Sending your kids to camp is a great way to help them grow as individuals. It also can give you a break, which ain’t so bad, now is it? But, there are things to look for when you’re choosing an activity camp for your kid.
Each state has its own camping association. These are governing bodies that demand specific standards for camping. You should make sure that any camp you’re considering is accredited by the provincial association.
Each association also puts out a guide that can be very useful for parents of first-time campers. In addition to a complete list of accredited camps, the guide often includes a list of sample questions to ask camp directors.
What’s the camp’s philosophy?
Virtually all camps issue a brochure or at least have a website. While they brim with programming information, such as what kind of kayaking programs they offer, few brochures delve deeply into the camp’s philosophy. “You’re not only buying into sailing, canoeing and windsurfing,” says Polly Marston, owner and director of Camp Hurontario, an all-boys camp on Georgian Bay in Ontario. “You’re buying into how a camp thinks.”
Who’s in charge?
“You want to know the person who has ultimate responsibility for your child. Who makes all the decisions? And who is physically on-site,” says Matt Martin, Director of Operations at Secret Agent Squad, a spy camp in San Francisco, CA.
Take the time now to make an appointment with the director of a camp you’re interested in. “It’s critical to have a personal connection with the senior director to make sure there is a comfort level,” says Onondaga Camp’s Watt.
Parents should know a camp’s moral barometre. Seize the opportunity of a one-on-one meeting with the director to get answers to those questions guaranteed to keep you awake when your kid is away: are the staff allowed to drink or smoke on-site? What kind of night patrol monitors the boys’ and girls’ sections?
“Ask about religious affiliation,” advises Kandalore’s Moore. Will your child be exposed to religious teaching?
For Rob Pegg, former director of Camp Chief Hector, a YMCA coed residential camp just west of Calgary, the success of a camp rests with the quality of its staff. “Ask about staff training,” he says. “Do they have preseason sessions with first aid training? Is my child going to feel welcome and part of the group? What do they do in homesickness cases?”
What’s the counselor-to-camper ratio?
Make sure you get the counselor-to-camper ratio and not the staff-to-camper ratio. A camp may try to make its ratio look especially attractive (say, three counselors to every camper) by including its activity staff in the count, meaning it may have added the maintenance and kitchen staff. The people who do this work are important, but they rarely have direct responsibility for your child.
What can you do for my little nonswimming nerd?
You name it, there’s probably a camp that specializes in it. There are French camps, choir camps, art camps and music camps. There are special-needs camps and camps for children with terminal illnesses. There are camps that teach kids horseback riding, canoeing and various sports. “You can go to some of these camps and get high-end national-level training as an athlete,” says Onondaga Camp’s Watt.
How much does it cost?
There is a wide range. Some camps, such as Lions Club camps and special-needs camps, are subsidized.
However, most camps are not cheap. At the high end, some private residential camps will run you as much as $800 a week. At a midrange summer camp, that amount will buy you two weeks. Some camps are as low as $200 a week.
Day camp or sleep-over camp?
According to Larry Bell, owner and director of a Toronto-area day camp called Camp Robin Hood, children are usually ready to handle an overnight camp between the ages of 7 1/2 and 9. “It’s different for every child, of course,” says Bell.
Once you choose a camp, spend time preparing your child. Pegg, formerly of Camp Chief Hector, suggests helping your kids label their clothes and gear so they feel part of the process. “It shouldn’t be: ‘I’m sending you to camp,'” he says. “This is a great opportunity for you to work together as a family.”