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Today's Family Magazine

How to choose a summer camp your kids will love and you'll approve

By Kimberly Blaker

Whether you're looking for enrichment for your child, a way to keep your child occupied and supervised while you work, or a short reprieve from parenting, there's a summer camp out there that's just right for every family.

The benefits of summer camp
Summer camp offers plenty of benefits, and many kids thrill at the idea of going away to summer camp.  But for some kids, particularly those who are shy, introverted, or homebodies, the thought of going away for a night, let alone a week or more, can be cause for considerable anxiety.  For kids who are adamantly opposed, forcing summer camp on them may not be in their best interest.

But for kids who are more than eager – or at the very least willing to give it a shot without too much fuss – summer camp offers lots of opportunities kids aren't likely to experience at home or anywhere else.  If you're not familiar with the benefits, summer camp:
  • Fosters independence
  • Is a place to develop new and lasting friendships
  • Helps kids develop new skills
  • Leads kids to discover new
  • interests and hobbies
  • Provides the opportunity for creative expression
  • Gives kids a break from being plugged-in
  • Offers daily exercise
  • Improves their self-esteem
  • Teaches kids to work with others
  • Makes kids feel part of a
  • community
  • Prevents or reduces summer learning loss

Getting started in your search
Before you begin looking into summer camps, first create a list of the criteria you're looking for.  Here are some initial things to consider.
  • What is your budget for summer camp?
  • What is the purpose of sending your child to summer camp?
  • Do you want a resident (overnight) or a day camp?
  • Are you looking for a short-term (week or two) or summer-long program?
  • Do you want a camp that's very structured or one that provides your child lots of freedom and choices?
  • What are your child's interests, such as a particular sport, hobby, or other interest?
Once you've narrowed down some of the criteria, you can begin your search.  [An excellent place to start is Today's Family magazine.  A full listing of camps will appear in the March issues.]  The American Camp Association (ACA) accredits summer camps.  So this is another excellent place to look for a camp. The ACA educates camp owners and directors in health and safety for staff and campers as well as program quality.  It then accredits camps that meet the organization's standards.

Next steps to finding the perfect summer camp
Once you've selected a few summer camps that meet your primary criteria and that fit your child's interests, share the choices to see what excites your child.  Let your child know up front that you still need to thoroughly investigate the camp(s) before making a final decision.  But do keep your child's choices in mind to ensure your child gets the most out of summer camp.
Once you and your child have narrowed the list to a manageable selection, you'll want to investigate the camps further.  There are several things you'll want to consider.

What are the staff's qualifications?
Many summer camps use teens to staff the camps.  Teens make excellent mentors and can bring liveliness to summer camp programs.  However, the programs themselves should be developed by professionals and have professional oversight to ensure kids are getting the most from the camp programs.

How does the camp ensure your child's safety?
Find out what kind of safety training the camp provides its staffers. Also, is there staff on hand at all times that knows CPR?  What are the camp's procedures in the event your child becomes ill, has an accident, or there's an emergency?

What is the daily schedule for campers?
Ask for a daily itinerary, so you know your child will be getting everything you and your child anticipate from the program.

What are the rules?
Each camp has its own set of rules. So, find out whether your child is allowed to call you.  If it's a summer-long residential camp, can parents come and visit?  Can your child bring along a cell phone or electronics?  Also, how much money should your child bring, and how is your child's money managed?

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