The kids are out of school, and it’s time to decide how to keep them thinking and learning. We want productive children; we want to keep them from sitting around, playing video games, watching TV and glued to their devices all summer.
One way to combat the summer slide into “screen-time oblivion” is to enroll our children in summer camp. Ask any adult who has ever been to summer camp as a child, they will tell you that it was either one of the best experiences of their lives or one of the worst experiences of their lives. We've all seen the TV sitcoms and movies that suggest the horrific happenings at summer camp—the hierarchy, the popular kids that win all the events or competitions, and the not-so-popular kids that are the butt of endless ridicule and pranks. We won’t let that happen to our kids!
Our primary goal is to help our children learn and explore. We want them to have the best experience possible, which means we must take the proper precautions to do so. Entrusting our most precious commodity to strangers can be tricky, but we will meticulously choose the perfect summer camp. We only have to keep a few things in mind.
20 Do: Determine A Budget
When comparing summer camps, one of the most significant factors to consider is cost. We want the best deal. However, an expensive camp may offer better opportunities. A lower-priced camp may not include lunch or may require children to bring their material. We have to do what’s best for everyone.
According to Mint, a budgeting site and app—from the makers of TurboTax—there are several ways to save money when sending children to summer camp. A couple of things to consider: summer camp sometimes qualifies as childcare and may serve as a tax break for children under 13. Also—paying early may save money.
19 Don’t: Stress Out
Our kids are our most precious commodity. We want to ensure that they are in the best care when we can’t be with them. Due to this, researching and choosing a summer camp may be a considerable source of stress.
A study recorded on Science Direct reviewed parental stress and its correlation with quality of daycare. They found that a significant cause of parental anxiety is dissatisfaction with daycare.
In choosing the right summer camp for our children, we must ensure the quality of care before enrolling them. Though the research process may be long and tedious, it is essential in relieving future stress.
18 Do: Check Out Local/Community-Based Facilities
Summer camp doesn’t have to be a popular “big-named” organization. The most caring child-care professionals can be found at local, community-based facilities because they have invested in bettering their community.
Check out local places of worship, universities, community colleges, non-profit organizations or the YMCA. Make phone calls, speak to other parents or ask for suggestions from local schools.
The American Camp Association (ACA) website is a vital source for camp information and can assist in finding local camp-related facilities. The ACA website provides a reference list to camp-related organizations nationally. Most of the sites referenced provide a “find us in your area” or “enter your zip code” search engine.
17 Don’t: Be Afraid To Push Children Past Their Comfort Zone
We want our children to be confident in every situation, but we also want to ensure that they are challenged. When we challenge them, they grow and learn. Instead of letting the little one stay in art camp, consider a camp that offers art along with something new.
While we want to challenge our children, we don’t want to push them into situations that overwhelm them. According to Psychology Today, a challenge is measured in small steps instead of big leaps.
Although we want to introduce our children to new learning experiences, there is no need to keep up with “the Joneses” or put unrealistic expectations on our children.
16 Do: Discuss And Determine Their Interests
Summer camp should be an enjoyable experience. The most crucial element in choosing a camp is matching a child’s interest to the appropriate camp.
Children who want to develop sports skills may attend a specific sports camp. Children who want to improve academically or who love academics may choose “kids college.” Some children enjoy creative, hands-on projects while others excel in coding or science/technology programs.
In Psychology Today, Paul Holinger M.D. explains that the most important way to determine a child’s interest is to listen to them. Listening to our children can help them pick out a summer camp but—more importantly—listening can have a lasting positive impact on our parent-child relationship.
15 Don’t: Be Afraid To Involve Children When Choosing A Camp
Our children can be our most valuable resource when choosing a summer camp. Not only should we listen to their interest, but—depending on their age—we should seek their feedback about the facilities we find on the Internet. We could also have them search online themselves. Although we will make the ultimate decision about camp, we should be open to their suggestions.
According to Kids Matter, allowing children to practice making decisions promotes good decision-making skills and helps to provide a sense of responsibility. Kids Matter also suggests providing several acceptable options and then allowing a child to choose from those options.
