What Parents Learned About Summer Camps: 10 Things To Look For, And 10 Things To Avoid

Summer is probably every child's favorite season, mostly because of that super long summer recess. And there is no better way for spending that recess (or at least a part of it) than at a summer camp. Even though every child likes different things and has different interest, there is literally a camp for everyone. Music camps, theatre camps, volleyball camps — the possibilities are endless! Not only will kids have an amazing time, but they will also develop or improve many skills there (plus, parents get some time for themselves, and we all know that doesn't happen very often).

However, when choosing the right summer camp, parents need to be very careful and think about the smallest things. After all, they are leaving their kid is somebody else's hands, and they need to make sure their child will be comfortable there and will have everything they need, from good facilities, nice staff, various food options and so on - literally every detail matters. And it doesn't matter if the kid is a first-time camper or if goes to camps every year, we can never be careful enough.

So, here are 10 things to look into and 10 things parents should avoid when choosing a summer camp.

20 Look Into: Location

One of the first things you need to think about when signing your kid up for summer camp is the location of the camp. Ask yourself how far is too far for traveling to a summer camp, do you want your kid to be somewhere nearby or are you completely fine with putting your kid on a plane? You need to remember though, that kids are not used to a change and they may have separation anxiety if they're too far away from home.

19 Avoid: Camps With Bad Ratings And Bad Word Of Mouth

By signing your kid up for a summer camp, you're investing your trust and money into the camp and all of its staff, and of course, you need to make sure you made the right choice. That's why you need to research the camp as much as you can, and by any means necessary. Start with asking other parents if they have had any experiences with the camp you have in mind. Also, make sure to check reviews on Yelp, Facebook, Trip Advisor, and similar websites. Obviously, if the camp's ratings are not high, don't send your kid there.

18 Look Into: Is The Camp Accredited?

If you really want to make sure your kid is going to a good camp, then make sure you send them to an accredited one. Think of it this way: would you send your child to a school that is not accredited? You definitely wouldn't. So there's no reason for you to send them to a non-accredited camp either. What does 'accredited' even mean? It means the camp meets all of the industry standards (standards relating to camp facilities, staff, campers safety and health, program, and so on).

17 Avoid: Camps Whose Staff Isn't Giving You A Good Vibe

Having trust in the camp staff is one of the most important things. I mean, you're leaving your kid in somebody else's hands for some time, it's obvious and expected that you should feel comfortable with the people who will take care of your kid. If your gut is telling you the staff is not good, then trust your gut. Pay attention to the smallest detail.

For example, will the camp director even bother to talk to you? What was their attitude towards you and your kid before you actually signed them up? Were they annoyed by all of your questions or were they genuinely helpful?

16 Look Into: Are There A Lot Of Return Campers (And Return Staff)?

Nothing is as good as an indicator of a successful camp as a number of return campers. If a camper really is satisfied with the camp and the people working there, they will go back again. And not only that, the rate of staff returning each year is also a good indicator. If there's a low rate of return staff, then something must be wrong there, right?

According to the American Camp Association (the ASA), in most camps, the staff return rate is between 40 and 60 percent each year.

15 Avoid: Camps With No Experienced Staff

As I have mentioned earlier, making sure the camp staff is good enough is of vital importance. Not only does the staff need to be kind and always ready to help with the problem, but they should also be trained and have some experience.

The ACA states that 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." Leaving your kid with staff that has no training and experience is too risky and a definite no.

14 Look Into: What Is The Staff To Camper Ratio?

Another important thing you should look into is what the staff to camper ratio is. You don't want to send your kid to a camp where one staff member is responsible for 20 campers. How do you know what the ratio should be? Thanks to the ACA, that is also regulated. According to the association, there should be "one staff for every six campers ages 7 and 8; one staff for every eight campers ages 9 to 14; and one staff for every 10 campers ages 15 to 18."

13 Avoid: Camps Whose Camp Directors Are Uneducated Or Inexperienced

A camp director's job is, apart from administrative matters, mostly consists of supervising staff, campers, and overseeing all camp activities. Logically, if the camp director doesn't have much experience and isn't educated enough, they probably won't be doing a good job taking care of the whole camp.

That is why the ACA has set a minimum standard: camp directors should at least "have 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."

If the camp director doesn't have any experience or education, then the best thing to do is to look for another camp.

12 Look Into: Is There Medical Staff On The Grounds?

When sending your kids to a summer camp (or anywhere else, to be honest), you always hope there wouldn't be any need for doctors and nurses, right? But then again, kids will always be kids, which means an accident requiring medical attention could happen eventually (but don't worry too much, it's mostly removing splinters or cleaning wounds and applying Band-Aids). So, before making a final decision for a camp, remember to check if they have medical staff that could treat your kid if necessary.

