Seriously considering a camp and need to decide if it’s the right one for your kid? Schedule a camp tour. The ideal time to tour a camp is in the summer while it’s in session, but you can still tour in the off-season and virtually. Plan ahead to set up tours at camps you’re thinking about. We asked Renee Flax, director of camper placement for the American Camp Association, NY and NJ, and Peggy Daly, director of Camp Nyoda, a sleepaway camp for girls in Oak Ridge, how to make the most of your tour.
TIME YOUR VISIT
Seeing a camp in action is your best bet to get a feel for its atmosphere and vibe. “If you have a choice, the best time to tour a camp is after breakfast and bunk cleanup which is usually around 10 am or in the afternoon, after lunch and rest hour which is usually around 2 pm,” says Flax. “This is when you see a camp fully in action.”
In-person tours also give your child a chance to see the camp, possibly take part in an activity and meet other campers, says Flax. If you can’t tour the camp when it’s in session, ask about open houses in the spring or reach out to schedule an in-person tour in the off-season and then reach out to campers with questions. And if an in-person tour is not possible for health or distance reasons, a virtual visit is helpful. At Camp Nyoda, you can take a self-guided virtual tour anytime on Nyoda’s YouTube channel. Guided virtual tours are available upon request and in-person tours are scheduled for May. If possible, don’t take very young children on tours. Having a crying toddler on a tour will be challenging. Also, avoid trying to tour too many camps in one day.
HAVE YOUR QUESTIONS READY
Make sure you meet the camp director or someone from their leadership team, advises Flax. “Many camps have tour guides who will be able to answer your questions but you want to meet the person in charge and know their philosophy,” says Flax. “The most important questions involve knowing who succeeds best at the type of program their camp has designed.”
Think about the questions that are most relevant to your child and have your child make a list of questions in advance, too, says Flax.
Here’s what she suggests families ask:
- What is your goal as the camp director for your campers?
- What happens if a child is homesick?
- How do your hire/train your staff?
- If campers opt out of an activity do they have an elective choice or do they remain in their bunk?
- What are you most proud of about your camp?
Daly suggests asking about the intangibles that make a camp special. “When I give a tour, I make sure prospective parents are very aware of how our counselors use activity time, bunk time, mealtime and camp-wide activities to instill the values that are at the heart of our camp,” Daly says. “I think knowing what the camp values are and how the camp actually supports those values is more important than just the activities themselves.”
Daly suggests asking:
- How does this camp help your child grow in a healthy, positive way?
- What is the return rate of campers?
- What are the camp-wide values? How do they instill them? What are the traditions that support them? How intentional are they in creating a place for those values to flourish every day for every camper?
- How engaged with current campers does the tour guide seem to be? Does she know them?
GET TO KNOW THE COUNSELORS
Daly says camp counselors play an invaluable role in your child’s growth while at camp and are “at the heart of every camp.”
Here’s what she suggests asking about the counselor staff:
- What was their work experience before joining the camp?
- How old are they?
- Why do they work for this camp in particular?
- What motivates them to be role models to kids?
- What is the counselor return/rollover rate?
- What training do counselors receive?
WATCH OUT FOR RED FLAGS
If you’re not impressed with the staff or you’re not seeing happy campers, that can be a red flag, Flax says. “You are touring a camp to get a positive feel about the environment,” she says. “Follow your instincts and you’ll know if it feels like a good fit for your child.”
KEEP HEALTH AND SAFETY IN MIND
Ask what the camp’s health and safety plan was in 2021 so you get an understanding of how COVID was dealt with. Find out how that plan will change for the summer of 2022. It’s crucial to know what’s required as early as possible. “In some cases, full vaccinations and boosters will be required for everyone attending their camp including campers and staff,” Flax says.
BE HONEST AND DON’T HOLD BACK
Tell your camp tour guide what’s most important to you and your child so they can gear the tour towards your interests. Let them know as much about your child and family as you can and be honest about any issues your child may have, suggests Flax. “If necessary, ask to speak with them while your child is doing an activity or is out of earshot,” says Flax. “There may be things you don’t want your child to hear you say but are important for the camp to know. If you know your child has specific issues that may arise at camp, be honest. Not telling a camp will only make it more difficult for your child to succeed.”