When choosing the right camp for your child it is vital that you research the variety of camps available. This will assist in determining which camp suits the wants and needs of your child. Choosing a camp can be a complex, yet satisfying task if you are able to find the right fit.
Firstly, establish what both you and your child want from the summer camp experience. In some instances parents and children may have differing views on choosing a certain camp, so it is important that you sit down together and discover the reasons behind the choice.
Your reasons as a parent could vary from your child’s. Your choice could be because it was the camp you attended as a child. Or it could be the camp has a great reputation for building self confidence, a trait from which you think your child could benefit. Your child’s reasoning could be completely different. Their friends might be attending that camp, or they might really want to learn how to play a particular sport or activity available at that facility. Whatever the reason, it is essential to take all of these factors into account in the decision making process. It is imperative not to forget that you want your child’s experience at camp to be fun, because ultimately that will be the driving factor in every aspect of camp life. If your child is not having fun they will not respond well to any messages or experience portrayed through life at camp. Therefore it is extremely important that the choice you make is an educated and informed choice.
Some programs may be offered on a volunteer basis or they could be government funded. There are camps which may be offered on a low or discounted cost, while some Day Camps are offered at no cost. Generally they range in the tens, up to hundreds of dollars, depending on the camp and the program offered. Overnight / residential camps can range from a few hundred dollars up into the thousands. As a parent, be sure to make a careful assessment of your family’s financial situation, as this will be a consideration in your selection process. It would also be beneficial to inquire about the camp's cancellation policy should your child need to leave camp early, or cancel due to an unforeseen circumstance. It is important to remember that researching the camp to suit both your child’s and your needs is the most important step. The cost should not be the only part of the decision making process. Just because a camp has the best equipment doesn’t mean your child will have a better experience. Every camp has access to some amazing individuals who will help your child to have a memorable time at camp.
Traditionally, summer camps will run for an eight week session. These days camps offer a variety of options to suit everyone’s needs. Most camps break the session into two four week blocks allowing parents and campers to leave, or join in half way through the session. This is great if you have planned to spend some family time together on a vacation, or if your child is not yet ready to spend the full eight weeks at camp. There are also camps which cater for a shorter duration. This can be good for families working from a budget, who have more than one child to send, or just want to allow their child to sample the camp experience. Another option is the day camp which allows parents to drop their children off in the morning and pick them up at the end of the day.
Having a camp accreditation means that the camp has met all the requirements set by a specific association. By meeting these requirements the camp may use the associations name and advertise that their camp has met their standard. An example of an accreditation is the American camp association. It has over 50 years experience in the industry and conducts an independent audit ensuring that the camps adhere to up to 300 health safety and program quality standards. The accreditation applied if any, may depend on the where the company is located. Some stand alone organizations set their own high standards, to which their separate affiliations must adhere. An accreditation is not mandatory. It is therefore beneficial to research all aspects of your desired camp to ensure that they are operating at a level which suits you and your child’s needs.
Camps are required to hold certifications for certain activities and / or general camp life. The most common certifications are CPR, First aid and lifeguard certificates. Some camps may require a wilderness first aid WFA, or a Wilderness first response WFR, if they have a wilderness or trip program. Specialty certificates like PADI, for activities such as SCUBA diving, are also required at camps offering specialty activities. Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) also requires the instructor to hold a relevant certification.
The recommended age to send your child to an overnight / resident camp is 7. A child younger than 7 may find it hard to adjust to the unfamiliar surroundings of camp. Parents with children who are not ready for overnight camp can look at a variety of day camps and local activities through organizations such as the YMCA to familiarize and prepare your child for the eventual overnight experience at camp. In saying this, every child is different, so there is no particular age where a child will be ready for camp. It is important to ensure that when looking for the right camp for your child, you check the enrollment specifications with the camp director. At times they may specify that the camp is for children between certain ages. As the average age may be several years older than your child, it is important to keep this in mind when researching the facility.
Another factor to consider when choosing the right camp for your child is the staff to child ratio.The American Camp Association has set up guidelines that give parents an idea of what the ratios should be. ACA suggests the following
|Residential Camp||Day Camp|
|1:5 Aged 4 and 5||1:6 Aged 4 and 5|
|1:6 Aged 6 to 8||1:8 Aged 6 to 8|
|1:8 Aged 9 to 14||1:10 Aged 9 to 14|
|1:10 Aged 15 and 17||1:12 Aged 15 and 17|
The ages of the counselors are predominately 18 years with a minimum of 16 years of age. It is an ACA requirement that counselors must be two years older than the campers with whom they are working. In special needs camps, all staff must be 18 years or older. Counselors are sourced from all around the world. Every counselor is at the camp for the same reason, to give back to the kids and enrich their lives for the better. The campers can benefit from interaction with international counselors and experience a cultural education and awareness.
