It's high time to start thinking about summer plans for the kiddos! Choosing the right camps might seem like a daunting task, but no need to worry. This article offers you concrete tips for choosing the right camps for your kids. As a mother of four, I understand the feeling of urgency, and I'm ready to help ensure your kids have a fantastic summer camp experience.
First things first. Know what you're looking for, and also be open to finding hidden gems in your search. You know your child's interests, attitude, and aptitude. You also know the dates, locations, and times that will work with your schedule. From there, start with a conversation with your child. Start by asking if there are new things they want to do or learn, and maybe show them some options they wouldn't otherwise think about. Depending on the age and maturity level of your child, you might only consider day camps like Camp Doublecreek or you might be interested in choosing an overnight summer camp like Iron Horse Country Ranch instead. Check in with your son or daughter on how they feel about sleep away camp or if he or she would rather just go for the day and come home at night. Let your kiddo know that you are going to do some checking and then you will get back to them about their options and allow them some say in where to go. This let’s your child know that you are listening and that you care about his or her feelings on the subject. It's also a great opportunity for you to model the process of making healthy or wise decisions.
Tip for choosing a summer camp #1: Research Online
Now that you know what the kids are looking for, the real work begins and by work, I mean researching all of the amazing opportunities available for your child. If you are anything like me, you don’t consider this stuff work at all. Thanks to the Internet and social media, we have loads of information at our fingertips. The American Camping Association (ACA) is a great place to startlearning about camps that are accredited. The ACA is an authority on all things camping and their website is tremendously helpful. Another site to help those of you in Central Texas find the perfect camp opportunity for your child is Kwaddle. But, before you go running off registering your kiddo for all kinds of fabulous, memory-making opportunities, take a few minutes to read these camp hunting tips. You won’t regret it.
Tip for choosing a summer camp #2: Define The Duration
Swimming and hiking and archery, oh my! Once you’ve decided whether or not your child is ready for sleep away camp or day camp, you can consider how long you would like the experience to last. Some overnight camps offer partial week programs for younger children and full week or two-week camp options for teens. Think about your child and how prepared they are to stay away from you for an extended period of time. The next thing you need to consider is what accommodations your child will be comfortable with. Some outdoor camping experiences can be pretty rugged and campers will have to walk to bath houses or even become very familiar with mother nature to take care of business. Ponder if your child is ready for tent camping or would enjoy a cabin-style experience more. You may also want to consider amenities that you think your child would enjoy. For example, some camps offer horseback riding, swim time in a lake or pool, ropes courses, or hiking trails for campers to enjoy. Children are so eager to share their likes and dislikes. This is one opportunity where that conversation should be very welcomed.
Tip for choosing a summer camp #3: Distance From Home
You said it’s how far? For families with children with special needs or dietary restrictions, additional consideration may be necessary. It may be important for parents to find a camp with a medical center or urgent care center close by should an emergency arise. Is the camp accessible to emergency personnel if necessary? If your child has severe allergies or a chronic illness, you know the importance of prompt medical attention. Because safety is such an important concern for parents and serious health issues can be a strong catalyst to help kids bond, there are even many camps that specialize exclusively for children with special needs, such as a Camp Bluebonnet, a Children’s Diabetes Camp of Central Texas. Some camps will staff onsite doctors, nurses, and therapists so that children with the most severe disabilities don’t miss out on these amazing opportunities. One thing all parents should inquire about is whether or not all camp staff are trained in First Aid and CPR. Even this small training can make a mom or dad feel much more settled about leaving their children in someone else’s charge. Medical reasons aside, location and proximity to your own home are important as well. A few miles away or a few states away make a big difference. Make sure to be thinking about what is realistic in terms of dropping off and picking up or any unplanned drop-ins that might be required. ATX Kids Club even offers transportation within a certain distance and has multiple locations so choosing a close to home option can be really convenient.
