When your kids have graduated the local Day Care, Rec. Program, or "Camp Mom", and you're looking for the next logical step in giving a wonderful growth experience away from gameboys, the internet and TV - Camp is the answer! Every Summer over 12 million children attend Day Camps and Resident Camps across the country! Here's some helpful pointers:
ACA ACCREDITED - While county and state health departments have guidlines for Camps, American Camp Association standards are much stricter, and will ensure the high quality supervision and facility that most parents want for their children. You can find the best camps in the country directly through the ACA website at find.acacamps.org.
DAY CAMP vs. RESIDENT - Do your children wish to sleep in their own beds, or away in the mountains in a cabin of new friends? Resident Camp is the "real-deal", but Day Camp is the logical first step, and many Day Camp programs are very adept at keeping their older campers through progressive programming.
LENGTH OF STAY, HOURS OF THE DAY - How many weeks? How many days per week? What time does it start? When can you drop your kids off? When can you pick them up? All important questions. In today's world, families should be able to get what they need in regards to their specific childcare needs and session length flexibility.
COST - There are Camps available for every budget, but as we all know - you get what you pay for. Many Private Camps offer extensive programs with mature, experienced staff, and lots of amenities - but subsequently come with a heftier price tag. Non-Profit camps (including YMCA-JCC programs) can offer less "spectacular" programming, younger staff, and less amenities, but can be an affordable alternative. What are the discounts offered, what is the refund policy, and what are ALL the costs?
STAFF - Who is directly interacting with your child? If it's primarily middle-school and high school students, that is something to be concerned about. The best Camps have teachers and college students running their programs with high school students simply assisting. **Very Important: Meet the director and speak with him/her in person, for it is their personality and philosophy that trickles down to the rest of the Camp staff. You are entrusting these people to take care of your children, and you need to be comfortable with them doing so.
PROGRAM & FACILITIES - Go for a visit to see if the facility gives you a good feeling. Is there a pool or a lake? Is there daily swim instruction? Athletic fields? How extensive is the Fine Arts program - Is it popsicle sticks or serious projects? Performing Arts? You need to decide what's important to YOUR child. Is it computers and rockets, or climbing towers and water trampolines - or a diverse mix?
AMENITIES - These items are "icing on the cake", but are very important to most working parents: Transportation - what are the parameters? Are lunches and snacks included? There are even Camps with towel service and bathing suit laundering! What kind of customer service do they offer?
REFERENCES - "Word of mouth" is by far the greatest factor in choosing a Camp for most people. So speak to your friends who attend the Camps you are considering, or ask the Camp if you can contact families from your area with like-aged children. In most cases, these parents will give you a better idea of the Camp than the website or marketing materials will.
This is a big financial decision for your family, and you need to feel confident that you are making the right choice. So take your time, do your homework, and ASK LOTS OF QUESTIONS!
About the Author -
Andy Pritikin is the Owner/Director of Liberty Lake Day Camp in Columbus, NJ, as well as a Board Member and Professional Development Chair of the American Camp Association.