Day camps come in all shapes and sizes, appealing to a range of interests and ages. Here’s how to find a camp that invests in your youngster by creating an unforgettable experience where they’ll meet new friends, gain self-confidence and learn new skills—while giving you peace of mind.
Begin with basics. First, determine your schedule needs. Some camps are only a few hours a day while others are structured to work well with a working parent’s schedule. Figure out if you’ll need to arrange before or after care.
From there, seek a camp with a caring staff, fun programs, and a dedication to the safety of the campers. Bekah Myers, Director of Extended Day & Summer Camp Programs at The Dunham School, says, “It’s important to look for a day camp that interests and engages your child in a unique way. For example, our day camp is themed differently each week, offering a field trip and activities pertaining to the assigned theme. This makes camp both educational, fun, and fresh for our campers.”
Match the camp with your child’s interests. From computer coding to robotics and sports, day camps offer kids the opportunity to try all kinds of new activities. Cristina Benigno, Director of SJA’s Sizzling Summer Program, suggests, “For younger children, look for camps that will keep them busy throughout the day by offering different activities and experiences. For older children, look for camps that specialize in interests your child has.”
If your child isn’t interested in a camp that specializes in one activity, choose a more traditional camp that offers a wide range of activities throughout the session. It’s important to have a healthy balance between structure and choice.
Consider the culture. Ask for referrals from trusted family and friends. As a parent, you should always feel welcome to visit the camp while your child is attending. Ask the camp director about the visitor’s policy and follow it accordingly. Also, consider the child-to-staff ratio. Will your child feel lost in a group that’s too big, even if it meets state criteria?
Seek qualified and organized staff. Camp employees should be licensed, certified and trained in sexual/child abuse prevention, first aid, and CPR. Find out how camp leaders are supervised and how they plan for emergencies, including natural disasters, intruders and other possible threats.
Myers shares, “Campers’ safety is our highest priority. With that in mind, our screening process is formidable. Counselor applicants go through an extensive background check and fingerprint and drug testing, and personal references are contacted to confirm our staff is a fantastic fit for our campers. Following the screening, our camp counselors attend training prior to the start of camp. They continue to participate in training throughout the summer and receive weekly feedback from our supervisors.”
Try it before you buy it. Attend a camp expo or camp fair to find out what options exist in the area. Some organizations feature their own camp fairs and mini-camps during the spring for families to try.
Calm butterflies. Many youngsters have a hard time adjusting to new situations and new people and may feel scared or intimidated. Include them in the process of choosing a camp. “Contact the camp director and ask if she can provide a schedule of what the day will look like for your child. It would be helpful for your child to know what the day holds in store and can also help her get excited about what the camp has to offer,” Benigno says.
Allowing your newest camper to assist in helping pack her backpack and lunch the night before will help her get ready and feel more confident. “Depending on the age of the camper, she may also want to bring a special plush toy or blanket. Parents can also talk with their child about some of the activities they will be doing, and how all the adults at camp are there to make sure they are having fun. It’s also helpful for children to have a friend attending camp. Knowing they’ll see a familiar face, and finding that friend at camp, quickly smooths any first-day jitters,” Myers adds. ■