Introduction: How to Decide on a Summer Camp for Your Child

The benefits of a summer camp experience for children are enormous! The American Camp Association has done extensive research, and it seems readily apparent that a summer camp experience for kids increases their confidence, their independence, their ability to care for others and their willingness to shoulder responsibility.

Knowing all this, still doesn't make it easier for parents to send their children off to summer camp! However, there are things they can do to increase the likelihood of a positive and successful camp experience. First, you need to choose a camp.

This Instructable is here to help! Hosted by Camp Fire USA Central Ohio Council, operating summer camps in and around Columbus Ohio, they encourage you to partner with an organization in your community in getting your child outside this summer!

Step 1: Involve Your Child... Early!

Don't make the mistake of choosing a camp FOR your child! Choose a summer camp WITH your child. You are taking the first step towards a positive camp experience for the whole family. Children that feel forced to go camp, or who don't have their voice heard throughout the process will inevitably face the likelihood of intense homesickness, behavior problems, and an unpleasant experience.

Start early! Smart parents plan a full year ahead. Many camps have discounted rates if you enroll early. Summer camps face a cash flow challenge during the winter months and therefore often offer incentives for those willing to register early, and particularly for those willing to pay in full early. Additionally, it can be very disappointing for you and your child to decide on a camp, only to discover they are full!

Step 2: Determine If Your Child Is Ready for Camp

Is your child ready for sleep-away camp?

Take this quiz to find out....'
Answer "Yes" or "No" to the following 10 questions;

1. Is your child age 7 or older?

2. Does your child enjoy making new friends?

3. Has your child succeeding in staying overnight at a friend's or relative's house?

4. Can your child take care of their basic hygienic needs on their own?

5. Does your child follow instructions well?

6. Can your child handle stressful situations without becoming extremely agitated?

7. Does your child enjoy playing outside?

8. Does your child communicate well with both peers and adults?

9. Does your child adjust to new environments and situations easily?

10. Does your child want to go to camp?

Score the number of "yes" answers;

8 to 10 (Ready to pack for camp!)
Most experts agree that children under the age of 7 are not able to cope well with the rigors of overnight camp. Successful practice of spending extended periods of time away from parents is a good indicator that a child is equipped to handle summer camp.

6 or 7 (Sleep-away camp or day camp?)
If your child has not been successful during extended periods away from a parent, then they are likely to encounter extreme homesickness and other detrimental challenges while away at camp. Day camps offer an excellent "bridge", getting kids camp experience while allowing them to sleep at home.

5 or fewer (Probably not quite ready!)
Your child may not have developed the coping skills necessary for a successful camp experience just yet. Continue to practice and consider a short day camp program.

REMEMBER: you are the expert when it comes to knowing what is best for your child!

Step 3: Decide on Your Wants and Needs

No single summer camp can be everything to every child! There are many different types of camps out there. In order to find the best fit, you and your child must determine what it is you're looking for.

What are you looking for?

1. Type of camp:

Traditional typically means they offer a wide range of activities. Things such as swimming, sports, arts and crafts, nature exploration, and archery are just a few of the traditional possibilities. There are camps out there that have a dazzling breadth of choices including: circus, skate boarding, water-ski, and computer lab. Additionally traditional camps allow for campers to try new things and interact with different people.

Specialty typically means they offer a focused program specializing in a select few activities. Sometimes these are combined with traditional camp programs. Some examples of popular specialty camps include: horseback riding, tennis, computer, and service learning trips abroad.

Special needs typically means they are equipped to focus on a specific type of camper population and gear their program towards those abilities. They tend to have staff that are very knowledgeable about their specific focus. Examples of special needs camps might include: diabetes, MR/DD, cancer, and grief camps.

2. Location

Close by typically means it will be easier for you to arrange a tour of camp. It is more likely you might encounter others who can advise you on their experiences with the program. It might be minimal travel time and it is likely campers will encounter others from their school and community.

Far away typically means exposure to a different experience, be it geographical or cultural. It promotes more of a sense of independence and allows campers to interact with a more diverse population than what they might be used to. It allows family to visit and vacation in that proximity.

3. Session length

A short session of a week or two typically means first time campers learn new skills and bonds with others begin to develop. It offers a great exposure to camping with less expense and offers the freedom to arrange other things during the summer months.

A longer session of 4 - 8 weeks typically means campers develop a strong sense of belonging to the camp community. They learn new skills, but often develop a set of specialized skills as well. They develop very deep, life-long friendships and have opportunities to contribute to the culture of the camp.

4. Gender

Single gender camps typically means there are more opportunities to be yourself without the pressure of impressing or competing with the opposite sex. They are typically more open about issues and often break out of the stereo types associated with gender.

Co-ed camps typically mean the campers prepare for every day life; the world is co-ed. Campers have opportunities to do activities by gender, yet have opportunities to practice interacting with the other gender. It also allows families with a boy and girl to attend the same camp.

Step 4: Explore the Options

The American Camp Association, which is the industry leader in education, research, and applying standards to camps across the country, lists their ACA Accredited camps here:

When a camp is ACA accredited it means they have voluntarily submitted themselves to a rigorous set of standards that often go beyond what state and local agencies require.

