Ten questions to ask when researching a summer camp

You are beginning to search for a summer camp for your child, but with all of the options, how do you choose? The good news: there is a camp for every child with any interest. But as a parent, you want to make sure you are choosing the right camp program for your child. Where do you start?

The American Camp Association, New York and New Jersey, recommends that families talk to the camp director and ask the following 10 questions before choosing a summer camp:

What is your camp’s philosophy and program emphasis? Can the director easily explain the program’s mission statement and goals? Ask the director about the type of child that is a successful participant in her program. Each camp is unique, and provides unique programming and approaches. Families need to consider carefully whether or not the camp’s philosophy matches their own. Asking questions about learning approaches, how behavioral and disciplinary problems are handled, and how adjustment issues are addressed will give families a better understanding of the camp’s position. Don’t be afraid to ask about policies regarding discipline and communication. The more open families are with camp directors, the better informed they will be when it comes to making a decision.

What is your camp’s program? Consider what activities are must-haves for your child. Then ask the director how many electives the children get and what kind of help they receive in choosing them. How long is each activity?

What type of training and education do you and your staff have? The American Camp Association recommends directors possess a bachelor’s degree, have completed in-service training within the past three years, and have at least 16 weeks of camp administrative experience before assuming the responsibilities of director. 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. Families should ask about camper-to-staff ratios, and supervision in cabins and for various activities, like swimming and athletics.

Enrollment options: What is the length of the program offered? Is there flexibility? What is the length of the day? Is transportation available?

What is the staff composition? Who is caring for your child? Ask about age, experience, pre-season and on-going staff training, child abuse training, background checks, the interview process, and camper-staff ratios.

What are the safety procedures? Ask about the safety measures that are in place for things like medical personnel on property, emergency plans (i.e. evacuation, inclement weather), staff screening procedures, and instructor qualifications.

Is your camp accredited? Find out if the program follows a nationally-known accreditation process. Ask for those standards to be outlined. Find out if the camp program is inspected each summer by the Department of Health. Understand what it means to be accredited by the American Camp Association. The Association is the only national organization that establishes uniform standards for reviewing camps, so ask if this program has chosen to participate.

Sensitivity to camper needs: Ask how the camp handles special considerations for your child such as food allergies, religious obligations, Attention Deficit Disorder, vegetarian food options, etc.

What are the policies on parent-camper communication while in camp? For resident camp, can you send and receive e-mails from your child? Can you call and talk to the child during his time at camp?

Ask for references from the camp Parents shouldn’t be afraid to ask for 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. Find out if the children seemed comfortable in talking about their experiences with staff and campers. Ask if they are going back the next summer. Ask if the parent was pleased with the communication received from the camp. Ask these parents for the names of other parents and children who have attended the camp.

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Whatever your child’s interests may be, and whatever standards you may have, there is a summer camp out there for your family. It just takes a bit of research.

The American Camp Association has been serving the camp community and families for 100 years. To find the right camp for your child, visit www.campwizard.org, or call (800) 777-CAMP for free, one-on-one advice in finding a summer camp. American Camp Association-accreditation is a parent’s best evidence of a camp’s commitment to health and safety, and ensures that children are provided with a diversity of educational and developmentally-challenging learning opportunities.