|Choosing the right summer camp for
Next, start gathering information on a variety of
camps that meet your general criteria. Start by asking friends,
relatives and co-workers about camps they've had experience with.
Review newspaper and magazine ads and check your library or bookstore
to Summer Camps and Summer Schools," and "The
Smart Parents' Guide to Summer Camps."
Ann Sheets urges parents to make sure the camp is accredited by
the ACA as a safe and nurturing place to send your youngster. "The
2,300 camps we accredit must comply with up to 26 mandatory health
and safety standards," she explains. "They must also demonstrate
substantial compliance with up to 40 additional standards in areas
like facilities, staffing, aquatics and trips to earn ACA accreditation."
No one can guarantee total safety, but inspectors
verify camps comply with ACA standards at least once every three
years, visiting in-session camps to check everything from fire protection
to food service hygiene, says Sheets.
You can call the ACA hotline at (800) 428-CAMP or
search online for ACA
accredited camps or at Camp
Search. Also, recommendations for camps to fit your criteria
are available through the National
Narrow your search by reviewing brochures, videos
and online information with your child. Next, meet or speak with
camp representatives or directors face-to-face (or by telephone)
to explore in more depth.
- What is the camp's philosophy?
Ask about its goals regarding the campers and don't be satisfied
with pat answers. Ask for specific examples of how they accomplish
- Look at the overall picture. Examine
the camp's entire program and facilities. Find out what kind
of food is served and who prepares it. Are all health codes enforced
and have they had health inspections? What are the emergency medical
facilities and capabilities and security precautions? How many
campers from last year are returning this year? Check the sleeping
arrangements, toilet and shower facilities and make sure your
child will be comfortable with them.
- Get details on the staff. What is
the counselor-to-child ratio; what are the criteria for hiring
counselors and instructors and the characteristics of the typical
staff member? What training does the staff receive and how many
are certified lifeguards and certified in CPR?
- Is the camp recommended? Is it accredited
by the American
Camp Association or reviewed by the National
Camp Association? Only a fraction of the nation's summer camps
are accredited but it should be made clear there are many excellent
camps that are not accredited.
- How structured is the program? What
activities are required? Are there electives my child can take?
Will the staff encourage my camper to explore new areas and activities,
and are campers given instruction in each activity? Will your
child enjoy greater freedom of choice, or feel happier with a
more rigid timetable? What do campers do in bad weather?
- How competitive are the activities?
How does the camp assure no child is being left out or falling
through the cracks? How do they deal with bullies, taunting and
homesickness -- which affects an estimated 80 percent of campers
-- or bolster self-esteem?
- Get references. Ask for contact
information for parents of previous campers and don't be afraid
to call them. Their insights will be invaluable, and you're almost
certain to pick up information and tips that will make your child's
stay happier and more productive.