Sending your child to camp for a week or a whole summer is not a decision to be taken lightly. The incredible variety of camps to choose from is nothing short of overwhelming – where is a parent to start? We have put together a simple, step-by-step guide to assist you in your search for the camp experience that suits your child best.
Step 1: Accreditation.
The American Camp Association (ACA) defines the standard for all camps, requiring compliance with over 250 rules, guidelines and regulations focused primarily on the health and safety of all children who attend. Only consider camps that have made the effort to become ACA accredited – even if this is the ONLY step you take, you can rest assured that your child will be in a safe place! ACA has already done the research and homework on that particular camp, and it has passed a rigorous examination with flying colors.
Step 2: Type of Camp.
Make 3 basic decisions that will narrow your search considerably:
- Day Camp or Overnight? If your child is 7 or younger, a day camp may be right for them. The benefits of attending a residential camp experience speak for themselves, so we highly recommend choosing an overnight camp as soon as your child is ready (usually a full year before you are ready to send them!)
- Girls Only, Boys Only, or Coed? Single-gender camps are more socially relaxed, without the distraction of the opposite gender, while Coed camps provide a safe place to learn crucial social skills that can serve children very well in life.
- Religious or non-affiliated? This is purely down to your preference as a parent.
Step 3: Camp Focus and Activities
You know your child best – what activities are they most interested in? Look for a camp that provides them, or provides other programs that are new for your child but you believe they will love.
Step 4: Dates and Rates
Find a camp that offers dates that are convenient for you. Decide what your budget is, then ask questions about what is included in the base price of each camp – do they charge extra for certain activities?
Step 5: Investigate
You have now narrowed your search down to just a few camps that meet your needs. Now is the time to go deep and do your research. The best possible action to take is to visit these camps yourself (many camps have open houses in the spring). Another option is to ask around – either by speaking to someone you know who has attended that camp, or by reading reviews and testimonials on the camp website or other review sites. Whether or not you can visit, make sure to TALK TO THE CAMP DIRECTOR PERSONALLY. A good camp will have a director willing to take the time to directly address your concerns and get to know you. Ask tough questions and expect clear answers. There is no such thing as asking too many questions when it comes to the well-being of your child.
Step 6: Choose a Camp!
You’ve done your research, talked to a few camp directors, and maybe even seen a few camps for yourself. You have a very good feeling about that certain camp that looks and feels right for your child, and you know it will be a safe place because it is ACA accredited. Go with your parental instinct – then send your kid to camp and give them the best summer of their life!
Ian Brassett has worked in sleep-away camps since 1988, starting as a counselor and soccer instructor in a four and eight week summer camp. His current role is General Manager of Pali Mountain, a facility that houses Pali Adventures, a residential one week specialty summer camp in Southern California, as well as Pali Institute and Pali Mountain Retreat and Conference Center.