Tip for choosing a summer camp #4: Set Your Budget
You said how much? Another important piece to consider is cost. Unfortunately for you, these things rarely come free and most times, the more extensive and higher quality a program is, the higher priced it is as well. Often times, summer camp can run a couple hundred dollars on the low end and the prices only go up from there. But, rest assured that paying out of pocket is not the only option for you. Resident camps often qualify as child care so depending on your state’s tax guidelines, you may be able to use your camp tuition as a tax deduction. In some cases, employers will offer a dependent care flexible spending account to be deducted from the employee’s paycheck. Paying for your child’s camp registration out of this account may be an acceptable use of funds so be sure to ask you Human Resources Department to find out. If you select a faith-based program, often churches or places of worship will offer scholarships for children to go to specific camps. If you are thinking of sending your child to a camp that you attended when you were younger, you could check with them to see if they offer an alumni discount. Most camp programs have some kind of financial aid or a program that can help families with more than one child pay for camp. And lastly, Kwaddle is running a contest to sponsor a child to go to summer camp. All you have to do is sign up here and you will be entered for your child to attend one week of summer camp (valued up to $300). Do your research and don’t miss out on a life changing experience because of the money. For me, the experiences I had at camp were ones who shaped me into who I am today and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
Tip for choosing a summer camp #5: Find Out What’s Included
Is that included in the price? Just like fries with your extra value meal at the yellow arches, it is important to know what comes with your child’s stay at camp. Are meals provided? Are you responsible to bring a sleeping bag or are there going to be linens in the cabin? Ask for a suggested packing list or check the camp website to see if they have one available to you. Sometimes more advanced programs such as horseback riding or backpacking will expect you to bring equipment such as helmets, riding boots, hiking packs and so on. If you don’t have the right equipment, you could choose to purchase it or you could inquire to see if they have some available for borrowing or renting for a small fee. As an experienced camp counselor, I can tell you that when a kiddo shows up for camp without the right equipment, it makes things hard on everyone. Take the time to pack well and arrive prepared so that your child can enjoy all facets of their camping adventure.
Tip for choosing a summer camp #6: Size Matters
Just like class sizes matter to teachers all across the nation, so do groups sizes in camping experiences. Are you comfortable with your child being part of a group of 400 campers or are you more at ease knowing that your child is one of 10 to 20 in a small group? Ratios are important to provide safety for all children, but there is no doubt that the greater the supervision is, the safer your kiddo is in general. It’s a fair question to ask when you check into a camp for your child. Also, if your daughter is more introverted and somewhat less social, it wouldn’t necessarily be good to immerse her in a huge crowd of kids. More one on one attention and building quality relationships with others is probably more valuable. As your child’s parent, you know what is best in your gut. Go with it.
Tip for choosing a summer camp #7: Check Your School & Family Calendar
Let me check my calendar. Today, in America, most schools run from late summer to late spring and parents are looking for camping options over the summer. Lucky for you, summer camps often offer more than one week for children of various ages, abilities, and interests. Grab your calendar and see when it works best for your schedule. Camps typically start on Saturdays or Sundays and run at least a week, but that’s not a guarantee so be sure to double check arrival and departure dates and times as well. Reserve your child’s spot early so you don’t risk not getting your first choice. Now is high time for camp registrations so don’t wait and miss your chance.
Tip for choosing a summer camp #8: Technology Rules At Camp
What do you mean I can’t take my iPhone? While the norm these days is to not leave home without some type of electronic device that is most certainly not always the norm at camp. In fact, some camps prohibit the use of cell phones, tablets, and other devices while on the premises. Many camp owners and operators believe that getting away from it all is much healthier for kids, but for some kids and often some parents, that isn’t a welcome thought. It is always good to find out how you can and want to communicate with your child before you make a decision on a camp destination. Some camps only allow hand written letters between the parent and camper and others have a dedicated email address for parents to send notes to. While it is somewhat less common, some places will allow cell phones and devices as long as they don’t cause a problem throughout the day. If constant communication is a big thing for you, make sure to ask before you jump in with both feet. If you choose to send your kiddo to a camp like iD Tech, bringing devices along might even be recommended.
