With fond memories of cabin mates, campfires, swimming pools, and s'mores, it's no wonder summer camp is a natural choice for parents looking to give their children the same enriching experience. At summer camp, whether it's a sleep-away or day program, kids can gain new skills, experiences, friends, and memories. The following summer camp tips can help you choose the best program for your child.
Before investigating your summer camp options, look at your budget and decide how much you're willing or can afford to spend on a summer program. In general, sleep-away camps are more expensive than their day-only counterparts due to the extra cost of meals and accommodation. And don't forget to include the cost of supplies and "extras." For camps that are more rural, for instance, your child may need camping gear, such as a tent or a sleeping bag. At the very least, sleep-away campers will need enough luggage to hold a week or more's worth of clothing; you'll also need to stock up on sunblock, swimsuits and other summer gear.
The summer camp experience can be affordable to families on a budget through financial aid, city-run programs, or other less expensive options like YMCA camps. Research online for camps and programs in your area. For example, MommyPoppins.com offers a list of affordable New York-area camp options.
Once you've established your budget, determine whether your child would prefer a sleep-away camp or a day program. Younger children or first-time campers may benefit from a day program in which campers return home every day. Sleep-away camps, on the other hand, offer a more immersive experience, but make sure the facilities, meals, and location suit the needs of both you and your child.
Child's interests and camp purpose.
Talk to your child about what special activities he or she wants to pursue, and decide what your family wants to gain from the camp overall. Camps range from coed, general-interest to subject-focused or academic. For instance, if your child is interested in theater, he or she may thrive in a performing arts summer camp with like-minded campers.
Consider the ages of the other campers and the activities offered at camp, and select a camp that will attract enough potential friends and playmates for your child. Make sure there are enough campers around your child's age so he or she can participate in age-appropriate activities with others.
It's important to determine upfront just how far you're willing to drive either to drop off and pick up your child each day or to visit them if they're staying at a sleep-away camp. For a day camp, consider how far you're willing to travel or how long of a shuttle ride your child can stand to get to and from camp daily. For a sleep-away program, decide how many times you may want to visit your child -- or your child may want you to visit -- over the length of the camp program. If this is your child's first time at camp or you have a less-than-independent child, you may need to eliminate camps that are too far away.
Find out as much as you can about the counselors, including their experience and backgrounds, and their styles of guidance and discipline. Ask about the staff-to-camper ratio; generally, for younger children, the ratio should be five to eight children to one counselor, while older children will be fine with eight to 10 campers per counselor. The best way to check out the facilities and/or campground area and speak to the counselors is to visit. You should also ask for references and get in touch with previous campers who can speak about their experiences at the camp.
If your child has any special medical, dietary, or other needs, choose a summer camp that's has experience accommodating similar campers. For medical needs, make sure the counselors or staff are trained to provide care and that the camp is located within close range of a nearby hospital.
Make sure the camp is accredited by the American Camp Association, which sets standards for safety and quality. (You can also use the ACA site to find appropriate camps for your child.)