The case for summer camp

Finding the right camp for your child

With summer three short months away, you may be considering summer camp for your child. With so many options, how do you choose the right camp for your child and for your family? Camp is not a privilege; it is essential to the education of the whole child. Camp helps children develop critical skills, such as leadership, independence, and the ability to interact with nature, participate in human powered activities, and make authentic human connections. Research shows that all children benefit from camp — regardless of whether your child attends a day camp, resident camp, a specialized camp, or a traditional camp. The key is to find the one that best suits your kid. Here are some things to consider when searching for your child’s camp.

Consider the age of your child. Children are ready for new experiences at different stages. Parents know their children best and these questions can help gauge whether this is the summer your child will start camp.

Children under seven may not adjust easily to being away from home. Consider the day camp experience to prepare them for future overnight camp.

How did your child become interested in camp? Does your child talk about it a lot? How much persuasion is necessary from you?

Has your child had positive overnight experiences away from home, such as visiting relatives or friends? Were these separations easy or difficult?

What does your child expect to do at camp? Learning about the camp experience, such as attending a camp fair and speaking with the representatives ahead of time allows you to create positive expectations.

Are you able to share consistent and positive messages about camp? Your confidence in a positive experience will be contagious.

Camps offer widely varying options to help parents and children reach their goals for summer fun and exploration. Talking with your child about goals you both share helps determine which choice is right for you.

Many options

Camp can last for just a few days or stretch to all summer long; it can be a day camp or resident camp. It’s well worth the trouble to investigate the variety of choices offered by camps before your child packs a backpack.

Day camp can be the perfect fit if your child is ready for camp, but you’re not sure if he or she is prepared for overnights. There are wonderful day camps in your area that your child’s school friends may have been enjoying for years. And day camp can be the perfect first experience for the younger child, preparing him for an overnight camp when he’s a bit older.

If your family decides on a resident camp, the next question is where do you want your child to go? Locally or far away? A local camp is easier to evaluate and visit; friends and family are likely to be familiar with it; there are minimal travel costs; and your child will likely have contact with classmates or children from the same region. A far away camp opens up more possibilities and more choices; offers the opportunity for different experiences, different geography, and even different languages; promotes independence — particularly for early and late adolescent campers; and provides your child with the chance to interact with a diversity of campers.

There are other things to consider as a family, such as short or long sessions that run from one week to all summer. Does your child prefer a single-gender camp or a co-ed camp? Choices also abound when it comes to camp programs. One may highlight a wide variety of activities geared to campers of all ages and skill levels; others, because of their setting and expertise, may concentrate on one or two activities while providing traditional activities as well. Parents of children with special needs are pleased to learn about the range of camp activities that help kids be kids first.

And, of course, look for a camp that has been accredited by the American Camp Association. ACA accreditation means that the camp you are considering cares enough to undergo a thorough (up to 300 standards) review of its operation from staff qualifications and training to emergency management.

What happens when you make the decision to choose camp? You open up a world of discovery and learning for your child, a world that values children for who they are and who they will become. Camp gives each child a world of good.

Peg L. Smith is the CEO of the American Camp Association and has 26 years of experience working with children, youth, and families.