It’s no exaggeration to say that one event kids usually really look forward to all year is summer camp. But how do you choose the right one for them? Based on my experiences as the parent of a teenager, as well as conversations with other parents, I’ve determined the top six things you should consider.
It goes without saying that cost is an important factor—especially if you have more than one kid.
Summer camps can range widely in price. It can depend on whether they’re bare-bones camps with a limited number of activities, or camps that offer a lot of expensive activities like overnight trips. But while you’re considering the price of the camp, also consider how much money you’ll have left for other summer activities, like family trips. Kids’ summer vacations are long and can feel even longer if the whole family has to stay home for weeks because you didn’t necessarily budget for other things.
Another aspect to consider is the distance of the camp from your home. If the camp is far away, you may end up spending a lot of time and money driving to and from camp. This aspect is can be even more challenging if you have kids who go to different camps, at different times, and for different lengths of time.
Day Camp or Sleepaway Camp
One of the biggest choices every parent faces is whether to send their kids to a day camp or a sleepaway camp.
In my experience, it’s best to start with a day camp until your kids express interest in going to a sleepaway camp. Believe me, they’re fully aware even at a young age that sleepaway camps exist and that some of their friends already have attended them. If your kids haven’t said they’d like to go to a sleepaway camp, it’s probably because they’re not ready yet.
It can also be a good idea to send your kids to both types of camps. While sleepaway camps give them a chance to experience real independence and make new friends, day camps let them come home in the late afternoon so they can spend some time with their nearby friends.
Indoor or Outdoor Activities
Consider the types of activities that your kids would engage in the most when choosing a camp.
Some kids enjoy sitting quietly inside, focusing on arts and crafts; other kids prefer being outdoors doing sports. You could choose to simply follow your child’s preferences and let them decide, or you could use the summer camp as a chance to challenge them to step outside their comfort zone and try something different.
My spouse certainly prefers the second option. Since our son first began going to summer camp, it has been insisted upon that he try activities that we can’t offer him in our regular city-slicker lives, such as canoeing, water skiing and zip-lining.
Single Activity or Multiple Activities
Find out if the camps you are interested in are specialized and focus on one activity, or if they offer multiple activities.
Many camps are geared toward one specific activity. Some examples are camps for chess, coding, writing or sports, such as basketball or soccer.
Other camps offer kids a range of activities. At one camp, they might participate in sports, crafts and performing arts. Camps that focus on a single activity typically aim to strengthen a child’s abilities in that particular area. Camps that offer many activities aim to introduce kids to different things.
So ask yourself—and your children—whether the goal is simply to have fun and try new things, or whether the goal is to enhance a particular skill of theirs.
Single or Multiple Camps
Finally, ask yourself whether you 1) want to send your kids to one camp for all or part of the summer, or 2) whether you want your kids to go to multiple camps.
On one hand, sending your kids to a single camp can save you time and money shuttling between camps. It would also let your kids cultivate friendships for a longer period of time.
On the other hand, sending your kids to several camps would allow them to explore different interests and make new friends. There are good reasons for either choice.
Tanni Haas, Ph.D., is a contributing writer and professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences, and Disorders at the City University of New York – Brooklyn College.