At the 2009 Summer Camp Expo at the Mall at Stonecrest on March 28, parents will find lots of options, close to home, for their children.
More than 30 camp operators, including the YMCA, dance camps, performing arts camp, academic camps, gardening camps and church-sponsored all-around camps will be showcasing a variety of interesting programs to entice parents and children.
Parents can choose from camps that start their day off with devotionals and scriptures, to those that will challenge their kids academically, artistically and environmentally. There are also camps to seduce the coach potatoes and activity-packed camps that will help kids burn calories and become more healthy.
All the camps have field trip planned that will broaden kids horizons and take them to interesting venues across metro Atlanta.
Smart parents know they must make their decision early to get their kids into the camp of their choice and the camp operators at the Summer Camp Expo are ready to showcase their offerings and answer questions.
At the expo, parents and their children will get to talk directly to the camp directors and decision makers. Many will be offering specials and other enticements to get you to sign up early.
Before you make a final decision, here are some tips to help you make the best camp choice for your child.
Talk with your child
Maybe there’s something – drama, sports, dance, gardening, etc. – that your child has been yearning to try. Camp is a great place to take on new challenges. Most programs combine academic and indoor/outdoor activities; find one that suits both of you.
Because the summer break is 11 weeks long, if you can’t find everything you want for your child in one camp, you may consider sending your child to more than one camp. For example, if your children wants to dance and do sports, you might split time between a dance camp and a YMCA camp.
Find out what’s available
There are traditional camps that offer a variety of events and there are specialty camps that focus on a single activity or area of interest. Traditional summer camps are a great idea for children who are flexible but love fun. Campers get to explore a variety of events that will broaden their minds.
Specialty camps are a great choice for children who are interested in specific skills and activities, such as dance, music, basketball, golf or mathematics. At specialty camps, children get to focus on a particular activity and learn all they can about it.
Know what fees apply
There are usually registration fees and supplemental fees for field trips, camp T-shirts, food and extended services. It’s important to find out what’s included in camp fees so there are no surprises later.
Once you have chosen a camp, make an appointment to meet the camp director and arrange for a tour. If the staff seems hesitant to talk to you, this is often a sign that the camp is not very organized and perhaps you should move on to your next choice. When you meet with the director, have a list of questions you need answered in order to properly evaluate the camp.
Pin down additional costs for field trips or other activities. Will you be expected to provide meals, snacks or supplies for your child? Find out if they offer any need-based scholarships and what is the refund policy if your child gets sick or has an emergency and is no longer able to attend.
Go to open houses
Some camps have open houses to introduce parents and children to their programs. This is a great way for you to meet camp counselors and/or teachers ahead of time, and learn about the program and activities in which your children will be involved.
Ask about safety
Make sure the camp you choose has staff trained in safety procedures, supervision, conflict resolution and other issues that may be specific to working with young children. Find out what procedures the camp follows in case of an emergency.
Find out the camp’s procedures for tracking kids during field trips and how it deals with roadside emergencies when the kids go on field trips.
For children with medical issues, such as diabetes or asthma, make sure that there is trained staff on-site and emergency procedures in place at all times.
Talk with the camp staff about your child’s medical needs and what medical facility your child would be transported to should the need arise. Finally, learn the discipline procedure is and decide if you’re comfortable with that approach.
Learn counselor policies
Some camps may use teen counselors who may be unaccustomed to dealing with large groups. Make sure the counselor/child ratio suits your child’s needs. The American Camping Association recommends a 1-to-6 staff to children ratio.
What is the return rate forthe counselors and campers? How old are the counselors? What sort of experience and educational requirements are required? What is the process for screening when hiring staff? Do they do background checks to screen out child predators? Is the staff certified in CPR and first aid?
When kids go away to 4-H, Girl Scouts, YMCA and other overnight camps, it offers the opportunity to expand their horizons beyond their neighborhood or school, and lets parents and children practice “letting go.”
Decisions about camp should be a joint venture, depending on your child’s maturity. If a child feels his opinions are being respected, the chances of having a positive experience will improve.
Talk about concerns
As the first day of camp approaches, some children experience uneasiness about going to a new or unfamiliar place. Discuss these feelings. Let your child know that you believe in his or her ability to deal with new situations but maintain realistic expectations. Encourage your child to write letters home and be sure you know how to reach them in case of emergencies. Encourage children to have a reasonable and realistic view of camp. Camp, like the rest of life, has highs and lows. Every moment is not filled with wonder and excitement.
But remember, if you make the right choice, fond memories of your child’s camp experience can last a lifetime.