[Editor's Note: The 2013 Camp Fair Series kicks off this weekend! On Saturday, January 26 at St. Jean Baptiste High School on the Upper East Side, parents and children get the chance to meet both local and out-of-city day camp representatives and get a head start on planning a wonderful, enriching summer. And on Sunday, January 27, families can attend the camp fair at Congregation Rodeph Sholom on the Upper West Side. Both events are from noon-3pm. Don't forget to register!]
When researching a summer camp for your child, there are certain pieces of information you should know in order to make an informed decision. Whether you speak to the camp director in person or by phone, the American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey (ACA, NY and NJ) recommends asking these ten questions to help you get started.
1. What is the camp’s mission and philosophy? Each camp is unique in its programming and approaches, so it’s important that the director can easily explain what they’re all about. Ask the director about the type of child that is typically successful. Renee Flax, Director of Camper Placement for the ACA, NY and NJ says, “Knowing your child’s personality and learning style, along with carefully considering whether or not the camp’s philosophy matches your own philosophy, are valuable in selecting the right camp.”
2. What does the camp’s programming involve? Think about if you are looking for a well-rounded camp experience or a specialty program, like martial arts or theater. What activities are must-haves for your child? How long is each activity? How many electives do the campers get and what kind of guidance do they receive in choosing them?
3. What type of training and education does the director have? The ACA recommends that directors possess a bachelor’s degree, have completed in-service training within the past three years, and have at least sixteen weeks of camp administrative experience.
4. What are the enrollment options? What is the length of the program offered? Is there flexibility? You should also inquire about available transportation.
5. What is the staff like? It’s important to know who will be caring for your child. Ask about the age make-up, pre-season and on-going staff trainings, the camper-to-staff ratio and cabin supervision. “Parents should not only ask the camp about how many hours or types of training the staff has, but more importantly, the overarching philosophy and message being delivered to the staff,” says Paul Isserles, Director of Buckley Country Day Camp in Roslyn, NY. At a minimum, camp staff should be trained in safety regulations, emergency procedures and communication, behavior management techniques, child abuse prevention, appropriate staff and camper behavior, and specific procedures for supervision.
6. What percentage of the campers return each year? A large number of returning campers usually indicates a high level of satisfaction with the camp’s programming and operation.
7. What are the safety procedures? Ask about the safety measures that are in place. These can include: medical personnel on property, emergency plans, staff screening procedures and instructor qualifications.
8. Is the camp accredited? Find out if the program follows a nationally known accreditation process and if it’s inspected each summer by the Department of Health. The ACA is the only national organization which establishes uniform standards for reviewing camps.
9. Can the camp accommodate special needs? If your child has special requirements, such as food allergies, religious obligations or a learning disability, ask how the camp proceeds.
10. Can the camp provide references? This is generally one of the best ways to check a camp’s reputation and service record. Ask other parents about the experiences of their children at the camp and whether their child is returning or attending for the first time. “Parents can provide you with an “inside” prospective on how camp impacted their children directly,” says Sam Borek, Owner/Director of Woodmont Day Camp in New City, NY.