Catherine has been thinking about sending her kids to summer camp for the past several years, but hasn’t yet taken the plunge, partially due to the huge variety of choices. She knows her kids would like to go to camp and believes they are ready, but where? For how long? Where should she even start?
Picking a summer camp for your child can be as overwhelming as it is important. The good news is that there are lots of quality camps, but this can make narrowing the choices down to the right camp a challenge. There is no magic formula for picking a camp, but there are a few things you should think about when deciding where will be the right fit for your child.
The first step is to narrow down what type of camps you’d like to investigate for your camper. Camps are structured and feel drastically different from one another depending on their mission and focus. The way to decide which type of camp is to ask “Why am I sending my child to camp?” and then find a type of program that meets that goal. Boy Scout and Girl Scout camps do a great job helping campers towards the goal of earning their Eagle or Gold award. High Adventure wilderness camps will challenge campers physically and mentally as they learn to be out on the trail for days on end. Sport camps will sharpen skills that prepare campers for varsity and even collegiate competition. Traditional camps excel at fostering social development and growth in their campers, through activities, trips, and a shared community. There’s no right or wrong answer to the question of “Why?”, but thoughtful consideration of why you are sending your child to camp will help ensure that you select a program where your child will thrive.
Another important factor in camp selection is deciding whether a single gender or coed camp is the right fit for your child. There are outstanding programs in each category, but there are some inherent strengths and weaknesses to each type. Single gender camps pride themselves on providing safe environments for their campers to try new and different things and even risk failing. The lack of the opposite sex often lowers the stakes of trying and failing and gives both boys and girls the confidence to push themselves
Conversely, Coed camps, view the presence of the opposite sex as a central strength of the program, because camp is one of the best places to learn how to interact and work and with the opposite gender. The two genders bring unique things to the table in a coed camping community.
For some campers, the summer is a chance to experience a single-gender setting which contrasts with their coed year-round school experience. For others, it is a chance to develop vital social skills of interacting with peers of both genders. Strong communities are built in both types, particularly among traditional camps, but campers will grow in different ways depending on the demographic and thinking about how you’d like your child to grow is crucial.
Finally, likely the most important consideration when choosing a summer camp is the quality of the staff. The quality of any camp program rises and falls with the quality of the counselors and staff members. Asking what the ratio of staff to campers is a good start (anything greater than 4:1 should be a red flag), but parents should consider many questions when evaluating staff. Some of these would include: What does the hiring and interview process look like for your staff? How many references do you contact and do you run the proper background checks? How many of your staff are former campers? What qualifications do they have to teach in their area of expertise? What training do you have for them once they are hired?
While this is no means an exhaustive list of questions, it is a good place to start. It important to know how a camp selects their staff, as they are the men and women that will serve as role models and mentors for your child.
To close, summer camp can be a time of incredible growth, development, and fun for your child. In order for campers to get the most out of their summer experience, however, parents should evaluate camps across a number of key criteria. The program, demographic and staff are key components that parents should consider when selecting a camp for their child. Engaging in a thoughtful camp selection process will help ensure that you select the right camp for your child and that they are able to learn and grow at camp, all while making memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.
Director, Camp Timberlake for Boys