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Choosing the Right Camp for Your Child

When it comes to choosing a camp for your child, there are a host of options. Both residential and day camps have traditional and specialty offerings. Traditional camps offer a variety of experiences and are a good choice for the child who wants different activities or enjoys constant stimulation. Specialty camps provide concentrated instruction in one or two areas and are a good option for those who are extremely focused on a given activity and can maintain their attention span. Following are a few things to consider when selecting a camp for your child.

Personal interests and preferences. Talk with your child about his expectations for summer camp. What are his interests? Does he want to focus on one activity or try a variety of experiences? Would he like to try something new? If so, summer camp is the perfect opportunity to do so.
 
Camp readiness. If this is your child’s first experience with camp, consider a day or residential program close to home. If your child wants to attend an overnight camp, schedule a trial run. Send him to a relative’s house for the weekend. How did he do away from home? Was he able to take care of his personal needs? Did he adjust to different foods? Did he sleep well?

Duration. Talk with your child about how long he would like to stay at camp. Is this a reasonable length of time for his age and developmental level? First-time campers would do well starting in a partial- to full-week program. Even if your child decides to stay at camp all summer, allow a few weeks break between school and camp for down time.

Cost. When considering a camp, be sure you know what the total cost is. Some camps have a base price but charge additional fees for trips, special events and activities. If the camp you want to send your child to is more than you can afford, ask about scholarship programs. Also ask about the refund policy in the event your child gets sick or there is a family emergency.

Camp Counselors and Staff. Find out what the camper-to-counselor ratio is. Six campers to one counselor is recommended by the American Camping Association. What is the camp’s return rate? What experience and/or training do the counselors have? How are counselors chosen? What is the camp’s discipline policy? Can they accommodate health concerns such as asthma, allergies and dispensing medicine?
 
Referrals. When considering a camp, ask for individuals you can call whose children have attended the camp. Find out what those children’s experiences have been. Also check to see if the camp is accredited by organizations such as the American Camping Association or the National Camp Association. While this is not imperative, organizations like these have guidelines camps must meet before they can become accredited.

Pre-visit. Once a camp has been chosen, arrange to visit with your child. Does the camp have an open house? If not, can you drop by on a given weekend? If visiting isn’t an option, get onto the camp’s website or look at a brochure with your child so he can familiarize himself with the campground, buildings and sleeping quarters.

Supplies, rules and regulations. Several weeks before camp, get a list and begin gathering the supplies your child will need. Also ask the camp what the child is not allowed to take (iPods, videogames, etc.). Find out about other rules and regulations and familiarize your child with these rules.

Communicate. Several weeks before camp begins, talk with your child about the upcoming experience. Does he have any apprehension? If your child is afraid he will be homesick, remind him these are normal concerns. Reassure him of the positive experience he will have. Since fear of the unknown is the greatest cause of worry, the more information you have about camp, the better off your child will be. Consider sending letters and care packages before your child arrives so he will have something to open during mail call on his first day.

Denise Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children.