NEW YORK (MainStreet) When Silvana Clark began looking for a summer camp for her daughter, who loved musical theater, she knew the first one option that only offered a "few skits" wouldn't be the right camp.
"We found a camp with a full stage and a roomful of costumes, which was her dream come true," Clark says.
However, there is a lot more that goes into finding the right summer camp other than the activities. If you're looking for the right summer camp for your child, here are some tips that might help you choose the perfect fit:
- Choose a camp with many activities: Just because your child likes sports or chess or theater, doesn't mean that is all he or she should be focusing on at camp. "The great thing about camps is that kids get exposed to all sorts of activities," says Clark, who is an author and speaker. "They may not be that coordinated and say they don't like sports. But at camp, enthusiastic counselors get kids to try a game of soccer or take a few tennis lessons. Kids come home with the confidence of being able to say, 'Oh yes. I've played tennis before.' They may even like it."
- Accreditation: Pali Overnight Adventures advises parents to choose a camp accredited through the American Camping Association (ACA). "The ACA provides its member camps with ongoing education and a community of camp professionals to provide training and support," says Ian Brassett, camp director. "The ACA Standards provide a bench mark of rules and regulations that should be attained to provide campers the safe, caring and healthy summer camp experience we all want for our kids. These standards must be met for a camp to maintain its ACA Accreditation."
- Make sure your child is ready: Pali Overnight Adventures advises to choose an age appropriate camp and make sure your child is ready for the experience, especially if it is an overnight camp or residential camps where they will be gone for weeks at a time. "The truth is that most campers are ready at least a year sooner than the parents," Brassett says.
- Visit the year before or attend open house: If you're just now investigating summer camps for your child, it's too late to see how they operate first hand. The next best thing, says Ryan Rosen, director of Camp Kinneret Summer Day Camp, is to attend the camp's open house. "What is the organization of the Open House like?" Rosen says. "That can give you some insight into how they operate during the summer."
- Go beyond the front office: Talk to the camp director and if possible, some of the counselors. "When interviewing the camp director, ask, 'What is your camp philosophy?'" says Rosen. "This question will help determine if a camp is simply a glorified daycare or if it is truly focused on childhood development."
- Go beyond the brochures: "Look beyond the glitzy photos of activities," says Kelly Marston, owner and director of Camp JaK. "Every good camp should be fun and they definitely should look it in their marketing materials. Great camps go beyond fun activities to providing long-term value as they support a child's social and emotional growth."
- Experience counts: "Seek out a camp where the directors have significant experience in the field," Marston says. "A great teacher doesn't necessarily make a great camp director. They will answer your questions, where child development is something they talk about and not just a passing mention."
- Repeats important: "Be sure to ask the summer admissions staff the percentage of repeat campers that they have," advises Sheridan Becker, travel blogger at Bon Voyage magazine. "Repeat business is not only survival tactic but it shows in the summer campers world if the kids are happy with the program, or not. If kids are willing to come back to the same summer camp for a repeat performance then the camp is keeper."
- Involve your kids: "For my children I gave each child three choices to select from, and made the kids be a part of the selection process," says Becker. "Who wants to be sent off to camp for 5 weeks without being a part of the process?"
- It's never too early: If you're reading this now and know your child may not be ready for camp until next year, it's not too early to start your research. While many families are researching and registering for summer 2014, it's not too early to plan for 2015. It's great if you can see a camp in session this coming summer for enrollment in 2015.
--Written by Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell for MainStreet