How to choose a summer camp for your kids


Compiled by Deirdre Wilson, Dominion Parenting Media


Planning for summer camp in February feels like planning for Christmas during Fourth of July fireworks. But camps fill up fast, so starting early pays off.

Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association, says camp gives kids three key benefits: confidence because they've tried new activities and been successful; curiosity because camp allows them to explore; and character because camp fosters respect for other campers, a sense of community and problem-solving skills.

What's out there?

  • Traditional camps offer a wide range of activities, from athletics to crafts to confidence-building skills.
  • Specialty camps meet a child's particular interest, such as drama, music or sports.
  • Travel camps take campers on hikes, bike, horseback or canoe rides in parks or other outdoor sites, including abroad.
  • Preschool camps are day programs for young children.
  • Special needs camps are designed to meet the needs of children with physical, mental or learning disabilities.
  • Day camps can be a combination of fun activities and field trips, generally offered during regular workday hours. Some offer early drop-off and late pickup hours.

What to ask camps

Don't be afraid to ask lots of questions about how a camp is run. Start with these topics:

  • Background and experience of the director.
  • Criteria for hiring staff: Average age, experience level, background checks.
  • Ratio of staff to campers. Look for one staff member for every six campers ages 7-8; one for every 10 campers ages 9-14; and one for every 12 campers ages 15-17.
  • Staff expertise at a specialty camp. A music camp should have professional music teachers instructing campers, for example.
  • Tuition and other expenses. Is financial aid available? Will a trip outside the camp cost extra? Is there a refund policy?
  • Condition and safety of facilities and equipment.
  • How medical care is handled.
  • Camp philosophy. Look for a clear statement of goals and a program that meets those goals.
  • Activities planned.
  • For overnight camps, ask about director's availability to campers, how homesickness is handled and about the condition of living quarters.
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