With around 12,000 camps in the US currently, choosing the right summer program for your kid can feel overwhelming. Here’s how to dig in.
Find the Right “Type” of Camp First
Don’t just look for a camp concept that highlights what he’s good at (like tennis camp for your singles all-star). Instead, look for camp themes that will develop and nurture your child’s superpowers, as well as improve those things they may be less good at (like an all-sports camp that has great tennis).
As you research, make sure to consider what your kid needs to succeed at camp. “Some of the most miserable kids are the ones whose parents chose a program that meets what they want for their child and not what their child needs,” says Linda Nettles, former program director of the Youth Programs division of Duke University’s Continuing Education and Summer Session.
But the most important factor to consider? Whether or not your kid is into it. If you want your daughter to attend coding camp to improve her math skills, but she wants desperately to go with her friends to rock climbing camp, she will, most likely, be unhappy if you send her to math camp without her buy in. Parents’ biggest camp misstep is often ignoring this reality.
Now Pick the Specific Camp
After you’ve figured out whether baseball or chess camp is right for your kid, you’ll want to research your options. Visit our online camp directory, searchable by camp type and county, at njfamily.com/camp, or check out the American Camp Association’s website (acacamps.org) and search by session length, price range, location and activities.
Next, talk to the camps you’re considering to assess how the subject is taught and experienced. Take, for instance, a science program. Is it lecture-based? Is there extensive lab work? Do the campers spend much of their time outside, performing experiments in the field? No matter how much a child enjoys science, Nettles warns, if they don’t like being outdoors in the summertime with the bugs and the sun, they won’t enjoy a program that teaches science this way.
When in Doubt, Ask Friends
Have your friends’ kids attended any great camps? Parents are always eager to share their experiences (good and bad) and will offer real, unbiased opinions. Put your wider social network to work and ask for recommendations on your next Facebook post. By getting as much feedback as possible, you and your soon-to-be camper will have a more realistic and in-depth understanding of the options in your area—and a better summer for it!
Cathy Ashby is a former camper, camp counselor and camp director.