Dr. Sue Hubbard, pediatrician and Medical Editor for The Kid’s Doctor, offers this insight, “It is probably best to start your child off with a day camp in your area. Most of those camps begin around the age of five to six years, and are close enough for your child to commute to camp. This is good first exposure to camp activities such as swimming, outdoor sports, crafts and camp meals for lunch. Many children will enjoy day camp so much and be ready to move on to "spend the night" camp by the time they are between seven and 16 years of age.”
Once you’ve determined that your child is ready for summer camp, the next step is to talk about the possibility of summer camp.
1. Ask your child what he or she would absolutely love to do this summer.
2. Talk about their favorite interests. Is it sports, acting, music, science, sailing, dance, cooking, space exploration? There’s a camp for almost anything.
3. Discuss the differences between a day camp and a sleep-away camp.
4. Determine if your child is excited about the idea of going to summer camp.
Once you have a couple of activities in mind, and you’ve decided on a day camp or a sleep-away camp, the next step is researching the safety records, size, costs, and locations of suitable camps. This is where the hair pulling begins.
There are thousands of camps and the costs can be anywhere from inexpensive day camps to thousands of dollars for sleep-away camps.
Summercamp.org offers extensive advice and information on choosing the right summer camp. Nonprofit camps, such as "Y" camps and Federation camps, are less expensive than private sleep-away. As a parent you have to make a careful assessment of your family's financial limitations regarding camp costs. There are several very important calculations. How much would you have to pay to feed, entertain, provide childcare, and so forth, if your child stays home for all or part of a summer?
Second, be sure to estimate the extras that are involved in going to camp. Extras may include a camp uniform, charges for trips, transportation, the cost of visiting the camp, and the extra spending money needed by your child. Third, remember that a good camp experience can be a long-term investment that will affect many other areas of your child's life. In other words, don't be too concerned about saving a couple of hundred dollars over the course of the summer. If your child does not have a good experience, you both will have lost far more than you have saved.
Generally, children will attend sleep-away camps from two to eight weeks. Some general camps will offer a 1-2 week trial session for younger children and/or first time campers. Specialty camps may offer a one-week session in a particular sport or activity. One week sessions, where available, range from $500-$2000. Two week sessions will range in cost from $1000-$4000. Four weeks will cost from $1700 to $7000. Full season camps, lasting 7-9 weeks will range from $3500 to $11000. The cost ranges shown include both general and specialty camps. Costs for each may vary based on the activities and location of each program. You should take some time to consider what you can reasonably afford.
How do you know if a camp is safe for your child to attend? The Better Business Bureau offers these tips:
With over 12,000 camps across the country to choose from, BBB advises parents to begin their search by looking for a camp centered on their child’s interests and age. In addition to checking BBB’s website for a camp’s BBB Business Review, BBB offers the following tips for parents searching for the right camp:
- Get references. Ask parents of other campers about their child’s experience and why they recommend one camp over another. Of note, there is no government oversight of camps, so it’s especially important to look for facilities that are certified by the American Camp Association which require camps to meet up to 300 nationally recognized standards.
- Visit the camp in person. Check all living, eating and recreational facilities. Be sure to ask about safety procedures and how rules are enforced (particularly for water activities, archery and offsite trips).
- Assess the quality and commitment of the staff. Find out the camp director’s background, the criteria used for hiring staff and whether certification in CPR and First Aid is required. It is also important to know the ratio of staff to campers. Parents sending children to specialty camps should inquire about the staff’s level of expertise in the specific area.
- Know the fees and payment policies. What is the total cost of tuition? Is your deposit refundable? Are there extra charges for any activities? Are meals and transportation included? Is financial aid available? Make sure all these details are included in your contract.
- Ask about medical care and insurance. Check out the medical facilities to be sure they are adequate. Find out if a nurse or doctor is onsite. Inquire about the procedures for transporting injured or sick children to nearby medical facilities and under what circumstances you will be notified of any problems.
- Consider a backup plan. In case the camp you plan to register for does not meet your expectations or gets canceled for unexpected reasons, be sure to have another camp or two in mind that you are comfortable with. It’s ideal to also visit and research those backup camps in advance so that you can be well informed even in the event of a last minute decision.
Back to the fun part. Summer camps can be a wonderful way for children to have exciting and meaningful experiences. Whether you’re looking for a traditional, high-tech or special needs camp- there’s a camp for that!