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Camps and Kids: Making a Good Match

The time for making summer plans is fast approaching, and for those parents who are planning a camp experience for their child, now is the time to consider some options.  Because the summer experience is an influential part of your child's life, it's important to plan ahead issues to think about:

  • What do you and your child expect to gain from the camp experience? Learn new skills, make new friends, become more independent?
  • Is your child ready for a sleep-away experience?  Has your child spent any time away from the family? A sleep-away camp can range anywhere from one week to an entire summer, but some camps offer a 1-2 week trial session for younger children and/or first time campers.
  • Does your child have special interests that he/she wants to explore? Camps vary; some emphasize sports, computers, arts, drama, music; some focus on special groups, such as children who are gifted, have learning issues or behavioral issues.
  • Are there any physical, intellectual, or social limitations that should be considered?
  • What kind of a program would best suit your child? For example: Is a lot of structure desirable, or does your child need a more flexible place where kids are encouraged to develop at their own pace?  Does the child have a choice of activities?

Develop a list of possible camp choices from other parents and/or from your child's friends who go to camp. Be aware, however, that the camp that's right for another child may not be the right camp for yours. Speak or meet with the camp directors or representatives and ask specific questions about camp philosophy and procedures. A good camp wants to hear parental concerns and is eager to respond to questions. Encourage your child to ask questions too. Some possible areas to discuss:

  • What is the philosophy regarding competition and the level of competitiveness? Is this a good match for your child?  
  • What is the director's background? How long has the director run this camp?
  • What is the camper-counselor ratio, how old are the counselors, and what kind of staff training is provided?
  • How does the camp insure the safety and security of its campers?
  • What medical staff is on campus and what medical facilities are available?
  • What is the camp's approach to discipline and how does the camp handle conflicts between campers? You should be comfortable that the camp's practices are in line with your parenting practices.
  • What does a typical daily schedule look like?  How much freedom to choose does the child have?  

Ask for references of families who have had their child attend the camp. Speaking with these families can give you valuable insights about the camp and the families that send their children there.

Getting ready

While there may be some "jitters" as the camp start date approaches, kids are likely get through them with a parent's gentle reassurance that the "butterflies" are normal.

  • Focus your child on looking forward to the camp activities he or she particularly enjoys, such as swimming or baseball.
  • Attend any sessions with your child offered by the camp in your local area.
  • Engage your child in the fun aspects of preparing for camp such as picking out camp gear.
  • Make appropriate communication from camp easy. Pack pre-addressed, stamped envelopes for your child to mail letters to you and others, such as grandparents and friends.

Help your child practice being away from home by sleeping over at the homes of friends and relatives.