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Thinking about a camp but on the fence about whether it’s the right fit? Plan a visit during the summer to see the camp in action. Researching now gives you time to plan and schedule around tours and open houses. Talk to friends and read online to narrow down the camps you want to visit, and take the winter to talk to camp directors so you can be more selective and efficient when you start scheduling tours. We asked Susie Lupert, executive director of the American Camp Association of New York and New Jersey, for advice on how to get the most out of a tour.
NEW JERSEY FAMILY: What’s the best time to visit a camp?
SUSIE LUPERT: July and early August before camp ends. [But] if for some reason you can’t tour during that time, don’t worry. Day camps do spring and fall festivals, and overnight camp directors do home visits. Many day camps are also happy to tour in the off-season. Camp fairs are also great opportunities to [learn] about multiple camps in one day.
NJF: What should parents look for in a sleepaway camp?
SL: You’ll certainly want to see the bunk, specifically for the age group where your child will be. Check out the dining hall, pool and lake, athletic fields and any other areas of interest. If the tour doesn’t take you to an area you’d like to see, ask to see it.
NJF: What are the red flags to look for?
SL: Do campers and staff look happy? Are the facilities run down? Do things seem chaotic and unstructured? Besides these red flags, it might just be that after seeing the camp, you don’t feel it’s the right environment for your child, which is okay. That’s the reason you tour. If it isn’t the right fit, move on and see another camp.
NJF: What’s the most important thing to ask about during a tour?
SL: Find out what type of child is successful at the camp. Is he or she describing your child? If not, it’s time to tour a different camp.
NJF: What tips would you give parents trying to choose a camp for their kid?
SL: Don’t focus too much on the facilities. The philosophy and mission of the camp is much more important.
Consider who your child is, not the child you want him or her to be. If your child is into arts [more than] sports, an overly-competitive program won’t be the right fit. Often the right camp for your child is different than the camp you went to or imagined.
Before you make plans to tour, have an initial convo with the camp director and ask some key questions. There’s no use in seeing a camp if you don’t like the answers.
Do your own research and don’t follow the herd. While it’s great to hear where your friends’ children go, don’t be afraid to look into camps your friends have never heard of. There are so many different camps, and while one might be perfect for one child, it might not be the best fit for another.
Consider safety. Look for a camp that’s been accredited by the American Camp Association, which is the best evidence of a camp’s commitment to safety.