11 Avoid: Camps With No Free Time

Camps are not only fun, but thanks to all the activities, they are also a great place for kids to develop or improve all kinds of skills. However, you have to make sure not to put too much burden on your kid. You don't want them to spend literally every minute doing something structured. Kids need some time off as well, and I am not talking about 30-minutes breaks. They need something longer, long enough to rest and clear their mind. It's important to find a camp that suits them best and works well with their routine.

10 Look Into: Is The Camp Suitable For Kids With Differences?

If your kid has any kind of special needs (from learning differences to physical disabilities) make sure to ask the camp director if they have had any other campers with similar disabilities and if there is a way to accommodate them. Will they have access to medical care if needed? Where will they be accommodated? What kind of activities will they be able to participate in? All of these things are important to know. You also have to remember to let the staff know if your child needs to take some medications (for example, a daily dose of insulin), or if they have some big phobias, like being scared of the dark. Every detail is important.

9 Avoid: Camps That Don't Keep Kids' Interests In Mind

When choosing a summer camp, you really have to make sure you're sending your kid to a place where they will feel comfortable enough to be able to have a good time, and where they will be able to do things they are interested in. Some camps don't really take kids' interests into consideration; they have their daily activities planned out just for the sake of having activities and keeping kids busy. So, before deciding on a camp, be sure to ask the staff whether your kid will have any other options, in case some of the activities are not in sync with your kid's interests.

8 Look Into: Are There Any Food Options For Kids With Dietary Restrictions?

Asking everything you want to know about food should be one of your top priorities, especially if your kid is intolerant or allergic to some food (however, don't wait until the last minute to ask about this). Make sure there are options available for those kids who have some dietary restrictions. Another food-related question you should ask is whether the meals are included in the price or not, because in some camps you have to purchase a meal plan separately (or send your kid with food).

7 Avoid: Camps With Bad Websites

When researching summer camps, and assuming you will do it through the internet, pay attention to the website of the camp. Does it look cheap and sketchy? Does it not provide enough information? Are there a lot of spelling or grammar mistakes? If the answer is yes, then that might mean that the camp director or manager doesn't really care much about the way they present the camp. I mean, a good website is a must-have because that's what parents check first. And if the camp doesn't care about small details like these, does it take care of some other more important details?

6 Look Into: How Long Has The Camp Been Open?

Another thing you should look into is how long the camp has been in business. I'm not saying that newer camps are not good and should be avoided at any cost (every camp was new at one point, right?), but with newer camps, you will definitely have to put more effort into researching and investigating everything you need to know. Plus, newer camps are obviously less experienced. But then again, newer camps might be in better condition, have better facilities, and maybe a more up-to-date program.

5 Avoid: Camps That Are Not Active On Social Media

I know that some parents are completely against social media, but in this case, a camp's activity on social media platforms should definitely be one of the things to check out. Does the camp post any photos of activities on the campsite? Do they answer questions from people who are interested? You'd think these things are irrelevant, but they're really not. Knowing that the camp and its staff engage with people—even on social media platforms—can show that they are professional and helpful. And if the camp doesn't have any social media, or has profiles but doesn't post photos or engages with people, ask yourself why.

4 Look Into: What Are Some General Policies (Homesickness, Bullying...)?

If a camp director or any of the staff tell you that there is no bullying at their camp, he's probably not telling the truth. Bullying, unfortunately, happens everywhere. If it can happen in schoolyards, you bet it can also happen in summer camps. Ask the camp director how they handle these situations. Also, a lot of kids might start feeling homesick, especially it the camp is not close to home, that's why you should also inquire whether the camp has a psychologist or plan in place for these types of moments.

3 Avoid: Any Camp You Have A Bad Feeling About (Trust Your Gut)

You are a parent and only you know what is the best thing for your child. Just like with every big decision you need to make that concerns your kid, or even you, you should always trust your gut; always do what your intuition tells you to do. If a camp looks perfect and the staff seems kind, yet you or your kid have a bad feeling about it, then just don't send them to that camp. Keep on looking, there are plenty of camps to choose from, and you will eventually find something that is good enough for your child.

2 Look Into: What Is The Price?

What is your budget for the camp? Is your kid entitled for a scholarship (many camps offer scholarships or financial aid)? If the price is a bit higher, is there a possibility of paying in installments? These questions don't really concern your kid, and it is up to you to ask about everything you need to know, because, in the end, you're the one who is paying for it. Keep in mind that a more expensive camp doesn't necessarily mean a better camp — even the cheaper ones can give your kid a great summer.

1 Avoid: Camps With No Refund Policy

Camps with refund policies should definitely be your priority. You never know what can happen tomorrow; maybe your kid will get sick and will not be able to attend; maybe there will be an emergency in your family and your kid will have to arrive a few days later or will have to leave early and won't be able to complete the program. This is why it is always good to know that you have options in case something happens and that your money will not go to waste.

Sources: acacamps.org

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