Summer camps are popular around here, and generally fill up fast. If you’ve got the time to pore over camp materials, contact camp directors or even arrange for an off-season tour, all the better when it comes to choosing the right program for your child
Not quite ready to travel to the camps, why not get your questions answered, and see presentations and displays from overnight and day camps at the 17th annual Our Kids Camp Fair set for Feb. 26 a the Alzafar Shrine Center, 901 N. Loop 1604 West.
What follows is a guide to the types of camp programs out there, questions to ask when trying to choose one for your child and new trends in camp program offerings.
What’s Out There?
- Traditional camps offer a wide range of activities, from athletics to crafts to confidence-building skills.
- Specialty camps meet a child’s particular interest, such as drama, music or sports.
- Travel camps take campers on hikes, bikes, horseback or canoe rides in parks or other outdoor sites, including abroad.
- Preschool camps are day programs for children ages 2.9 to 4-1/2 years.
- Special-needs camps are designed to meet the needs of children with physical, mental or learning disabilities. Some camps combine children with and without special needs for all or part of the day. Others focus on kids with a specific disability.
What’s New at Camp?
Summer camp isn’t just about campfires, swimming, arts and crafts and warding off mosquitoes anymore. Today’s camp programs are diverse, wide-reaching and groundbreaking.
In fact, the American Camp Association (ACA) reports that while 88 percent of its accredited camps offer swimming (in lessons, recreational activities or both),
- 48 percent offer horseback riding,
- 22 percent have wilderness programs,
- 12 percent offer travel/tour programs (many are abroad),
- 57 percent feature team-building programs, and
- 21 percent are heavily involved in community service.
About 75 percent of camp directors report adding new activities and programs during the last few years, according to an ACA survey. The newest additions? Think “extreme” fun – high and low ropes courses, climbing walls, zip lines, backpacking, mountain biking and cave exploring. More than half of ACA-accredited camps offer a ropes-course activity and other adventure equipment or facilities.
More than half of ACA-accredited camps report having some kind of community service or “good deed” program. The most common are community clean-ups, food drives, recycling programs and volunteer work with senior citizens and hospital patients.
What to Ask About When considering a particular camp for your child, ask for specifics on the:
- Background and experience of the director.
- Criteria for hiring staff – Average age, experience level, background checks.
- Ratio of staff to campers – Recommended ratios range from one staff member for every six campers ages 7 and 8 to one staff member for every 10 campers ages 9-14 and one for every 12 campers ages 15-17.
- The level of expertise of staff at a specialty camp (music, art, drama, etc.) – For example, a music camp should have professional music teachers instructing campers.
- The cost – What is the tuition? Are there other expenses? Is financial aid available? Will a trip outside the camp cost extra? Is there a refund policy?
- The condition and safety of facilities and equipment – Are there unprotected cliffs, swamps or dangerous water areas? Roped-off waterfront, equipment in good condition? Safety rules, Campsite security, etc.
- How medical care is handled.
- The camp philosophy – A clear statement of goals and a program that meets those goals.
- The variety of activities planned.
- The schedule and pace of a typical camp day.
- The age range of campers.
- The kind of food served.
Ask Day Camp Staff about:
- Camp hours (regular and extended-day).
- Transportation (availability, type of transport, driver experience).
- Whether lunch is provided.
Ask Overnight Camp Staff about:
- The director’s availability to campers,
- How homesickness is handled, and
- Condition of living quarters (bathrooms, electricity in the cabins, etc.).
In addition to camps, the Our Kids Camp Fair will provide parents with the opportunity to talk with representatives from a variety of summer activities and programs and schools and childcare providers throughout the area.
Hugs from Home: Keeping in Touch with Campers
With electronic communication like email, Facebook posts and cell phone texts, letter writing is becoming almost a lost art to younger generations. So letters between you and your camper are unique reminders of that time in your child’s life. When writing letters home, kids use language arts, handwriting skills, and creative expression. And when writing letters to your campers, you get to let them know just how much they are loved at home. Plus, your words of confidence and encouragement reinforce the independence and self-reliance your kids are developing at camp.
The American Camp Association (ACA) – www.acacamps.org – offers these tips to help families communicate with their campers – to be a part of the camp experience from afar:
- Give your child pre-addressed, stamped envelopes or postcards so that he or she can keep you informed of camp activities.
- Send a note or postcard in advance to the camp so a message from home will be there right when he arrives. This lets young campers know that the family is thinking about them, assures campers that parents know they’ll have a good time and enthusiasm for the camp’s activities.
- Care packages are always appreciated. Just check with the camp director about any policies regarding what items may or may not be included.
- Avoid mentioning how much you, your other kids, relatives and even pets miss your child. It may cause unnecessary homesickness and worry over loved ones.
- Discuss communication options with camp directors. Many camps allow you to check in – to see photos and video of daily activities on their Web sites. You may even be able to send an email to your camper that can be printed out and delivered with the regular mail. Be sure to check whether this is allowed since many camps prefer traditional letter correspondence from home.