Choosing the Right Day Camp
Look, Listen, & Learn
Talk with your child to find out what his interests are. As you do, get a list of camps, show him what the options are, and ask if any of these interest him. If there is a camp fair, take your child along and visit the tabletop displays. Also, talk with people whose children previously went to a camp you are considering to see if they had a good experience.
Value in Variety
Ask your child if he wants to do one activity or have a variety of experiences. A lot of parents think they have to be tied down to one camp, but it is okay to send your child to different places. Enroll him in a traditional camp for several weeks; then a specialized camp for a week or two; then maybe a scouting camp. This adds variety and makes the summer more exciting.Consider Your Family Needs
If you have two working parents with set schedules, this may be a factor in determining where to send your child. Check to see if the program you are considering has before- and after-care. Also, ask if friends in similar situations want to put their kids in the same program, so you can coordinate rides.
Focus on Friendships
Friendships are an important part of camp, so factor that into your decision. The focus of day camp is to have fun and teach skills, and a lot of that is done through face-to-face interaction with peers. Have your child go with a friend, but encourage him to make new friends there.
Look at Location
Most families want a camp close to home or work or one somewhere along the way, but convenience shouldn't be the only consideration. If your child has a specific interest, and there isn't a program close by, it may be worth driving five to ten miles out of the way to get what you're looking for.
Ponder Program Length
Day camps run from several hours to a full day, so consider your child's participation level in light of his age, developmental level, and previous camp or group setting experience. Find out how many activities he will be doing in a day and determine if he can keep up the pace. If you have still have reservations, ask the camp director what he suggests.
Ask Key Questions
Safety is a top priority, so find out what the counselor-to-camper ratio is. The American Camping Association suggests 1 to 8 for ages 6 to 8, 1 to 10 for ages 9 to 14, and 1 to 12 for ages 15 to 18. Also, look at hiring practices: How old are the staff members? What kind of background checks have been done on them? How many hours of camp training do they have? How many are CPR and safety certified? Many times, accreditation or certification by an overseeing organization covers health, safety, and staff issues as well as the quality of the program. Ask if the camp is certified or accredited, then find out exactly what that means.Check Out Costs
When examining fees, make sure you're comparing apples to apples. Some day camps have a base price but charge extra for field trips, special activities, materials, registration; and food. Also, ask about a refund policy or transfer of weeks if there is an unforeseen illness or emergency. If the camp is more than you can afford, find out if there is a scholarship program for those with limited resources.
Plan a Pre-Visit
If an open house is available, try to attend, even if your child previously went to this camp. It's an excellent opportunity to meet and discuss things with your counselors. If that's not possible, give yourself a few extra minutes at the start of camp to meet the staff and share information you think is important. This establishes a good relationship and increases the chance of open communication if a problem occurs.
Peruse Policies & Procedures
Most camps have a parent handbook or policies and procedures manual. So if you're undecided on a camp, ask for a copy to see if you agree with the rules and regulations set forth. Equally important, go over this information with your child, so he knows and agrees to the expectations.