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How to Choose a Summer Camp for Your Child

By Joyce Venezia Suss

If you cringe at the thought of having your child spend all summer in front of a glowing screen, it may be worthwhile to consider summer camp. Camps offer children the opportunity to try many new activities, ranging from sports, dance and theater, arts and crafts, cooking, hiking, horseback riding, relay races, woodworking, and so much more.

There are so many camp options to explore that it can be overwhelming. The cold months are a good time to start your research. Here are suggestions to help narrow down the selections and find the best summer camp for your child:

Consider Your Child’s Strengths and Interests
Some camps are themed toward specific interests like theater, sports or technology. Other camps offer a broad range of daily activities, which can be a good way for a child to discover favorite extracurricular activities.

Take into Account Your Child’s Personality
An outgoing, sports-loving child might thrive at a competitive athletic camp, but that atmosphere could overwhelm a bookish child who loves arts and crafts or robotics. Don’t choose a camp based on what you think your child might like or what you want them to like. Ask them to describe what their perfect summer camp would include.

Avoid the “Safe” Route
Don’t select a camp just because your child’s friend is enrolled there. Although a friend can provide moral support for a new camper, summer camp is an opportunity for children to meet new friends and expand their interests. Also, don’t look for a camp that allows your child to stay within their comfort zone. The best summer camps encourage children to try new things and grow with new challenges.

Choose Day or Resident Camp
Many working parents prefer these supervised options instead of leaving children at home in front of a TV or computer. Full- or half-day camps are often local and include transportation. Sleep-away camps can be single sex or co-ed, and can range from two weeks to an entire summer. Children who have experienced day camp are often best prepared to transition to sleep-away camps.

Include Your Child in the Research Process
First, look at camp websites online and create a list of prospects. Attend a camp fair with your child. Narrow your list, then book tours of several camps or attend an open house with your child. Ask friends whose children attend camps, and read reviews. Find out what a typical day at each prospective camp includes.

Review Your Budget
There is a camp for every budget, and in some cases, financial assistance is available. A day camp organized by your town’s recreation department will be less expensive than a private day camp. But if you must hire child care because the local camp has limited hours, or pay extra for transportation or special field trips, it may end up costing the same or even more. Many summer camps offer discounts for booking early, or sibling discounts. Also, consider the value of what your child will get from the experience, such as learning a new skill, or gaining self-confidence and independence.

Do Your Homework on Safety
Check if the camp is accredited by the American Camp Association, which has strict health and safety standards. Ask about staff members’ credentials and how are they trained. What is the ratio of campers to counselors? Is there a staff nurse? Are activities structured, and are campers always supervised? If there is a pool or lake, does the camp offer swimming lessons, or is it just recreational swimming?

Get Answers to Your Questions
Find out if your child can grow with the camp, or if you will need to find a new camp after a year or two. Working parents should look at a day camp’s hours to make sure it works with their schedule. If you are concerned about your child’s athletic ability, find out if the sports are all competitive. Can you visit the camp unannounced, or are there special visitation days? Do campers get to choose what they want to do, or is the day strictly structured? Will the camp let you take a family vacation in the middle of a session?

Children who attend summer camp get multiple benefits of getting outside, making new friends, learning new skills, building self-confidence and having fun! Parents should not stress about finding the one “perfect” camp; in reality, there are many. Get your child excited about the selection process, which will make the final choice easy.

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