Tip for choosing a summer camp #9: See It For Yourself
Most camps will have a website or, at the very least, a social media page to check out with pictures and videos. Virtual or in person tours can also provide a boat load of information and depending on availability, you may be able to meet some of the camp staff, too. While you are there, it is perfectly acceptable to ask about their hiring process for counselors and what criteria they look for when they are hiring counselors. Meeting camp staff ahead of time is a great way to gauge their attitude and warmth towards children. If they provide you with unmatched customer service at your visit, chances are they will treat your child the same way during his or her time at camp and if they don’t, well, case and point.
Tip for choosing a summer camp #10: Read Reviews And Ask Parents
But what if I can’t see it for myself? There may be times when you can’t make it out to visit the camp before your child arrives to stay so if this is the case, why not check with people who have? Talk to other parents who you know have taken their children to the location before and get their perspective. Depending on the age of the child, you might even ask him or her how they enjoyed his or her stay. If there is one thing we know to be true, it is that young kids are often brutally honest. Chances are if something didn’t suit them, they will be sure to let you know. If you don’t know of anyone that may have camped at a specific location, why not post on your social media page and tag the program to get some feedback from other folks who have experienced it firsthand? Keep in mind that other people’s opinion may be conditional upon weather or their child’s specific needs so while this is hugely important, make sure to keep an objective mind set as well.
Tip for choosing a summer camp #11: Don’t Lose Site Of The Ultimate Vision
So, what’s it all about? Most camping programs have some kind of focus. Whether it’s teaching specific skills or a more broad adventure, there is always a purpose behind it. Art and Science camps will focus heavily on those subjects. Faith-based programs often want to provide activities that will teach, promote, or strengthen the faith of the children attending their programs. Wilderness camps might have a goal of teaching kids how to cook over a fire and build their own shelter. Horseback riding camps might have a goal to teach attendees how horseback riding can be used as a form of therapy. Don’t be afraid to read up or ask questions related to the programming offered at various camps and make sure that whatever you choose is something that aligns well with what you want your child to learn and experience.
Congratulations! You’ve done your part and now you have a nice list of places that meet both you and your children’s needs. I would advise you to pick at least three camps and let your children have the final say about what they would like to do and where they would like to go. Learning how to choose a summer camp for your child isn’t difficult, but it is worth your time and because we know your time is a hot commodity, we’ve attached all of these important questions below for your quick referenceIf you take nothing else away from this article, take this: if something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. Trust your parental instincts and go with what you think is best for your son or daughter. Nobody else knows your young human like you do, so choose what feels right and encourage your child to have a blast.
To summarize the article, here’s a handy checklist of questions that you can refer to when thinking about and researching summer camps.
>> Must Ask Questions & More Tips For Choosing A Summer Camp For Kids
- What is the purpose/mission of the camp and does that fit with your child?
- What goals or outcomes does the camp provider strive to accomplish with each child? (e.g. for a robotics camp will students build a fully functional robot by the end or just learn the basics?)
- Is the camp licensed by the State or does it have some other formal accreditation?
- What is the overall reputation of the camp provider and from online reviews and conversations with other parents, what is the sentiment from other about the camp provider?
- Can you tell me the ratio of instructors / counselors to campers?
- What are the ages and background experience of camp instructors and what are the camp provider’s qualifications for hiring staff?
- Are camp instructors trained in CPR? If water/swimming is involved, is there a trained lifeguard onduty at all times?
- Is there a doctor, nurse or other trained medical staff onsite?
- Is food provided by the camp or do kids have to pack their own?
- How does the camp provider handle kids with food allergies?
- How can parents communicate with their child while at camp?
- Does the camp provider allow phones, tablets or other technology?
- For day camps, is transportation provided? If not, what are the rules for early-drop off or late-pickup?
- For overnight camps, where will kids sleep (tents, cabins, dormitories, etc.) and how accessible are certain facilities (bathrooms, showers, A/C, etc.)?
Camps to consider:
*BE SURE TO MENTION KWADDLE AT REGISTRATION!