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Summer Camp Planning

Get a jumpstart on kids programs by talking with other parents.


Believe it or not, it’s not too early to start planning for summer camp. Choosing the right program for your child takes time, and is not a decision that can be made a month before school ends. Camp administrators say all the right things when you call with your questions, but you just don’t feel right about sending your child off to a place you don’t know about firsthand. If you can’t afford the time or money for a site visit, how can you best learn what a camp is really like?

One of the best ways is to talk to other campers’ parents about their experiences, and now is the time to begin your research while the experience is still relatively fresh in their minds from the summer.

Parent to Parent

Almost all summer programs will gladly provide you with the names and telephone numbers of camp references. Although speaking directly with campers or former campers may seem like the best way to get answers, some camp directors and administrators strongly believe that this is a conversation that should take place primarily between parents.

Asking parents for feedback now is crucial because their experiences are still fresh in their minds. A parent’s questions can be far more probing, and hopefully, the parent giving feedback can be objective enough to remark about how their own child has changed (for good or bad) after their time at camp.

You can rest assured that the parents of campers who have attended your prospective program have nothing to gain by embellishing or hiding the truth. In fact, human nature dictates that you’re more likely to hear negative comments than positive ones. So, if your camp reference says good things about a program, you should feel comfortable believing them.

When asking the camp to provide a reference, it’s a good idea to find the name of a camper who is approximately the same age as your camper. While gender isn’t always a factor, girls often experience programs quite differently than boys (and vice versa), so matching gender can be a good idea.

Cover the Basics

The questions to ask vary greatly from family to family, since your concerns will be different from those of other prospective campers. For that reason, many camp directors are hesitant to suggest a line of questioning. If you need a place to start, however, here are a few basic ways to get the conversation going:

> Why do you recommend this camp?
> Is your child returning to the program this year? Why or why not?
>How did the program change your child’s life for the better?
> What is your impression of the staff?
> What is your impression of the facilities?
>What was your major frustration or criticism of the program?

At that point, you can address specific topics of interest to you—the food, the supervision, the social aspects, and so forth—or you could ask if your child might be allowed to speak briefly with theirs.

One quick conversation can make all the difference when you’re planning for an experience with a new camp. So get off the fence and get on the phone to ask camp directors for reference names and phone numbers. It will undoubtedly help you make a decision about whether that camp is right for your child. 


Freelance writer Cathy Ashby is a former camp counselor and administrator. 

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