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How to Choose Your Summer Camp

How to Choose Your Summer Camp

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Updated on Mar 8, 2011

You may feel like the dust hasn't even begun to settle on the Christmas decorations in the attic, but it's time to start thinking about summer! Choosing the right summer camp for your child can be a daunting task, but summer camp can reap many rewards for both you and your child. Building friendships, developing interests and skills, experiencing new and exciting things and so much more—all of these things are benefits of summer camp.

There are tons of options out there—from free town-sponsored day camp programs, to full-fledged sleep-away camps. No matter what your limitations may be when it comes to budget, schedules, or interests, asking some simple questions and doing some quick research ahead of time can make choosing a camp a lot easier. But don’t stress-out too much; most of the things to keep in mind are based on common sense.

What’s Most Important?

Andrew Mishkin, Program Manager at the Riverview Foundation in Topsham, Maine, believes that a good staff is the most important thing to look for in a camp, no matter what type of camp it is. “Good staff can make rubbing two popsicle sticks together into a transformational event. Bad staff can make the greatest camp into a terrible experience.” You should definitely be happy and comfortable with the staff at the summer camp of your choice. They should be responsive to your questions and balance the child and parent's needs with the camp's needs, as well.

Mishkin also says to make sure that the staff is experienced. He says, “Camp counselors are often young, and their energy is an important component. However, there should be an older, experienced person or persons running the camp’s day-to-day operations. Most of the staff should be adults, with a few teens playing a supporting role.”

And don’t forget to keep your family budget in mind. Some initial research should help you to find town programs that will cost little to no money for your child to attend. If you already know of such a program, check it out again, as early as possible. Town budgets change and programs may be dropped. The number of children allowed into the programs may change from year to year as well.

Community Based Day Camps as an Option

Ashley Grady worked as a Youth Monitor for a summer camp program in the Village of Colonie in upstate New York. She recommends that parents “keep in mind their child’s interests and needs.” This may mean looking into town-sponsored programs, especially for the youngest children. A first experience at a day camp program might be best if its in their own community.

She says of the programs, “They are usually low in cost and very close to home. We would charge at most 75 cents for a craft,” she explained, and taking the kids to a local pool was free for the campers. If you don’t want to commit to a full week or summer, town-sponsored day camps are something to consider because they are low-pressure on the child. “You don't need to sign up,” explains Grady. “You can just show up.” That way if your child feels nervous about the experience, you don’t need to feel like you made the wrong decision for the entire summer. Moreover, town-sponsored camps meet the fundamental goal of camp. As Grady says, children can “do arts and crafts, play games, and interact with the other children.” Most importantly, they'll keep the learning up through the summer months while school's out. At community-based day camps, kids will still make friends, learn new skills, develop their interests, and experience new and exciting things they might experience at sleep-away camps too.

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