Ask the Expert: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Camp for Your Child
What to look for when searching for a program that’s right for your kid
Photos provided by American Camp Association, NY and NJ
Are you thinking about camp for your child this summer or even in 2019? Whether you’re considering a day or overnight camp, there are a number of things to think about when doing your research. Try not to just listen to your friends and neighbors about what the “best” camp is. The best camp is the one where your child will thrive.
Consider your child and the goals for a camp experience
Camp is an important decision for any family – whether it’s a first-time day camp experience or an overnight camp. Before you begin the process of choosing one, think about what your goals are for the camp experience and who your child is.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What skills would you like your child to gain?
- Is your child outgoing?
- Does he or she need time to warm up in a new situation?
- When you attend your child’s teacher/parent conference, what does the teacher tell you in terms of how your child relates to other children and new situations?
- Is your child independent?
- Will he or she need a nurturing environment to thrive?
- Does your child have food allergies, food restrictions or religious needs?
Once you’ve answered these questions and can articulate your thoughts to a camp director, you’re ready to start researching camp options.
Look at the Camp’s Philosophy
The camp’s philosophy is crucial to making a good decision. Ask the director about the goals they have for their campers and what the camp’s philosophy is. If you don’t agree with their basic philosophy, then you won’t be pleased with their program or their daily routines.
Get to Know the Camp Director
The Camp Director is the most important role of any camp program. The director is the ultimate decision maker at a camp who sets the program, hires the staff, decides on the activities & structure of camp and sets a general feeling for all campers and staff. Get to know the director through conversations and emails. Make sure you click with him or her so you can discuss your child’s interests and needs honestly. If you’re hesitant about this person(s) then you should think about looking at other camps.
Evaluate its Programs
Don’t think about just the first summer your child will be at camp, but subsequent summers as well. Program considerations include:
- How long is the camp program and how long you want your child to be there?
- Is the camp elective based or traditional where a bunk travels as a group?
- Are there electives in the daily program?
- Is the camp coed, single sex or brother/sister?
Understand the Total Cost
Cost is certainly something families need to think about since camp prices do vary. When looking into the cost, make sure you’re getting an accurate assessment of what’s included.
Ask if the camp incorporates youth development into their program. Are transportation and lunch included for day camps? As a general guide, not-for-profit camps are less expensive than private camps and often offer financial aid. Many camps also offer an early bird rate and payment plans. The government also offers programs to assist with day camp costs such as a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account and the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.
Tour When Possible
Touring is an ideal way for parents to get a feel for a camp. While watching a camp video and looking through a camp’s website is a good start, seeing the camp in session, with campers and staff, will give you an accurate picture of what a camp is really like. If you can’t tour in the summer, many day camps will tour all year long or you can schedule a home visit in which the camp director comes to your home and meets your family.
Ask About the Staff
Inquire about the staff at camp. Who are the people in charge – the directors, the girls or boys head counselors and your child’s group leader? You want to know if these people have been at the camp for a good amount of time and whether they are familiar with the camp philosophy and goals.
Do a Safety Check
Safety is paramount! The most important thing is that your child be safe both physically and emotionally. Knowing that a camp is accredited by the American Camp Association is a parent’s best evidence of a camp’s commitment to safety. Ask the camp director about its safety procedures, staff composition, staff training, medical staff and other safety concerns.
Word of mouth from family and friends is very important, but, just because they are happy with a camp doesn’t mean that you will be, too. You must do your own research. Parents looking for a camp can call the American Camp Association, NY & NJ for free advice about finding the right camp for their child. If you find a camp you like, don’t be afraid to ask for references. Parents are very honest with each other and want to help other parents make good decisions.
For over 20 years, Renee Flax has been the Camper Placement Specialist for the American Camp Association, NY and NJ, a not for profit organization dedicated to enhancing the summer camp experience. Renee has an extensive knowledge of each camp’s philosophy, program and facilities and visits dozens of camps every summer. Each year, she helps hundreds of parents find a day or overnight camp for their child. Renee is recognized as an authority on summer camp and has been featured in the New York Times, Associated Press and NJ.com, among other media outlets. Renee takes great pleasure in helping families find the right camp for their child.