There are many other places online to search for a camp that might meet your needs. Below are just a few:

Step 5: Investigate Your Top Choices

So now you've narrowed it down to two or three camps..... whats next?

Most camps look great from the brochure, but it won't be looking after your children! It's the people that really determine the philosophy, program emphasis, and ultimately the experience your child will have at camp!

The best place is start is with the Camp Director. A camp open house is good... a personal tour with just the Camp Director is better. Either way, make sure you and your child see the camp in person. It will make you both feel better knowing what to expect, and where the dining hall is!

Now that you have the Camp Director's ear, here's are just a few of the great questions to ask:

Is your camp ACA accredited?
Accreditation visitors ask all the questions for you - up to 300 of them - regarding health and safety, program quality, staffing and other important issues. This is not a guarantee, but it shows a camp's commitment to providing the industry's highest standard in camping.

What is the camp's philosophy and program all about?
Every camp has it's own unique spin on summer camp. Find out if it gels with your own philosophies and whether it meets your needs. It is competitive? Focused on sports or nature or music? Do the campers have a voice in planning their day? It every minute structured or is their time for free play?

What is your experience at camps?
The Camp Director is the person who typically hires the counselors, sets the tone for the camp, and makes critical decisions regarding the well-being or the participants. This person had best know what he or she is doing! Ask.

What is the age of the counselors?
It should be a good mix. Camp is a very demanding job and typically those under the age of 18 aren't quite ready for the challenges of sleep-away camp. The head staff should be mostly over 21 with a good deal of experience in camping.

How do you handle behavioral and discipline problems?
This will really get to the heart of the Camp Director's philosophy. Positive reinforcement and a sense of fair play are hallmarks of handling issues at most camps. How the camp handles rule-breaking and behavioral problems will usually allow you to see whether campers are treated with respect, yet responsible for the consequences of their actions.

How does the camp handle homesickness and other such issues?
The camp's philosophy on how to help kids cope with separation from home and other adjustment issues is very important. Be sure you are comfortable with your ability to contact the camp director and your child if needed.

Additionally, ask for references. Most camps will be happy to provide you with a few other experienced families of their program with whom you can ask their opinions of the program and their advice for making it a successful experience for everyone.

Step 6: Plan and Prepare for Camp!

Now that you have decided on a camp, how do you prepare for a great experience?

Encourage and remain positive.
As a parent it is key to exude confidence and optimism about your child's upcoming camp experience. Children follow your lead. If you voice concerns over their ability to cope with the challenges, you are telling them you don't think they'll do well and are virtually guaranteeing they will experience more intense homesickness and develop separation issues that will impede their success.

For parents of first time campers, or those concerned with homesickness; visit Camp Spirit .com for tips and advice from an industry leader in such issues. Order the "The Secret Ingredients" DVD - CD combo, it's a great resource for families preparing for camp.

Five great things to do as you prepare for camp!
1. Read all of the camp's parent handbook and other associated material. Follow their advice, and if you have questions or concerns about any rule or policy, get clarification from the Camp Director now.

TIP: Make sure all your paperwork is completed and turned in exactly how the camp wants it. Please&. don't break the rules yourself!

2. Follow their packing list &. and label everything! Recognize camp is exciting and busy, so dont expect your camper to keep things neat and orderly& and definitely not clean! For younger campers, packing each days clothes in a bag labeled with the day is a great help

TIP: don't pack anything that you or your child would be terribly upset if it gets lost / broken / stolen!

3. Schedule your campers health physical early! Many youngsters need physicals for various summer activities, so don't wait until the last minute.

TIP: Be honest on forms about your child's challenges, medications, etc. It will benefit them in the long run if camp staff are knowledgeable and aware.

4. Practice! Send you camper off to friends and family often and for multiple days. It will help you get used to not having your child in the house. It will help them by getting used to being away from home.

5. TIP: As you prepare for camp, or when you write letters to your camper while at camp:

A. Be positive! Tell your kids how proud you are that they are participating in camp!

B. Be supportive and encourage your camper to have fun away from home

C. Explain that even though you will miss him/her, you are excited that s/he has such a great opportunity to come to camp

D. Avoid discussing people, pets or events that your camper will be missing while away from home

Step 7: Relax!

Sending your child off to summer camp can be a very difficult thing to do!
It requires trust in the camp, trust in your child, and trust in yourself that you've made a wise decision! Relax.... by following this instructable you've taken clear steps to make sure you've chosen the right camp for your child, and prepared the best you can. It is not withous risk, nothing in life is- but you've done the best you can to provide your child with a positive experience and life-long memories.

So relax! Enjoy your break as a parent, you deserve it. Summer camp is inevitably a rewarding and enriching experience for almost every child that tries it. There is even value for those children that try it and find out they don't like it.

Thank you for being willing to provide your child with a summer camp experience. If you are interested in a rustic traditional style camp focused on reconnecting children with nature, just south of Columbus Ohio in the Hocking Hills , try Camp Wyandot! I'm sure they'd love to have ya join their family. Or.... find a great camp in your neck of the woods...