Whether you spent childhood summers as a camper or earned college spending money as a counselor, summer camp (in one form or another) seems to be a near universal experience. For campers, summer camp was a way to reconnect with old friends, learn new skills and gain a sense of self-confidence and independence. The foundation for these positive experiences was laid down many months, perhaps years before (for many campers come back to the camp over the course of multiple years) before when their parents first sat down to choose a summer camp.
Talk to your kids. I know this sounds elementary, but the kids that have some say in their camping experience have a better camping experience. It’s far better to find out that your child would rather chew his arm off than sleep in a tent before you pony up the fees for that overnight wilderness experience camp than spend what was to be 10 quiet summer days getting daily calls from an anxious, homesick child (or her overtaxed counselor). There’s a summer camp out there for most every interest – according to the American Camp Association (ACA), there are some 5,000 day camps and approximately 7000 overnight camps nationwide; there are science camps, sports camps, dance camps, art camps, theater camps, special needs camps, camping camps, teen camps -so take the time to fit the camp to your child’s interests, expectations, and comfort levels.
Do your homework. Once you and your child have narrowed the list of possible camps down to a manageable list, it’s time to do a little homework. Spend a little time getting to know the camp’s philosophy – does the camp emphasize a structured program or are campers provided the freedom to pick and choose the activities that interest them. Check out the camper-to-counselor ratio – for day camps the ACA recommends an about 8 to 1 ratio and for overnight camps, the ratio should be between 6:1 and 10:1 depending on the age of the campers, the younger the child the lower the ratio. Since some types of programs may require more supervision, you’ll have to use your own judgment to decide if a particular camp’s ratio is right for your child. While you are looking into the camper-to-counselor ratio, ask about the camp’s director’s and senior staff’s credentials. You want to see individuals with a few years experience supervising camps and camp administration holding at least a bachelor’s degree and regularly attend continuing professional education courses. As for counselors, they should be CPR and first aid certified, and have enthusiasm for their role (best way to judge this is ask how many counselors come back over multiple summers). The camp’s hiring process should include background checks and pre-camp training for all staff. Finally, ask the camp for a few local references and take the time to contact them and get both the adults’ and the camper’s take on the entire experience.
Tour the camp. The best time to visit a camp is while it is in session as you’ll get to see how the entire camp really works. But if you’re not planning a summer in advance, at least take the time to get to know the staff and tour the facilities. It’s a bit like those college tours that are only a few years in your future – your purpose is evaluate the people and facilities; is the facilities kept up, is the equipment safe and in working order, does the staff seem actively engaged and interested. Just keep one thing in mind when you tour a camp – kids value the friendships and the self growth they get at camp; those water slides and fancy cabins on their brochures and web pages are there just to sell the whole thing to parents. A quality experience does not necessarily come from elaborate equipment.
Coordinate with your co-parent. Summer is one of the more challenging times when it comes to co-parenting (even for experienced co-parents). It can be a difficult balancing act as co-parents try to arrange quality family activities, provide their children with opportunities for growth while still keeping everything within budget. The key is to start planning those summer activities, especially summer camp, early (you may even want to consider the summer camp question when developing your parenting plan). Your goal is to have a plan in place that will allow your children to attend camp while still being able to vacation with both parents while still being financially realistic. While both co-parents should talk with their children about how the summer will be structured, there is little need to involve children in logistic details. What children need to know is that both their parents want them to have a great time at camp, and that both parents are looking forward to spending a wonderful summer with them.
Tagged with: Co-Parenting • day camp • summer camp