14 Do: Decide Whether Day Camp Or Overnight Camp Is Best
Depending on a child’s age and comfort level, parents need to consider whether or not day camp or overnight camp is best.
Day camp can provide child care for working parents of younger children while also allowing children to socialize and learn. Day camps may also be a good option for older children and teens who would rather not stay away.
Older children and teenagers may be interested in overnight camps. According to the ACA, overnight camps can help children develop independence, relax, make new friends and perhaps—more importantly—unplug. We must consider our comfort level here. What is best for my child? What would make my child most comfortable?
13 Don’t: Choose A Camp Based On Where The “Bestie” Is Going
We want our children to spend time with friends and develop meaningful relationships. However, we don’t want to encourage co-dependency. Sometimes our children and their “besties” have the same interests. In that case, it’s okay for children to attend camp with their best friends.
According to Mental Help, people have private interests and external pressures—i.e., parental demands, peer pressure. Encouraging children to consider their intrinsic goals rather than relying on outside influences may help them make more idiocentric choices rather than jumping on the bandwagon. Keep in mind—camp is a way for children to expand their minds and social circles.
12 Do: Consider An Online “Camp”
An online “camp” may be the answer if driving all summer isn’t an option. Many college-goers take online classes. Elementary, middle and high schools use tools like Google Classroom and Khan Academy to enhance education. It's important for parents to support virtual learning as well.
Online camps include reading camps like PBS Parent and Start with a Book. Sites like Connected Camps and TechRocket offer tech-based activities. Google Arts and Culture and Made with Code from Google are free, creative-based camps. According to Knowledge Anywhere, one of the most critical elements of virtual learning is the ability to take breaks. For the restless child, online “camp” may be a godsend.
11 Don’t: Forget About STEAM Or STEM
When choosing a camp, we often consider traditional academics, sports, and the arts. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art/Design, and Math. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. STEAM and STEM both integrate the subjects they include in their acronyms.
According to the US Department of Education, the United States is falling behind in their internationally ranked math and science scores. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that STEM jobs will grow 12.5 between 2014 and 2024 resulting in half a million new jobs. STEAM or STEM camps are fun and exciting options not only for summer camp but for a brighter future.
10 Do: Research Potential Camps
If we want to make sure that our children attend the best and safest camp, research is essential. Look up the facility online, try to find a customer rating or feedback from other parents. Find out if they are nationally accredited or if they have won any local, state or national awards. Stop by and visit during business hours.
See for yourself how the staff interacts with children. Take your child on the visit with you. Ask them what they thought about the facility. If it is impossible to visit, call to ask questions. According to ChildCare Aware, parents should check licensing and ask for proof of criminal background checks.
9 Don’t: Forget About Personal Expectations And Goals
We want our children to have a voice in their camp choice, but—ultimately—we make the final call. What do we want our children to get out of camp? Make a list of the perfect utopian camp. Put an asterisk beside the non-negotiables.
Purdue University—in their statement about provider-parent partnerships—says that parents should expect detailed information about the facility and the employees. Like an open-door policy, knowledgeable staff and a safe environment, among several other things, will be noted. Researching will help set expectations. If we are informed, we will make conscious decisions. Ignorance is not bliss in this situation—ignorance can put our children at risk.
8 Do: Ask Or Search For Discounts
Don’t be embarrassed to ask. There are only two options—yes or no. If it’s a yes, score—we just saved money! For families with multiple children, camps may offer sibling discounts. Time Money suggests searching for discounts on sites like Groupon and LivingSocial.
Military personnel, teachers, firefighters or police officers may be eligible for discounts. A church camp may offer discounts for their parishioners. Try referring a friend or ask the camp if they match fees with other competing camps. Also, be aware of additional costs. Find out if a camp is flexible. Is there a penalty for changing dates, missing a day or only showing up half-a-day?
7 Don’t: Be Afraid To Ask In-Depth Questions
We increase the chances of our children enjoying a happy, healthy and safe summer camp experience by researching and asking questions. Great Schools proposes that parents ask the camp director: What is your camp’s philosophy? What percentage of campers return from year-to-year? How old are your counselors? How does your camp approach discipline? Great Schools also suggest that parents ask the camp to provide references.
