Written with Andrew Liebowitz
Although many parents today recognize the lifelong benefits of summer camp for their children, the immense amount of available programs often leads to an overwhelming and time-consuming search process. There are numerous factors to be considered when looking for the perfect match of camper and camp. While program options and activities may vary, there are three universal categories that should be evaluated when speaking to a camp director:
- Overall Program Value
- Safety in Terms of Facilities and Staff Training
- Availability of Year-Round Programs and Off-Season Focus
Program Value: Are you Getting “Bang for your Buck?” In the summer camp industry, the term “value” should not indicate “discount” or “inexpensive” but rather “all-inclusive” or “flexibility”. Summer camp tuition rates should therefore never be directly compared as not all camps provide the same amenities. Carefully crosscheck what is included with tuition. For example, determine if the program includes hot meals, snacks, and transportation or if you have to purchase these items separately. Additionally, ask if any activities are an additional cost (i.e. swim lessons, off-camp trips). Remember to add up all the costs before committing to a program. Furthermore, ask the camp director how the camp can accommodate differing family schedules. Marissa Allaben, Associate Director of Rolling River Day Camp in East Rockaway, New York, states “We noticed that flexibility is crucial for our families and as a result, we offer a variety of program options which allow parents to customize their child’s camp schedule.”
A Safe and Sound Camp Experience: After the recent tragic events in several school facilities, safety is of utmost importance to anyone supervising children. Parents must carefully analyze the safety precautions within the camp program and determine a camp director’s level of control for providing a safe environment. For example, consider whether a program is hosted on a private, secure campground or if it utilizes public spaces such as neighborhood pools, parks and exposed schoolyards. Also ask the camp director whether the program uses one monitored entrance and exit or if campers are required to wear clearly labeled camp uniforms. Determine if the camp has an “open door policy”, where family members can visit the facility at any time, or if there are scheduled family visiting days with monitored staff supervision. Furthermore, multiple professional health providers should be on staff, along with lifeguards and counselors who are thoroughly trained in Red Cross First Aid and CPR.
Camp is Not Just For the Summer: Although summer camp might only last eight weeks, it is important for children to remain connected to camp year-round. Engaging with camp friends from other neighborhoods helps children develop crucial communication skills and foster friendships with a variety of social groups. Many camps host events and activities in the off-season to encourage this unique camp connection as well as introduce new campers to the camp community. Check out the camp’s website to review the year-round calendar and determine if the camp actively promotes reunions, festivals, or holiday camps. Also, ask the camp owners and directors about their roles during the off-season. If the camp is primarily a school, community center or religious institution during the year, their attention might be focused elsewhere.
Remember, camp is a time where children can expand their horizons and try new activities, all while learning important social skills that are no longer taught in school. Use these top three guidelines to create a memorable camp experience while simultaneously meeting a parent’s needs and expectations.