Choosing a Summer Camp

Home & Family
on March 24, 2002

Sending the kids to camp this summer may sound like an adventure for them, but with more than 10,000 camps out there, the choice can be intimidating. How do you choose a camp that will keep your child happy, healthy, and safe?

Start early and ask a lot of questions, advises Jeff Solomon, executive director of the National Camp Association. Talk with your family to decide what you want from the camp experience. Include your child in the decision, because sending him to soccer camp when he really hopes to program computers could be a recipe for disaster.

There is a right camp for every child, but not every camp is necessarily right for every child, Solomon says. Just be careful you dont just choose the first camp you look at.

First, decide whether you want a general camp with a wide range of activities or a specialty camp where children spend most of their time in one pursuit. Ask which activities are required, who the instructors are, and how many options or electives campers have.

Then consider logistics:

  • How far away should the camp be? Distance actually should be low on the priority list, because your child should go to the best possible camp, even if its far away, Solomon says.
  • How long should the child spend at camp? Experts recommend longer stayssuch as four weeks at a general campbecause children have more time to adjust to camp life and enjoy it. That may, however, be too long for some childrenand parents.
  • How much can you afford to pay? Camps can range from $300 a week to more than $1,000, averaging $650.

Once youve narrowed it down to a few camps, comparison shop. Read the camp brochures and websites, watch any videos, and, if possible, meet with the director or a camp representative. Dont worry about visitingfew parents manage thatbut be sure to check the credentials of the staff and ask for references.

Solomon recommends choosing a camp where the director has been on board at least three years and the return rate for staff is about 65 percent or higher. Ask what kind of background screening and training counselors undergo, and expect a ratio of about one counselor for every four children, or more for high-risk activities.

Most important may be asking camp administrators and former campers what the priorities and goals of the camp are to make sure they match your needs.

Just as with anything else we choose as consumers, you do have to look under the hood, Solomon says. Check to make sure the philosophy … of the camp is what you want it to be.

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