Camp is a place where your kids will gain independence, build resilience, increase confidence and make strong friendships. It’s also a place where they could be for a number of years, so choosing a camp is a big decision. Here are some tips to help you find the right camp.
TALK TO FRIENDS, BUT DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH
Whether you’re looking for a day or overnight camp, asking friends and neighbors about their child’s camp experience is a good starting point. Jeff Gould, owner and director of Independent Lake, a coed overnight camp in Thompson, PA, says, “It’s really important to choose a program that is good for your child, not where Sally from next door goes. It can feel very comfortable for parents to select a camp based on a friend’s recommendation, but you want to choose a camp where your child will be set up for the most success possible, and that is not always going to be where your child’s friend goes.”
THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT
Make a list of things you feel are important in a camp and divide it into your wants and must-haves. Once you know what you’re looking for, the search to find the right camp will become a lot easier. “Do you want a camp where children are outside all day? Are you looking for a camp where children are using technology inside?
Figure out what is important to you and your child,” says Carla Rudow, director of Camp Veritans, a day camp in Haledon. “You need to feel comfortable with the program, but your child is the one that is going to camp, not you. So, you need to find the right fit for them.”
USE CAMP SEARCH ASSISTANCE
Parents can search online and visit camp search sites like the American Camp Association (ACA), NY and NJ, where families can search accredited camps by location, type, cost and more. You can also call and speak to a camper placement specialist, who will spend as much time as needed to find the right day, overnight or specialty camp for your child. Camp fairs offer a great opportunity to meet with dozens of camp directors from day, overnight or specialty camps all in one afternoon.
KNOW WHAT TO LOOK FOR
When sorting through options, there are many factors to consider that’ll help you make the best decision for your child. Gould says to look for a camp director that looks at the relationship like a partnership. “You want to feel that the camp director is a major piece of the formula of your child’s development and that you feel very comfortable with him or her.” Rudow suggests that parents choose a camp where the director is happy to answer any of your questions. “No parent should feel funny about calling the director or the camp office with any question, comment or concern they have. Parents and the director need to work together to ensure your camper has a positive camp experience.”
FIND THE RIGHT PROGRAM
Make sure to ask the director what the program is like and what type of children are most successful at the camp. “If you have a child that wakes up and benefits from a set schedule and enjoys doing activities with the same children throughout the day, a traditional program could be a good fit,” says Gould. “If your child has more specific interests and wants to learn more about DJing, music, circus or digital arts, an elective-based program would work well.”
FACILITIES ARE NICE— BUT NOT EVERYTHING
When looking at a camp, you certainly don’t want to choose a camp with rundown facilities, but also keep in mind that facilities aren’t everything. “A camp can have state-of-the-art everything and your child can still dislike it,” comments Rudow. “Picking a camp can be just like choosing a college. You can look at a dozen schools and chances are, you and your child will step onto a campus and you will just get a good feeling that this is it. That feeling usually has nothing to do with facilities. When possible, it’s good to visit the camp, even in the off-season. You can always go back when the weather gets better for a second look. Chances are, you will know by a feeling which is the camp for your child.”
MAKE SURE SAFETY MEASURES ARE TAKEN
Choosing a camp committed to safety is of the utmost importance. “Parents should ask and understand a camp’s safety measures. Inquire about staff hiring procedures, what the staff orientation entails, if the camp is ACA accredited, if there are medical personnel on staff, emergency plans in place and other important safety aspects,” says Gould.
—Jess Michaels is the director of communications for the American Camp Association (ACA), NY and NJ, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the summer camp experience. For free, one-on-one advice when searching for a camp, call the ACA at 212-391-5208.