A Parent’s Guide to Choosing a Summer Camp

boy enjoying the challenges of summer camp
Photo by EvgeniiAnd/shutterstock

As a summer camp director of 17 years, I’m uniquely qualified to advise parents on how to pick the right camp for your child, and I’ve come up with these five bits of advice.

It’s a Partnership

It doesn’t matter if you are looking at day camp or overnight, four days or eight weeks. Whatever camp you decide on for your child, your family and the camp will be partnering in raising your child for the time they are at camp.  

Like any relationship, this takes trust, great communication, and working together towards a common goal. The relationship…

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Starts with You

Ask yourself, “Am I ready to send my child away?”  

Remember, you are required to educate your child. You get to send them to camp. And, it’s in the situation that they build friendships, create lifelong memories, expand their boundaries, develop empathy, and have a blast more than anywhere else.  

It’s natural to be nervous about sending your child to camp. They’ll be completely out of your control for however long they are away. And, it may be one of the best things for both you and your child. Speaking of…  

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Your Camper

No one knows your child better than you. You know her habits and routines. You know his friends and fears. Knowing that, ask yourself, ‘Is my child excited about camp?’ 

My rule of thumb: a child excited about camp who can’t make it through or doesn’t want to do a sleepover should go to day camp. If they are excited about both ideas, residential camp is the place for you.  

Decide on a day or over-night camp (or both!) first. Then, looking at your calendar, determine how long would be best. Finally, think about how much you want to spend. 

Once you’ve developed a clear picture of yourself and your child, it’s time to learn about… 

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The Camps

Each camp has a different personality, a different reason for ‘being.’ You’ll want to get to know more about the aspect of camp. But first, you’ll need to explore the options that fit your type, dates, and cost requirements. 

You can do your own research using the American Camp Association’s website or speak with Renee Flax at the ACA’s New York/New Jersey office. (Camps that are accredited by the ACA have proven their commitment to the safety and well-being of their campers and staff.) 

Word of mouth can also be useful. A word of caution: It’s nice to have ‘home friends’ and ‘camp friends.’ So, when speaking with your friend about a camp, please keep this in mind.  

Once you’ve narrowed down the camps you would like to learn more about, it’s time to really dig in.  

There is no better way to decide which camp is right for you than a visit to the camp in action. You will get a great ‘gut feel’ immediately and then be able to make a more informed decision. This, however, is not always an option.  

 

The second-best thing is to visit face to face with one of the directors. You’ll want to talk to someone who has a hand in hiring and training the staff as well as working with the families.  

Ask questions like: 

  • ‘Can you describe the camper who does best at your camp?’ 
  • ‘How do you hire and train your staff?’ 
  • ‘How do you put the values you talk about on your website into practice at camp?’ 
  • ‘When things go wrong in the bunk, how does your team handle it?’ 
  • ‘I read some reviews online. Can you tell me more about this specific situation?’ 

Because it’s a relationship, you’ve got to build trust both ways. The best way to do that? Openly and optimistically communication… and a lot of it.  

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So, as you can see, there are a lot of steps in finding the right spot for your child. Doing it right will exhaust you and give you the best chance of finding the right spot for your child this summer… and for many others afterward.  

My friend Will Pierce of Pierce Country Day Camp sums it up best:  

“Parents know their children best, and camp directors know their camp best. Visit the camps you are considering and come prepared with some pointed questions for the director about what you hope your child will gain from camp.  Camp is an important investment you are making in your child, and when you find the right place and partner, you’ll know it.” 

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Cole Kelly is the director Camp Weequahic, a residential summer camp for girls and boys located in northeastern Pennsylvania. He is also the host of the Campfire Conversation podcast which helps parents and teachers keep the magic of summer camp going all year long.  

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