Bright Horizons Family Solutions has a comprehensive list of questions parents should consider when choosing a camp. Don’t be afraid to ask questions; it’s not rude—it’s our job. When it comes to our children’s safety, we can leave no stone unturned.
6 Do: Know The Medical Accommodations
Suitable healthcare accommodations are a must. Some important questions we need to ask camp directors are: Do you have medical staff on hand? Where is the nearest hospital? What is your emergency plan if something happens to my child? Making sure the camp has a proper medical plan is vital.
A child who takes medication has food allergies, or has a chronic illness may need specific accommodations. According to the ACA, a camp's healthcare provisions vary based on their clients, type of camp and the length of the program. However, the ACA recommends that overnight camps have a doctor or nurse on-site daily.
5 Don’t: Forget To Check Staff Qualifications
Our little campers should feel physically and emotionally secure at camp. There is no other way for them to feel welcomed and safe, but through the staff at their camp. Different camps have different qualifications for their camp counselor positions. The YMCA requires that their counselors be CPR certified, have two years of childcare experience and be at least 18-years-old. The New York City Health Department allows junior counselors as young as 16-years-old.
According to ChildCare Aware, any childcare provider—even faith-based organizations—need to have criminal background checks. A state and federal background check includes criminal registry alerts. So, be sure to ask for proof.
4 Do: Know The Camp’s Daily Schedule
Determining whether a child will be happy at a camp or not could depend on the daily schedule. For kids with anxiety or Autism, knowing the schedule could put them at ease. Not to mention—parents will be more at ease, too.
Great Schools says knowing the typical schedule will help determine how much free time kids will have. Knowing how much free time the camp allows, can help teens feel less restrained. Great Schools also suggests that the daily schedule should show how much time campers spend on specific activities. If our children want more physical activity than a camp provides, parents may need to consider another camp.
3 Don’t: Forget To Check The Counselor To Camp Ratio
Camps should provide a sensible counselor to camper ratio. Ratios are set by the age and ability of the campers, but the ACA recommends that children five and younger have a ratio of one to six for day camp and one to five for overnight camp.
Children six to eight have a ratio of one to eight for day camp and one to six overnight. Children nine to 14 have ratios of one to 10 for day camp and one to eight overnight. Teens 15 to 18 have a ratio of one to 12 for day camp and one to 20 for overnight.
2 Do: Choose The Right Location
The location of a camp can affect the entire family. Choosing an overnight camp out-of-state could add unwanted expenses, but it could also be a fantastic adventure. For day camps, consider the commute. Is there a camp closer to home or work? Will driving further out affect family time?
Finding alternative transportation may be a good option. Perhaps a neighbor, family member or fellow camper family can pick up the kids? Maybe the camp has its own transportation. A camp further away from home might be a favorable opportunity. According to Chicago Parent, it allows kids a chance to meet new people and create new friendships.
1 Don’t: Be Afraid To Pop In Unannounced A Time Or Two
Parent’s worry—it’s our job. It’s important not to obsess over things we cannot control. However, it is equally important that we listen to our intuition. If we want to check on our children, we have the right to do so.
In Psychology Today, Shimi Kang M.D. states that people may feel fluttering in the stomach or in their chest that makes the heart race; this is called intuition, and the impulse to act is called instinct, she says. If we feel an overwhelming discomfort that something is wrong, we should make sure that other factors aren’t driving our imagination. If not, go check on the kiddies!
References: Mint, Science Direct, American Camp Association/ACA, Psychology Today, Psychology Today, Kids Matter, American Camp Association/ACA, Mental Help, Knowledge Anywhere , US Department of Education , Bureau of Labor Statistics , ChildCare Aware, Purdue University, Time Money, Great Schools, American Camp Association/ACA, YMCA, The New York City Health Department, ChildCare Aware, Great Schools, American Camp Association/ACA, Chicago Parent, Psychology Today, Bright Horizons Family Solutions