle disciplinary issues. Don’t be afraid to ask what goes on and what the camp schedule will be. Ask if parents can pop in unannounced. What will they do if your child has special food requirements?
If you are unable to visit the camp in person, call and talk to a director. Get written materials sent to you and talk to parents who have had kids attend. Check and see if there is online feedback.
Plan for Fun
Once you have narrowed down the choices, plan for some fun! If your child is an experienced camper, consider encouraging him to try something new such as science or drama camp. Day camps can be great for specialty camps. The main thing to remember is camp should be a fun experience for children – not something they are made to do and end up hating. Let your child help choose the camp and encourage them to take lots of pictures, make some memories and have FUN.
by Belinda Moody
Belinda Moody is a freelance writer and mother based in Tuttle, Okla.
Why Day Camp?
What follows are comments from several mothers weighing in on the question: Why Day Camps?
- “Children learn life skills that become habits of the heart.”
- Another mother says that the family was on a ski trip. The son got to the top of a steep hill and started to panic. The mom said, “What would you do if you were at camp?” and he proceeded to engage himself in positive self-talk that was part of the camp culture: “It may take time, it may be hard; but stick with it, and you’ll be fine!” He skied down with a huge sense of accomplishment and perseverance.
- A third day-camp mom offers: “While my children and I are constantly bombarded by the news which is focused on what is wrong with the world, camp is a living example of what is right.”
To learn more about how summer camps benefit child development, visit the American Camp Association’s website: www.CampParents.org, or call 800-428-CAMP (2267).
– Excerpts from an American Camp Association, Inc. column written by Marla Coleman.