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Beginning a summer camp search can feel overwhelming for families. With so many options, how should you narrow down the choices? The good news is that with a little bit of patience and research, you’ll find the right camp for your child and family. Here are a few tips to follow when looking for a day or overnight camp. 

Think About What Your Child Will Love

The first step is to think about who your child is and what type of program they will be successful in. Taking the time to really think about their personality and interests (and not your own) will make it easier to find a program that feels like a good fit. Does your child enjoy sports or the arts? Would they do better in an elective program where they choose their own activities or have a set schedule where they travel to activities with their group or bunk? Is your child outgoing or are they more introverted and need a little extra care? Once you’re able to describe your child, you’ll be able to have honest conversations with camp directors about whether or not a camp is a good fit for your son or daughter. 

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Think About the Experience 

With so many camps to choose from, it’s important to decide what you’d like the camp experience to look like and what your goals are. Are you interested in just a few weeks of camp or the whole summer? Are you primarily looking for your child to gain independence and make new friends or do you want your child to walk away from camp having learned a specific activity? Honing in on what your goals are for the summer before you begin the search will help you narrow down the options. 

Do Your Research

It can be easy to choose a summer camp because your friend’s child goes there or because you’ve heard great things about it; however, taking the time to do your own research based on your child and their needs is highly recommended. 

It’s good to hear from friends and neighbors about where their children go to camp and to learn about their child’s camp experience. Use that as a launch pad to do your own research. Most camp websites offer videos and testimonials that can give you a better sense of a camp. Check out their social media for pictures from previous years, too. 

Take the time to look into other programs based on your family’s needs. Just because a camp is a good fit for one child, doesn’t mean it’s always going to be the best for yours. The one-size-fits-all motto doesn’t apply to summer camp. 

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Talk to the Camp Director 

Whether this is done at a camp fair, by Zoom, on the phone or in person while touring, one of the most important parts of your camp research is to talk to the camp directors at the camps you’re considering. And don’t just email, pick up the phone and speak with the camp’s leadership team. When you choose a camp, you’re forming a partnership with the director and you want to make sure you feel comfortable with them. Clicking with the camp director and feeling that you can be open and honest with them is imperative when choosing a day or overnight camp. 

Go on Tours 

One of the best ways to get a feel for a camp is for you and your child to take a tour. It’s helpful to have an initial conversation with the camp director before scheduling a tour to be sure the camp is potentially a good fit before traveling to see it. Day camps offer tours all year. If you’re looking ahead at an overnight camp for summer 2024, you can set up a tour for summer of 2023. Visiting allows you and your child to see the facilities and ask questions about the camp while in the environment. Many people will say that after touring a specific camp, they just had a good feeling that this was the one. 

Ask About Home Visits

Since it’s difficult to tour overnight camps in the off-season when they are closed, camp directors are often available to do home visits to get to know your child and family. Home visits give both the director a chance to see if the camp would be a good fit for your family and for you to get a feel for the leadership there.

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Go to Open Houses

Many day camps and overnight camps offer open houses in the spring and fall so families have a chance to visit. During the open house, families get the chance to walk around and even participate in some camp activities. These days give you the opportunity to talk to the director and leadership team in the camp environment. Like touring, going to an open house lets your child feel like they’re part of the process of choosing their camp. 

Call the American Camp Association 

The American Camp Association (ACA), NY and NJ offers families free, individualized advice to help find the right camp for children based on their needs. At any point in your search, you can contact Renee Flax at 212-391-5208 or renee@acanynj.org.

If you follow these tips, do your research and keep your child’s temperament and interests in mind, your camp options will become clearer and your child will be on their way to their greatest summer adventure yet!

—Jess Michaels is the director of communications for the American Camp Association (ACA), NY and NJ.