Day camp can be a splendid way to put some excitement into a long, dull summer. It is a chance for a child to explore new activities, gain new skills, or expand existing interests. In addition, day camps provide parents with safe, reliable childcare.
Regardless of the reasons for sending children to day camp, and whether they are attending for the whole summer or only a two week session, finding a camp that fits your child’s personality and your needs takes advance planning.
Start by fostering a positive attitude and assuming that your child will find camp an enjoyable and enriching experience. Listen to your child’s expectations of camp and honor them when selecting a program. Whenever possible, go to camp open houses where you and your child can tour the facilities and meet key staff and former campers. The more involved a child is in the selection of a camp, the more likely he will be enthusiastic about attending.
Nuts and Bolts
In choosing a camp, parents need to look at three areas: logistics, safety and atmosphere. Logistics, the nuts and bolts of a day camp program, are the easiest to determine. Check the practical considerations first to make sure the camp meets parental needs. There is no point in getting your daughter excited about a terrific theater program, only to find that it ends two hours before you have to leave work and provides no extended day care. The location of the camp and the ability of either the camp or the parent to provide daily transportation are the biggest practical limitations on day camp choices.
Other nuts and bolts considerations include cost, hours, and length of sessions. Comparing costs of day camps can be a bit tricky. Be sure you understand what is included in the fee. If the camp provides transportation, is this included or a separate charge? Does the tuition include the cost of day trips? Are there provisions for extended day care, and if so how are parents charged? Must parents pay for extended care every day, even if they use it only three times a week? Is there a refund policy?.
Specialty camps such as music or sports camps often cost a bit more than general day camps. Some camps give discounts for attending the entire summer, if more than one child from a family is enrolled, or if the fee is paid in full in advance.
Camp safety begins with supervision. Parents should feel comfortable asking about the background of the people who will spend the day with their child. Does the senior staff have experience with children, and/or teaching credentials? Day camps like to hire elementary school teachers and college students majoring in education, but some sports camps are run by high school and college coaches who may have great sports skills but limited experience with young children.
Are background checks done on prospective staff members? What about bus drivers and non-supervisory staff? What percentage of adult staff members are returning from previous years? Although there is always turnover in staffing, a high rate of returning staff suggests satisfaction with the camp administration and a well-run camp. Very low return rates suggest dissatisfaction on the part of the staff that may be reflected on to the campers.
If the camp uses high school students as junior staff, what are their responsibilities? Are they ever left fully in charge of a group of campers? The ratio of campers to counselors is important, but so is the ratio of adult (college age and older) staff members to campers. Too heavy reliance on junior staff could lead to confusion in the event of an emergency.
Find out if the camp provides pre-camp training for its staff, and what this training involves. How many people have first aid certification? Do counselors have expertise in the areas they teach such as swimming or drama?
All camps should have a plan to handle medical emergencies. Parents need to understand who makes the medical decisions at camp. Parents of campers with asthma, allergies, or other medical concerns should ask specific questions about how these situations are handled.
Finally, if the camp provides food, can they adjust to specific dietary needs or food allergies? If lunches and snacks are brought from home, is there a refrigerated place for them to be stored? If the camp emphasizes sports, are there plenty of opportunities for kids to hydrate and get out of the sun?
The big question children have about camp is “how will I fit in?” In evaluating the atmosphere of the camp, give serious weight to your child’s perceptions. They may be decidedly different from your own.
Start by working through a normal camp day. What activities are offered? Are these limited by age? For example, at many camps archery is limited to older campers. Is there a balance between special activities and routine? Some children do better if every day is more or less the same, while other children like the challenge of a more varied program. Asking how the camp handles a child who doesn’t want to participate in an activity will give parents some good insight into the philosophy of the camp.
Although two camp programs may be described in similar words, each camp has a unique atmosphere. To get a handle on how well the camp environment will match their child’s personality, parents will want to consider whether children are grouped by age. What is the size of each group? Where do the other campers come from and what schools do they attend? If a high percentage of campers come from one or two schools and already know each other, a child from another school may feel left out.
How many sessions do campers usually attend, and are there any provisions for integrating new campers at the start of each session? What percentage of campers are returning from last year?
Finally, ask for references. Obviously the camp will give you names of families who are happy with their program, but talking to families about what their children liked and didn’t like about the camp will give you greater insight into whether the program is a good match for your child. #