All camp counselors must undergo a stringent background check which includes a police or criminal check and also a “working with children” check. This is then followed by a reference check and an interview with the camp hierarchy. This is all done to ensure the children are safe and that the right person with the right attitude is working at the camp. Generally there is time allocated before the start of the session where each camp places their counselors through a vigorous educational training program. These programs tackle issues such as homesickness, abuse, disorders, how to handle certain situations, and the can and can’t do situations that might arise from being a counselor. The role for which the counselor has been hired will determine the extent of official training required. For example, if a counselor has been hired as a swimming instructor, they may be required to have a valid CPR and first aid certificate. Also, depending on the state or local government, a particular license or qualification may be mandatory.
Before your child attends camp you will most likely have to fill out a camp medical form with all the information the camp needs to know about your child’s medical history. This will allow the camp to individualize and plan for your child’s stay. As a parent you can and should request to see a copy of the camp guidelines, or have access to a copy, to familiarize yourself with the camp's medical protocol and safety requirements. We encourage you to contact the camp’s director to discuss the policies and procedures which are in place to ensure the safety and comfort of your child. Things to consider when speaking with the camp director may be:
Resident camps or sleep away camps (as they are sometimes referred to) are camps at which the campers sleep at for the length of each program or session, generally between 3 and 8 weeks. Resident camps are usually found in remote areas in the wilderness close to rivers or lakes. Resident camps can vary in size from a very small number up into the thousands. Resident camps can be either just boys, girls or co-educational, with separate living arrangements. Counselors at resident camps are usually required to live with the campers and are placed so as male counselors are with male campers and female counselors with female campers. Although a counselor of the opposite sex may be placed at an all girl or boy camp their accommodation is generally separate from the main living quarters.
Day Camps have a tendency to attract younger campers and are usually situated closer to metropolitan areas. Day campers commute to camp each day where they participate in a full day of activities and return home to their families at night. Camp counselors run the activities during the day and at night return home to their host families or accommodation provided on the camp grounds. Being a day camp it allows camp counselors increased down time / free time than their resident counselor counterparts.
Traditional camps are best described as camps that operate purely as summer camp. Non Traditional camps are those whose primary focus is not that of a summer camp. Examples of this would be camps which are located at a YMCA, private recreation center, private residence, public or private school, or public park, where summer camp is secondary to other programs.
General camps do not have a primary focus on one particular activity or skill, but offer a large variety of activities and interests to campers. General camps offer a range of activities, team and individual sports and outdoor activities, whilst specialty camps exist to provide focus and training in particular sports and activities, developing the individual’s skill and performance.
To be classified as a not for profit camp the camp must meet certain criteria set by government financial institutions within their country. The majority of not for profit camps come under organizational banners such as, YMCA, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and different religious groups. Not for profit camps are also run by smaller lesser known organizations and foundations. The majority of these camps operate to provide the summer camp experience for the underprivileged. With many of these campers coming from lower socio economic backgrounds they are unable to afford the camp tuition. Through charitable donations and scholarships these organizations and foundations are able to operate these camps for the underprivileged.
Religious camps incorporate a certain amount of religious belief into their daily program. The extent of the focus on religion will depend on the individual camp. While others focus more heavily on religious studies. Many faith based camps are incorporated under a religious organization's banner and generally are not for profit camps.
Special Needs camps service those with a specific type of special need, common illness or physical or mental disability. These camps accommodate any age group and are extremely specialized to suit the needs of the individual. Counselors work in smaller groups and are provided with extensive training and ongoing support throughout the duration of the camp.
It is expected and not uncommon for campers and parents to feel a sense of uncertainty and nervousness when heading off to camp for the first time. It is important as a parent to discuss any unanswered questions that your child may have regarding camp. A great way to reassure your child is to familiarise yourself with all the material provided by the camps. Some camps provide DVDs as well as booklets and orientation days to give both you and your child an opportunity to get excited and understand the concepts behind life at camp. The more familiar your child becomes with the camp, the less anxious they will feel.
If this is your child's first experience away from home it might be beneficial to start early and prepare them for it. Sleep overs can be a great way to familiarize and encourage confidence within your child. An easy way to do this is to have them sleep over at the house of a friend or family member leading up to camp. The more you can familiarize your child to the concept of sleeping away from home the easier the transition will be once they get to camp.
Food habits and choices is an area that also needs to be focussed on. Many children, in particular the younger ones, may be faced with food selection for the first time and need to be educated to make the right choices. Practicing skills such as cutting their meat and pouring their own drinks will assist in the development, independence and self-confidence at camp however, your child will receive any assistance they need and hopefully grasp their independence in these areas by the time they finish the session.
Preparing your child with the skills necessary to manage their hygiene and well being is crucial to camp lifestyle. Simple tasks such as brushing teeth, dressing, using the toilet and showering should be practised before arriving at camp. Most camps will be able to cater for any shortcomings or occasions where your child might be having difficulty, so you can rest assured that if your child has not mastered one or more of these tasks that they will receive the necessary care whilst they are at camp.
Participating in a residential camp requires the child to be away from their home for an extended period of time. Psychologist, Michael Thompson, conducted a study into analyzing the levels of homesickness within children attending camps with results concluding that 90% of campers experience homesickness in some form or another when at camp. It is normal to miss familiar things like family, friends and pets. It is important to discuss the best ways to cope with homesickness. Homesickness can be limited or reduced if parents prepare their child for living away from home.
