Faye Sager, Director, Champions Day Camp, developed this list of key points to consider.
Determine what you want your child to get out of the program: Make new friends? Build character? Acquire new skills? Have time to just be a kid? Do you want your child to interact with only girls or boys? Do you want to emphasize existing religious beliefs? Answering these questions will help you begin a targeted search.
Start by browsing our list of summer camps, and then search for camps online, in parenting magazines and local resource guides. The array of choices can be overwhelming, so narrow it down by looking for camps that feature some of your child's individual interests. Make a list of camps to call or email, and then visit your top choices. Visiting helps you and your child get a feel for the camp and can help your camper overcome pre-camp anxiety.
Camp fairs are a great place to see a variety of different camps at once. Most booths will have interactive components that enable your child to get a feel for the type of camp offered. Explore the offerings and take the opportunity to speak with staff members.
Inquire about staff recruiting, training processes and experience requirements. Camp counselors are the key to a great program and can have a profound influence on your camper's experience. Good camp counselors help new campers feel comfortable, create an inclusive atmosphere and portray positive role models.
Look for programs with an array of activities, especially in extended-stay programs. It's important that your child be able to participate in activities that interest him. Ask how activities are determined: Does the child pick the activities or are they assigned? Look for camps that offer opportunities for your child to try new experiences, too.
Referrals from former clients can offer excellent insight. See if the camp director will put you in touch with last season's parents. Ask the parents what their children enjoyed, what they didn't like and what they took away from the experience. The parents can describe their interactions with the organization and staff as well.
Finally, to get an idea of how it is structured, find out if the camp is accredited. More than 2,400 camps are accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA), which means the camp meets certain standards for health, safety and program quality.
Ultimately, you want to find a camp that not only interests your child, but matches your parenting style as well. Your goal is to find staff and counselors who will interact with your children in the same fashion you do at home. It is essential that the program dynamic instill the same values as your home instead of contradicting them.
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