How to Choose a Summer Camp You and Your Kids Will Love—Even Amid a Pandemic
By Kimberly Blaker
Whether you’re looking for enrichment for your child, a way to keep your kids occupied and supervised while you work, or need a short reprieve from parenting, there’s sure to be a summer camp that’s the right fit for your child and family. Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many summer camps will be up and running either offering alternative programs or by following safety protocols to reduce the risk to campers and staff.
The benefits of summer camp
Summer camp offers kids plenty of benefits, and many kids thrill at the idea of going away to summer camp. Still, for some kids, particularly those who are shy, introverted, or homebodies, the thought of going away for a night, let alone a week or more, can cause considerable anxiety. When kids are adamantly opposed, forcing summer camp on them may not be in their best interest.
But for kids who are eager—or at least willing to give it a shot without much fuss—summer camp offers opportunities kids may not have elsewhere. Summer camp provides kids the following benefits:
- fosters independence
- a place to develop new and lasting friendships
- development of new skills
- discovery of new interests and hobbies
- the opportunity for creative expression
- a break from being plugged-in
- daily exercise
- improves their self-esteem
- teaches kids to work with others
- makes them feel part of a community
- prevents or reduces the “summer slide” (summer learning loss)
Getting started in your search
Before you begin looking into summer camps, create a list of the criteria you’re looking for. Here are some things you’ll want to consider.
- What is your budget for summer camp?
- What is the purpose of sending your child to summer camp?
- Do you want a resident (overnight) or a day camp?
- Are you looking for a short-term (week or two) or summer-long program?
- Do you want a camp that’s very structured or one that provides your child with lots of freedom and choices?
- What are your child’s passions, such as a particular sport, hobby, or other interest?
Once you’ve narrowed down some of the criteria, you can begin your search. An excellent place to start is this local parenting magazine. Many summer camps advertise in parenting publications found in the community and online. Also, check out summercamps.com, where you can search by zip code or category.
The American Camp Association (ACA) accredits summer camps. So this is another excellent place to look. The ACA educates camp owners and directors in health and safety for both staff and campers as well as program quality. It then accredits camps that meet the ACA’s standards.
The next steps to finding the perfect summer camp
Once you’ve selected a few summer camps that meet your primary criteria, and that fit your child’s interests, share the choices with your child to see what excites him or her. Be sure to let your child know upfront that you still need to thoroughly investigate the camp(s) before making a final decision. But do keep your child’s choices in mind to ensure your child gets the most out of summer camp.
Once you and your child have narrowed the list down to a manageable selection, you’ll want to investigate the camps further. There are several things you’ll want to consider.
Is this camp a safe option for my child and family during the pandemic?
Many summer camps are now offering virtual programs so kids can benefit from summer camp without the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. Virtual summer camps range from a couple hours a day to all-day camps offering a broad range of virtual activities led by counselors. Virtual summer camp programs range from free to several hundred dollars.
Perhaps you’re considering sending your child to in-person summer camp. If so, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers suggestions on how summer camp programs can reduce campers’ risk during the pandemic. CDC recommendations include promoting behaviors to minimize spread, maintaining a healthy environment, maintaining healthy operations, being prepared for when someone gets sick, and special considerations for overnight camps. When considering an in-person summer camp, review the CDC’s more detailed recommendations found at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/summer-camps.html. Then compile questions to ask the summer camp you’re considering to make sure it adheres to these safety protocols.
What are the staff’s qualifications?
Many summer camps use teens to staff the camps. Teens make excellent mentors and can bring liveliness to summer camp programs. However, the programs themselves should be developed by professionals and have professional oversight to ensure kids are getting the most from their camp experience.
How does the camp ensure your child’s safety?
Find out what kind of safety training the camp provides its staffers. Also, is there staff on hand at all times that knows CPR? What are the camp’s procedures in the event your child becomes ill, has an accident, or an emergency?
What is the camp’s daily schedule?
Ask for a daily itinerary, so you know your child will be getting everything you and your child anticipate from the program.
What are the rules?
Each camp has its own set of rules. So, find out whether your child is allowed to call you. If it’s a summer-long residential camp, can parents come and visit? Can kids bring along a cell phone or electronics? Also, how much money can they bring, and how is it managed?
Don’t sweat it
Keep in mind, although there are many great camps, no camp is likely to offer everything precisely the way you want it. Just choose the one that best fits your child and satisfies your most important criteria. Remember, your child will have many summers to come and plenty more opportunities to work in different types of exciting camp experiences. #