Choosing the right summer camp for your child can be a challenging and sometimes overwhelming task. Since there’s a seemingly endless variety of choices to consider, matching the ideal camp to your child’s interests, personality, and busy schedule can be daunting. Furthermore, as a parent, you have the responsibility of ensuring the camp you choose for your child is operated in a safe and appropriate manner for your child’s age and skill levels.
The following is a camp selection checklist for parents to consider when considering summer camp opportunities for their kids:
1. Identify the camp’s program emphasis. Every camp has a different philosophy and program emphasis. Some camps promote structured group activities, while others give campers more individualized freedom to pick and choose the individual activities that appeal to them. Some camps offer strictly traditional activities, like horseback riding and archery, while others may focus exclusively on sports, drama, or surfing. Or, maybe your child would flourish in a competitive camp environment whereas another child would be better off participating in non-competitive camp activities. By knowing your child’s personality, interests, personality traits, and learning style, you can better identify the right camp for you.
2. Confirm that the camp is accredited by the American Camp Association. In order to earn accreditation by the American Camp Association (ACA), camps must comply with up to 300 best-practice industry standards relating to camper health, safety and program matters important to a camp’s operation.
3. Ask about the camp director’s background. To ensure that the camp director is qualified, make sure they meet the minimum standards set by the ACA. Such standards recommend that camp directors hold a bachelor’s degree, be at least 25 years old, have in-depth experience in camp administration, and have performed in-service training during the last three years.
4. Camper-to-counselor ratios. To make sure your child is getting the individual attention and supervision he or she needs for his or her age, compare the camp’s counselor-to-camper ratio to ACA standards. For day camps, the general ratios range from 8:1 for 6, 7 and 8 year olds, to 10:1 for 9 to 14 year olds, and 12:1 for campers ages 15 to 17. For sleepaway camps, the general recommended ratio is 6:1 for 7 and 8 year olds, 8:1 for 9 to 14 year olds and 10:1 for campers ages 15 to 17.
(Please note, the above-cited child-to-counselor ratio standards are only ACA’s general, MINIMUM recommendations and may vary depending on various situations and/or conditions. Moreover, there could be additional standards relating to specific programs and/or activities where more supervision may be prudent, if not required. Accordingly, you should use your own judgment and conduct your own research to decide what is appropriate for you and your child.)
5. Inquire about camp staff. Your child’s counselors can make or break a child’s camp experience. In addition to facilitating camp activities, counselors serve as role models and should be dependable, trustworthy, and show enthusiasm for their role. For safety reasons, counselors should also be CPR and First Aid-Certified, and have undergone criminal background checks prior to employment by the camp.
6. Accommodation of special needs. If your child has special needs due to an allergy or other medical condition, be sure to ask if the camp is equipped to handle these special requirements for your child.
7. Find out about how the camp handles discipline. As in any organization, rules are needed, and the camp’s disciplinary approach should be fair and openly communicated. Positive reinforcement, a sense of fair play and assertive role-modeling are important things to look for. If penalties apply to certain violations, camp staff should apply them fairly, calmly and without unnecessary criticism.
8. Check the camp’s references. References can provide you with a glimpse of the experiences others have had at a camp, and they are an important way of checking out a camp’s track record and reputation. Before you choose a camp, the camp directors should be willing to provide references upon request.