Is your kid ready for day camp?

Apr 30, 2010 at 12:30 p.m. ET

Every child looks forward to summer vacation, when homework and school give way to lazy days playing outside and having fun by the lake. Schedules go out the window, and fun can happen just about anywhere. But kids still need some structure, right? Enter day camp. It's like sleepaway camp, but without the stress and commitment. Kids enjoy themselves all day and head home to the comfort of their own beds at night.

Summer Day Camp

Day camp usually centers around a theme or activity and lasts anywhere from a few days to the whole summer.Unlike sleepaway camp, which is intended for older children who can handle being away from home, day camps accept children from toddlers to teens. Check with the YMCA, your town's parks and recreation department, and other organizations to find a camp appropriate for your child's age group.

Find the right one for your child

A camp should engage your child in activities that she enjoys. "Like so many other child-related activities, there are many different types of camps. Finding the one that best fits your child's needs may take some effort on your part, but it will be worth it for your child to enjoy his summer activities," says Laura Olson, vice president of education for Kiddie Academy, a national education and child care provider.

So, what should you look for? First, consider what your child would enjoy. "When choosing a camp, think about what your child likes and how much time you think he can handle being away from home. There are camps that meet for half or full days, as well as camps to meet most children's interests, from sports to drama to scrapbooking. Ask your child what he is interested in getting involved with during the summer. It is a great time to try something new, especially with a one- to two-week day camp," says Olson.

Olson also advises that you make sure the camp's schedule meshes with that of your family, and that you're comfortable with group sizes and the camp's policies (such as those regarding field trips and snacking).

"Ask your friends and families to recommend good camp programs that they have been involved with, but remember: You have to trust your gut on this. You know your child best and will know if the camp is a good match for her," says Olson.

What to expect

If it's your child's first time going to camp, the first day can be a little rough. "Kids who come to our camps are usually shy at first, but we make it a priority to provide beach games that allow them to get to know each other and the surf instructors. This fosters a sense of security both in and out of the water," says Izzy Tihanyi, spokesperson for La Jolla Surf Camp (ages 5 to 10) and the Australian Surf Academy (ages 11 to 17).

Don't worry if your child doesn't like it the first day. "Like all new experiences, the first few days of camp may be difficult for your child as he adjusts. Some kids take to camp right away, and their parents are lucky to get waves goodbye as their kids depart. Other campers have longer adjustment times. Again, you know your child best. If your usually easygoing child is having a hard time at camp, talk to the director to see if there is something you can do to ease your child's mind," says Olson.

More summer camp tips:

Finding the right summer camp for your child
How to prepare your child for camp
Budget-friendly camp alternatives
Summer camp jobs for teens10 Budget-friendly educational activites for kids