Because the camp experience will have significant impact on your child's life, it’s important for parents to learn to choose a camp wisely. Many parents can benefit from guidance in this area. For example, some parents may send a child to a camp they attended without considering how the camp may have changed or the differences between the parent's and the child's needs and desires. In other cases, children go to a camp that a friend has enjoyed, assuming they will enjoy it too. All too often, this assumption proves wrong.
The purpose of this section is to help parents consider the key factors in making a well-informed choice of camp. While there’s no easy way to find the best camp for your child, this section will provide you with some basic guidelines for making this very important decision.
Regardless of the age of your child, it is important that the ultimate selection of a camp accommodate all or some of the needs, interests, goals, and expectations of both parent and child. The parent must make an effort to understand what the child wants and why. A good way to begin is to sit down as a family and respond to the following questions:
With the above information in mind, it is appropriate to look at some of the specific characteristics that should be considered in determining what you and your child want. These characteristics include:
Generally, camps are coed, all boys, all girls, or brother and sister. In a coed camp, there may be extensive interaction between boys and girls through activities or through the use of common facilities such as waterfront and dining hall. Brother/sister camps may provide for some social interaction but normally they have separate activities and facilities for boys and girls. They may be located adjacent to each other or may be miles apart.
Sleepaway camps provide a summer residential program where campers enjoy daily and evening activities. Depending on the type of program chosen, a camp experience can range anywhere from one week to an entire summer.
Questions to Address: In considering sleepaway camp, parents should keep a few questions in mind:
Take a moment to consider the type of camp that makes the most sense for your child and try to develop your reasons for those preferences.
After you have gone through your preferences and reasons, make a note of any additional questions or concerns that you still have.
Nonprofit camps, such as "Y" camps and Federation camps, are less expensive than private sleepaway. As a parent you have to make a careful assessment of your family's financial limitations regarding camp costs. There are several very important calculations. How much would you have to pay to feed, entertain, provide childcare, and so forth, if your child stays home for all or part of a summer? Second, be sure to estimate the extras that are involved in going to camp. Extras may include a camp uniform, charges for trips, transportation, the cost of visiting the camp, and the extra spending money needed by your child. Third, remember that a good camp experience can be a long-term investment that will affect many other areas of your child's life. In other words, don't be too concerned about saving a couple of hundred dollars over the course of the summer. If your child does not have a good experience, you both will have lost far more than you have saved.
Generally, children will attend sleepaway camps for either four or eight weeks. Four weeks at a good private sleepaway camp will cost anywhere from $3500 to $6500, and eight weeks will range from $4000 to $7000. Non-profit and organizational camps will range from $1200 to $3000 for four weeks and $2500 to $5000 for eight weeks. Two-week programs are occasionally available. Costs will range from $650 to $2000. Specialty camps can range from $500 to $1000 per week depending on the program. You should take some time to consider what you can reasonably afford.
Camps may vary in size from under 100 campers to more than 400. Smaller camps may foster a very special environment where campers and staff really get to know each other, and where individual needs can be quickly met. Large camps are often organized into small units thus making it possible to receive the same kind of attention offered by a smaller camp. This is a complex issue that will require special attention and investigation. In a good camp there may be little correlation between size and the quality of the total camp experience.
If you feel your child requires special attention in an area such as confidence building, it is probably more important to find out how a camp meets that need rather than getting hung up on size. In this regard, you might want to keep these kinds of questions in mind: What do you do to prevent campers from getting lost in the shuffle? Can a below average athlete feel comfortable in trying new things and in working on skills at his or her own pace? What is done to promote a sense of self worth? The answers to such questions and others will help you identify appropriate camps and as you move toward a final selection.
Many parents needlessly limit their search for a camp by looking in one state or by choosing an arbitrary distance from home. More important than distance, are the related questions involving camp environment, security, medical facilities, and accessibility.
In choosing a location you might also want to consider the cost for you to visit the camp, and the proximity to camps your other children are attending during the summer. Keep in mind that there are excellent camps in many states, and that if your child is having a good experience, distance will not make a great deal of difference. Which is more important - choosing the right camp based on your child's interests/needs or the comfort of knowing your child's camp is close to home?
As you might imagine, camps have all kinds of program offerings. Some camps may emphasize one activity while others will offer a wide array of programs. Camps in which a camper would devote a majority of his or her time to one activity are often referred to as Specialty Camps. In these camps, staff and facilities are geared to provide an intensive experience in a single area such as tennis, horseback riding, gymnastics, sailing or wilderness. Naturally, these camps have other facilities and activities that provide campers with additional experiences. A more traditional camp program tends to be broader in terms of what it offers.
Most general camps will provide programs in some team sports such as baseball and soccer, individual sports like tennis, and waterfront activities such as swimming and sailing, as well as some outdoor life options in hiking and canoeing. Many of these camps also provide campers with the opportunity to get extra instruction in any of the areas that are offered. In making a decision about camp, it is vital that you and your child look into the total camp program and that you examine the quality of the staff and facilities available to support that program.
Once you have reached the point where you have begun to compare camp programs, you may want to return to some of these questions. For now, it is appropriate to try to pin down some of the program preferences you and your child have. A list of the common camp activities follows:
At this stage of the decision process, your central task is to identify those camps which appear promising in terms of meeting your specifications. This is the information gathering part of making a decision.
You can add to your list in other ways. Perhaps you know other parents who send their children to camp. Get some camp names from them. Also, your child probably has friends who go to camp; you can pursue this source as well. Be aware- the camp that's right for another child may not be the right one for yours. Also, avoid overwhelming yourself and your child with too many camps, about six or so is a good number to begin with.
Once you have developed a list of possibilities the most difficult task remains. That is, how do you compare camps so that you can narrow the possibilities to the one which makes the most sense for you and your child?
The best way to proceed with your comparison and to narrow your choices is to take a careful look at some of the promising camps you have identified. Review the brochures and videos with your child. Then you can choose the ones you're most interested in and arrange to speak or meet with the camp directors or representatives. They'll give you more detail and you can ask specific questions like:
As you go over these questions you might want to add a few additional ones from the previous sections guide. Don't feel self conscious about asking alot of questions. A good camp will have paid a lot of attention to these parental concerns and should be eager to respond to them.
Be careful not to focus on one area and therefore omit others. For example: a camp's facilities might be very impressive but they won't mean a great deal if the atmosphere is not friendly, or if the staff and program are inadequate.
Involve your child in the selection process. Review your child's preferences and let you child ask questions too.
Finally, ask for references of families who have had their child attend the camp. Speaking with these families can give you valuable insight about the camp and the families that send their children there.