Allow your child to spend time away from home before attending camp; staying at a friend or family member's house will assist your child in preparing for going to camp. Camp is both a fun and growing experience, your child's day is jam packed with activities and when your child is having fun and their mind is active, they are less likely to think about home and what they are missing. Allow your child to pack photos or some items that are familiar to home, encourage your child to utilize the opportunities to talk to other campers and counselors and encourage your child to write frequent letters to home. Homesickness doesn't usually last too long, so the chances of it ruining your child's experiences are minimal, however, if it becomes overwhelming please encourage your child to speak to the camp director or an adult on camp. In most cases the camp will already be aware of it and be taking action to help rectify it.
When considering what things to pack most camps will provide you with a checklist of what is required while at camp. If your child has a tendency to lose or damage clothing or personal items you might want to add some extra necessities. For instance if your child wears glasses, it would be a good idea to pack a spare pair. Ensure that items that are brought into camp are labelled clearly with your child's name. It is important that you check with the camp on their current policy in regards to mobile phones and other electronic devices before packing them into your child's luggage.
Most camps discourage the use of such electronic items as it takes away from the camp's experience. Camps policies vary in terms of your child bringing candy or their own foods. Regardless of this, all foods that are brought into camp should be brought to the attention of the camp's staff to avoid dangerous situations such as food poisoning or allergic reactions. There may be some instances where your child may require some money at camp. It is important that this money is given straight to the camp office upon arrival so it can be distributed when your child requires it; most camps discourage children from keeping money in the rooms.
Day camps schedules will be slightly different to those of a traditional overnight camp. Generally the day will begin around 8:30am and will conclude around 4:00pm. The day will be full of activities stopping for lunch and a rest. There may also be short breaks during the course of the day, depending on the weather and the nature of the activities. Residential camps are generally structured in the same way. Below is an example of a typical day, but will vary from camp to camp. Please reference the camp for an accurate copy of their daily schedule.
It can be just as difficult for parents to be away from their children throughout the duration of a camp's experience as it is for the children. However it is through these experiences whilst living away from home that a child can develop a sense of independence and maturity.It is important that parents establish a means of communication with their child, as this will help make the experience a little easier for both parent and child. Writing a letter to a loved one may seem a little old fashioned in comparison to other forms of technology, however, it is a comforting way to stay in touch with detailed events that are arising throughout their experiences at camp. It takes a few days for a letter to reach its recipient but it is somewhat re-assuring, exciting and soothing, writing a letter to someone you miss. Utilizing this means of communication also allows you to send photos and little gifts. This is a popular form of communication between parents and children at summer camps as it is in line with most camp policies. Be sure to pack some stamped self addressed envelopes and stationery, into your child's belongings. Making it as easy as possible for your child to communicate with you will help ensure that they write letters frequently to you while they are at camp.
Encouraging the children to write letters will minimize the impact of anxiety and homesickness and help reassure parents that their child is happy and safe. Some camps have a secure internet page to which parents can have access to view frequently updated photos and information of campers. Parents can also leave messages for their child which will be relayed on to them. This is a fantastic way for parents to see their children participating at camp and is a great way to help settle some nervous jitters you may have as a parent. Most camps will discourage the use of technology such as cell phones and computers. It is important to check with your camp to find out what their policy is on this issue. It is natural to want to send your child off to camp with a cell phone so that you can stay in contact at all times. In most instances it might actually work against what you're trying to achieve at camp by encouraging anti social behavior and adding to your child's homesickness.
Every camp should have a crisis management plan in place in case of an emergency. This plan should contain things such as:
Most importantly a camp should ensure that all staff are prepared and trained for any situation which may arise. The camp's staff must be aware of the emergency plans in place and know how to put them into action. In order to view your selected camp's individual emergency plan or obtain more information in relation to the camp's emergency plan, please contact the camp director.
Behavioral and disciplinary issues are dealt with according to the camp's philosophy and beliefs. Camp is intended to be a fun and educational experience for kids. For the benefit of the campers it is vital for all children to act appropriately and adhere to the camp's policies and procedures. Every camp will deal with misbehavior differently and it is important to consult with the individual camp on their disciplinary procedures. An example of how some camps may tackle behavioral or disciplinary issues is as follows.
If you are sending your child to a day camp, it is important to consult with the camp to see what and if any food choices are available. Some camps may provide food and some may require you to bring your own. Stay away or residential camps are generally catered for, although menu choices will differ throughout the various camps. Catered camps will provide three meals a day, consisting of breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as unlimited access to drinks and fruit. Traditionally, camp food has not been considered to be very nutritional, however, in recent times there has been a shift towards healthy and nutritional food choices. If this is an area in which you are concerned, please ensure you discuss the food choices before sending your child to your chosen camp. By this stage you should have already discussed with your camp the dietary requirements or needs your child may have. A food plan will be in place for your child to ensure these requirements are met. It is also important that medical conditions such as "food allergies" be listed on your medical form to ensure your child does not unintentionally come into contact problem foods e.g. peanuts or dairy.